The north desperately needs renewal. The government must give us our own budget so we can begin the work

There’ll be people who baulk over the figures. But now is the time for the Tories to live up to their rhetoric

Steve Rotheram
Monday 19 August 2019 14:48 BST
It is vital that northern leaders have the power to deliver for the people they represent
It is vital that northern leaders have the power to deliver for the people they represent (Getty)

The north of England had reason to celebrate this week as the first Pacer trains retired after more than 3 million miles and more than 30 years in service. They were only intended to be a short-term solution with a lifespan of 20 years – and in that time the patching up of the north’s networks, and the expectation that passengers should just put up with whatever turns up, has been run thin.

Pacers have become symbolic of passenger and political frustration for many reasons, not least because their retirement has long been promised. Similarly, successive governments and prime ministers have promised to turbo-charge the north, but it’s 2019 and commuters are still having to get on converted buses 10 years past their use-by date.

In the last few months it’s finally started to feel like the tide’s turning and the north’s voice is being heard. However, as northern leaders we know we have to keep the pressure on, which is why we’re calling on the government to commit to a #NorthernBudget in September.

The north has become weary of political pledges and gestures, as we’ve heard it all before. What we need now is real commitment. It is time that major infrastructure decisions about the North are taken by the people who live here.

It would mean that we will have the power to build the full £39bn Northern Powerhouse Rail network, not just a part of it. And if the people of the north decide to go even further and expand on, then it would have the ability to achieve its full ambitions.

Not only do I want the people of Liverpool City Region to see the benefits of this transformational network – but I also want the same for Hull, Sheffield and the northeast – as well as Manchester and Leeds. The north is more than a few key cities – it’s the towns and places in between – and while Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) will deliver dramatically reduced inter-city journey times, it will also free up passenger and freight capacity on existing lines, making it quicker and easier to get to and from hundreds of towns across the region.

If Pacer trains symbolise what we’ve had to put up with for the last 30 years, NPR symbolises where we want to be in the next 30 years. A truly connected north, with coast-to-coast high-speed connections, where our people are enabled to pursue opportunities because of transport, not held back by it.

Ambitious and transformational projects like Northern Powerhouse Rail take time but we’re also calling on government to deliver the first tranche of projects in the northern infrastructure pipeline. These rail and road projects across the North are shovel-ready, and construction could begin in the next few years – providing more immediate relief to road and rail users in the north.

It is vital that northern leaders have the power to deliver for the people they represent. Having control of our own pipeline of shovel-ready schemes means we don’t have to wait for Whitehall’s approval anymore.

There’ll be people who baulk over the figures – but £39bn is an £8.60 a year investment in every northerner for the next 30 years. Which, if you live and commute here, is not much to ask when compared to other areas of the country.

Now is the time for this government to live up to its rhetoric on the north, now is the time for a #NorthernBudget.

Steve Rotheram is the metro mayor of the Liverpool City Region

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