At the end of a Tory party conference where every other fringe event seemed to be dealing with the subject of how best to rebalance the UK economy, the prime minister Boris Johnson’s keynote speech in Manchester at the end of the conference zeroed in on levelling up and specifically the need for more investment in transport to make up for much needed changes that had been ignored by previous governments.
“Our national infrastructure is way behind some of our key competitors,” said Johnson. “It is a disgrace that you still can’t swiftly cross the Pennines by rail. A disgrace that Leeds is the largest city in Europe with no proper metro system. It’s a waste of human potential that so many places are not served by decent bus routes. Transport is one of the supreme leveller-uppers and we are making the big generational changes shirked by previous governments,” the PM said.
Johnson reeled off a series of transport schemes that he said his government would implement. “We will do Northern Powerhouse Rail. We will link up the cities of the Midlands and the north. We will restore those sinews of the union that have been allowed to atrophy - the A1 north of Berwick and on into Scotland, the A75 in Scotland that is so vital for the links with Northern Ireland and the rest of the country, the North Wales corridor and we will invest in our roads,” he said.
Responding to the prime minister's speech, Tim Wood, Transport for the North’s director of Northern Powerhouse Rail, said: “It was good to hear the prime minister say that the greatest challenge for the country was levelling up its economy and its society and that building Northern Powerhouse Rail was central to that. Like us, he recognised that poor rail links across the north are contributing to the national imbalance in our economy.
“We have worked collaboratively with the government over the past two years to come up with a blueprint for a new rail network that will free the north from the constraints of poor infrastructure that have held it back for far too long. We need now to move at pace to make this Northern Powerhouse Rail a reality. We stand ready to work with the government to deliver for the north and for the whole country.”
The pan-regional benefits of Northern Powerhouse Rail were revealed in new analysis by Transport for the North earlier this week. Latest figures from Transport for the North’s rail modelling system show how delivery of Northern Powerhouse Rail and HS2 will result in substantial improvements in connectivity for people and businesses across the region, driving sustainable economic growth. The data reveals that the number of people and businesses within two hours of certain places increases by more than 50% in some instances, with significant benefits for the north east and parts of Yorkshire.