Helping to end the decades old economic gap between north and south through billions of pounds of transport investment is a top priority for the government, Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin pledged to northern and midland leaders on Monday 1 June 2015.
In a keynote speech in Leeds, he said that boosting growth in the north, rebalancing the economy and creating a Northern Powerhouse were a vital part of the long-term economic plan.
The Transport Secretary said the election result was a massive vote of confidence in favour of High Speed 2 (HS2) and confirmed construction is on track to start in 2017. Work is also well underway on developing plans for high-speed east-west rail links.
He confirmed that £13 billion government funding would be invested to transform transport infrastructure in the north over the next five years – better connecting up the region so that northern towns and cities can pool their strengths and create a single economy, helping Britain better compete on the world stage.
And he pledged that the north will be empowered to shape its own future – by devolving power away from Whitehall. He said that by the autumn, Transport for the North (TfN), the body established by the government to work with it on delivering a Northern Transport Strategy, will have a new independent chair to speak on behalf of the north with one voice on delivering improved train and bus services, rolling out smart ticketing, looking after passengers, reducing road congestion and speeding up links to ports and airports.
In his first speech since the election, Patrick McLoughlin told northern and midland leaders at Leeds Civic Hall, “If you think it is significant that I am making it here, in Leeds, on the eastern leg of HS2, and in the north, then you would be absolutely right. And if you think it is a sign of intent that my themes today are growth, infrastructure, and HS2, you would also be right.
“Nothing is more important to this government than a healthy economy which benefits all working people. It means rebalancing our economy and building the Northern Powerhouse. We will not waste a moment getting on with the task.”
He confirmed that rolling out a national high-speed rail network – both HS2 and east to west links – would be at the centre of the government’s plans.
The HS2 hybrid Bill committee will restart Parliamentary scrutiny of the bill for phase one – between London and Birmingham – shortly.
The government will announce the way forward for Phase Two from Birmingham to Leeds and to Manchester, later this year. During this Parliament, the government will also make significant strides in getting HS2 to the north sooner, maximising the benefits of the transformational scheme, which will free up space on the crowded rail network, improve connectivity, promote regeneration, boost skills and generate tens of thousands of jobs.
The Transport Secretary confirmed that legislation would be prepared in this Parliament, looking at bringing HS2 to Crewe faster than planned, subject to further analysis and decisions on the preferred route.
Work will also continue to look at ways of using the HS2 line to introduce faster regional services and at the case for speeding up construction of the Sheffield to Leeds section.
Building on the concept of High Speed 3 (HS3), the government will also progress plans to transform east to west rail connectivity with high-speed services linking Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Newcastle and Hull, radically reducing travel times, increasing frequencies and improving the customer experience.
Mr McLoughlin said, “The general election result was a massive vote of confidence in favour of HS2. So the argument has been won. HS2 will be built, the full ‘Y’ network, from London to Birmingham and Birmingham to Manchester and Leeds, with construction starting in just 2 years.
“HS2 will change the transport architecture of the north. But it will also change the economic architecture.
“And we are moving forward with plans for new high-speed rail links, running right across the north, from Liverpool in the west, to Hull in the east. It will slash journey times, provide a substantial boost to capacity and help bind the north together as a single, powerful economic force. We believe in the power of transport to change things.”