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Osborne pledge on northern cities

George Osborne pledged his support today for a "Crossrail of the North" and new powers for big northern cities lagging behind London and the South.

The Chancellor described the £15 billion plans in the One North report as "affordable" as he welcomed the proposals.

The report, compiled by the cities of Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield and Newcastle, has been described as a "Crossrail of the North" to improve transport links between the regions.

If adopted, the 15-year investment plan, which complements the HS2 proposals, could deliver benefits for the whole of the North of England including up to 150% additional capacity on roads and as much as 55% quicker journey times on a faster, more frequent interconnected rail network.

Cross-party support for the proposals was stressed today with the Tory Chancellor flanked by the Labour leaders of Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds for the launch of the report in Manchester.

Mr Osborne said: "Of course £15 billion is a lot of money - it's about the size of the Crossrail project in London.

"It's a project over a number of years, out to 2030. We have got a £100 billion capital budget to the end of the decade.

"I think this kind of proposal is affordable."

Mr Osborne has said he wants to build a "northern powerhouse" around the major cities of the North, whose legacy of heavy industry has led to an economic performance lagging behind the rest of the UK.

The Chancellor also said that this autumn there will be new proposals on transferring more power and a bigger say over how money is spent, from Whitehall, to the cities and regions in a "new model of city governance".

He added: "I'm prepared to roll up my sleeves and get it done, so let's get on with it."

Mr Osborne said if the Government and the cities could get the economic performance of the North to match the rest of the UK, it would add billions to the wealth of the nation and "rebalance" the economy from an over-reliance on the City, London and the South East.

The One North plans also include increased road capacity for both freight and personal travel through extended motorways, improving links to ports and airports and fast and frequent intercity rail links, all interconnected with HS2, the super-fast North-South rail project from London.

All the leaders of the cities involved have welcomed the report, with further costings and proposals to be worked out before the plans go ahead.

Manchester City Council leader Sir Richard Leese said: "The current constraints on our transport networks, the product of years of neglect and under-investment, affect the competitiveness of the North. East-west journeys take almost twice as long as equivalent journeys in the South and our rail links are too slow and unco-ordinated. Our motorways are congested, and there is an over-reliance on the M62."

Keith Wakefield, leader of Leeds City Council, said: "The North has long been calling for better connectivity between cities outside London. Getting the right investment in our transport systems would deliver unprecedented change to better connect people and jobs, which is crucial if we also want to rebalance the national economy.

"This report demonstrates once again that only through tackling our outdated transport system will the North be able to fulfil its true economic potential, benefiting our own local communities and the country as a whole."

Mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson said: "In the 19th century almost half of the world's trade moved through the port of Liverpool, but getting freight to and from the Liverpool city region is just as important today. The planned superport is going to increase volume by 70% in 2030, so we need better, faster connectivity - both east-west and through HS2."

Newcastle City Council chief executive Pat Ritchie said: "One North is a demonstration that the great northern cities can work together to shape transport plans which would transform the economic competitiveness of the North - linking people to jobs, goods to customers and our businesses to international markets.

"Ensuring that Newcastle and the North East are part of an integrated approach to transport is essential to delivering our vision for economic growth in the region."

Julie Dore, lLeader of Sheffield City Council, said: "Transforming the connections between our great northern cities is vital if we are to make the most of our unlocked economic potential.

"This report outlines the steps we need to put this right but we need the tools to make this happen.

"Getting city-to-city connections right will act as a catalyst for our cities and city regions which we need to drive job creation and rebalance growth in the UK."

Shadow Treasury minister Shabana Mahmood said Labour welcomed the report.

But she added: "Only Labour will properly back our city and county regions with ambitious plans to devolve more funding and economic power to them.

"Mr Osborne will be judged on his actions, not his words. He is failing to back the Heseltine report or Labour's plans to devolve billions of pounds of funding."

But figures from the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) show the North has fared badly in terms of investment in the past.

Ed Cox, director of IPPR North, said planned spending of public money on transport infrastructure in the National Infrastructure Plan was £5,312 per person in London but in the North West it was £420 per person and the North East just £157 per person.

And 80% of the projects in the 20-year National Infrastructure Plan in London were up and running compared with less than 60% across the North.

Mr Cox said: "I would say these plans are really important and don't come a moment too soon because historically the North has fared worse than the South.

"But in part that's because we have lacked the kind of leadership and the plan we have today."

Transport unions were less enthusiastic, accusing Mr Osborne of giving with one hand and taking with the other.

Mick Cash, acting general secretary of the RMT, said: "While RMT welcomes any moves to invest in transport infrastructure in the North, it should be remembered that these plans are totally at odds with those outlined in the Government's current consultation on Northern Rail and TransPennine Express which, far from recommending expansion, actually slash services to ribbons.

"It is also pure showboating for George Osborne, whose austerity cuts are behind the axing of jobs and services on the railways, to claim he is backing modernisation and investment when he is, of course, the axeman-in-chief.

"Two decades of privatisation also shows us that the private sector cannot be trusted to run transport as anything other than a 'get rich quick' scheme. Any expansion of services in the North, like those being proposed by the local authorities today, must be run in the public sector as a public service free from the poison of greed and profiteering."

Campaign for Better Transport chief executive Stephen Joseph said: "The One North report presents a sound, integrated vision for transport in the North of England.

But the Government's consultation on the future of the two northern rail franchises (Northern Rail and TransPennine Express) does not embrace this ambition.

"Instead of an investment-led strategy to upgrade the North of England's connections, the Department for Transport is offering 'trade-offs' with fares rises, de-staffing and a lack of commitment to serious investment."


From Belfast Telegraph