‘Rail electrification U-turn would derail Powerhouse’

Steve Rotheram and Andy Burnham

UK Transport Secretary Chris Grayling has been criticised after supporting London’s multi-billion Crossrail 2 plans just days after hinting that rail electrification plans for northern England could be cut.

Grayling said on Monday that he would work with London mayor Sadiq Khan to ensure Crossrail 2, the proposed north-south rail line running across London between Hertfordshire and Surrey, was “fair to the UK taxpayer.”

The statement prompted Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham to comment on Twitter: “On Friday, Tories say they can’t afford rail schemes in the North. On Monday, they find billions more for London. Are these 2 things linked?”

Burnham said: “This statement from the Transport Secretary will cause widespread anger across the North of England.

“With every day that passes the promise of a Northern Powerhouse becomes ever more distant.

“… The time has passed where we can take these decisions lying down.

“I will today be contacting fellow metro mayors and council leaders across the North of England to consider how we best challenge this Government’s continued neglect of transport in the North together.”

Liverpool City Region Mayor Steve Rotheram said that while he did not begrudge the investment in London and the South East, there needed to be balanced spending to “support growth in the North as well.”

Earlier, in an open letter to Grayling, Burnham said: “Today I read with surprise and disappointment your comments in Manchester yesterday about the potential ‘downgrade’ of the electrification of the rail line between Manchester and Leeds and changes to the plans to upgrade Piccadilly station.

“The electrification of the line across the North is critical to the delivery of your Government’s promise of a Northern Powerhouse.

“The North has suffered from a lack of investment compared to the rest of the country and has had to put up with second class transport for too long.

“A revitalised northern economy will only happen with significant investment in our rail infrastructure.

“I’m sure I don’t need to remind you that both electrification and the enhancement of Piccadilly were firm promises by your Government.

“If they are now not going ahead, as your comments yesterday seemed to indicate, that would represent a major broken promise to the people of Greater Manchester and the North, and the derailment of the Northern Powerhouse.

“Your comments yesterday were all the more surprising given there was no mention of this in your written Ministerial statement to Parliament on Thursday.

“What the North needs more than anything is clarity about future investment and I believe you owe it to the people here to set out your plans clearly and to honour your promises.

“I note that Conservative Party conference is being held in Manchester this year. I would ask that you use that opportunity, if not sooner, to come to Manchester to clear up the uncertainty.”