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North transport 'revolution' pledge

Ministers are laying out multibillion-pound plans to improve transport in northern England.

Chancellor George Osborne said the "Northern Powerhouse" plans, including including multibillion-pound rail schemes, has the potential to "revolutionise transport in the North".

But transport unions described the package as "pie in the sky".

The plans build on the concept of the so-called HS3 and could see 140mph trains reduce Liverpool to Manchester journey times to around 20 minutes.

The Liverpool-Manchester option could cost as much as £13 billion, while a plan to reduce journey times between Sheffield and Manchester from the current 48 minutes to 27 minutes could cost as much as £19 billion.

Other plans include developing new east-west road connections including a road tunnel under the Peak District and introducing Oyster-style smart travel cards and simpler fares across the North.

The Government has also said it will prepare a Hybrid Bill, to be laid during the next Parliament, for phase two of HS2, as well as widening sections of the M1, M6 and M62.

There are also plans for better connections to Manchester Airport and improvements to the A1.

The plans have come in a Northern Transport Strategy report published today by the Government and the newly-formed organisation Transport for the North (TfN). The report follows work by Network Rail on rail-improvement options.

The northern strategy report is being launched in north west England today by Chancellor George Osborne and Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin.

Mr Osborne said: "Connecting up the great cities of the North is at the heart of our plan to build a Northern Powerhouse. This report has the potential to revolutionise transport in the North and we will work closely with TfN to help make it a reality.

"From backing high-speed rail to introducing simpler fares right across the North, our ambitious plans for transport means we will deliver a truly national recovery where every part of the country will share in Britain's prosperity."

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said: "As part of my Northern Futures plan, I listened to what people wanted and have taken decisive action.

"I've already pledged to rid the region of rattling old Pacer trains, introduced smarter ticketing in Sheffield and increased capacity on commuter services. All of this will ensure the North can race ahead in a stronger economy and doesn't become one big bottleneck.

"I'm extremely proud to be announcing this new strategy which will be transformative for the region. Modernising rail in the North and speeding up connections between cities will encourage business, boost tourism and give commuters the transport network they deserve."

Mr McLoughlin said: "This dynamic change, led by the Chancellor with northern leaders, transforms the way government looks at transport solutions for the North.

"No government has given such attention to the infrastructure of our great northern cities and how to deliver a world-class, integrated transport network for the North. The proposals announced today will reduce journey times while increasing capacity and connectivity, enabling growth.

"Creating a Northern Powerhouse of jobs, investment and prosperity, is a key objective of the Government's long-term economic plan. We are planning for transport and growth in a new joined-up way. Today we set out a comprehensive strategy for the northern economy which will help the north pool its strengths. TfN gives the north a powerful new voice."

Mick Cash, leader of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union, said: "This is yet more pie-in-the-sky nonsense from the Government on the so-called Northern Powerhouse when in reality transport services across the region in the real world are lumped with clapped-out, overcrowded trains with any replacement programme light years off."

He went on: "The lashed-up Pacer trains will be running for years to come and the threat that they will be joined on northern routes by old Underground trains remains very real. On top of that there remains a threat to jobs, services and safety in the drive for fatter profits from the new Northern and TransPennine Express franchises."

Manuel Cortes, leader of the TSSA transport union, said: "The Coalition's new-found enthusiasm for the North looks like a desperate attempt to save Nick Clegg from drowning in a wave of apathy in his Sheffield seat.

"All these pie-in-the sky policies about putting North first in transport spending would have had more credibility if the Ministers had not invested billions in the South. Anyone would think there is an election around the corner."

Mick Whelan, general secretary of train drivers' union Aslef, said: "The plans are fanciful in the extreme. What they describe as HS3 is really just tinkering with the signalling. And to imagine trains could run at 140mph on stretches of that track is living on Fantasy Island.

"This is about the Tories - and the Lib Dems - making promises on which they know they will never have to deliver. It's all pie in the sky. A blatant piece of post-Budget electioneering."

Shadow Transport Secretary Michael Dugher said: "After five years of failing the north of England, the Tories and Lib Dems are making a desperate, last ditch attempt to win votes in the North ahead of the general election.

"People in the North won't be fooled by a so called 'strategy' that falls well short of what is needed.

"Labour has a better plan and a big offer for the North as part of our plans to deliver the biggest devolution of economic power and funding to England's city and county regions for generations, including transport, housing and business support.

"Cameron, Osborne and Clegg have zero credibility in the North."

Stephen Joseph, chief executive of the Campaign for Better Transport said: "We welcome the strategy.

"The North of England is in real need of an integrated transport system which can help to rebalance the economy and deliver the services that people deserve. Plans for faster rail connections, simpler fares structures and smart ticketing systems are all big steps forward.

"However, plans for road projects including extra lanes to be added to motorways and a proposed tunnel under the Peak District are a waste of money."

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