But Transport Secretary doesn't mention NPR in her conference address

Liz Truss confirmed her campaign promise to deliver the Northern Powerhouse Rail in full yesterday (Monday 3 October). The Prime Minister told ITV that her plans meant a full new line all the way from Liverpool to Hull, with a stop in Bradford. She said the details for the new route would be set out in "due course".

The time for confirmation of promises has passed – the proof will be in the pudding.

Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) is a £39bn project dedicated to improving the east-to-west travel links in the North. Transport for the North estimated that the new line would contribute £14.4bn to the UK economy.

The Integrated Rail Plan, delivered under Boris Johnson in November 2021, gutted the original NPR plan, concluding that only a limited network was affordable and that the parts of HS2 Eastern Leg required to complete the network would be delayed indefinitely.

The move was heavily criticised by Northern leaders, including a letter to the then-Prime Minister signed by council leaders, MPs and mayors.

Jim McMahon MP, Labour’s Shadow Transport Secretary, said: “Instead of taking action on the cost of living crisis and fixing the transport problems they created, the Government is looking the other way, trapping people in a cycle of regional inequality, high tax and low growth.

“It’s laughable and insulting to expect people to be satisfied with watered down schemes and crumbs from the table, after putting their faith in a Prime Minister who has gone back on his word at the first opportunity.”

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NPR was meant to link the great northern cities Image: Confidentials

A key to economic success

Mayor Jamie Driscoll told a Transport for The North board meeting: “We are not going to see any economic success in the north if we are unable to move people and goods around… The original intention [of NPR] was to connect all the great cities of the North and their rural hinterlands.”

Then, in July, the Transport Select Committee criticised the Integrated Rail plan as being based on incomplete evidence, and advised that key decisions should be reopened. 

The committee said that the IRP had not properly tested alternative options. Leaving out key elements of analysis of the wider economic impacts of the different options set out for Northern Powerhouse Rail meant that value for money and economic return could be compared and validated.

The committee identified Leeds and Bradford as cities which would especially miss out under the IRP.

The new Transport Secretary Anne-Marie Trevalyan is a northern MP who also has cabinet responsibility for the Northern Powerhouse. She was expected to support to the reinstatement of NPR in her Conservative conference speech this afternoon (4 October).

Instead she looked at green transport solutions, safe shipping routes and a project to update the A1 in her own constituency.

The closest she came to alluding to the NPR was when she said: "We want to transform the rail industry to make it sustainable for the next 100 years.

"This government is unashamedly going for growth. A key part of delivering that growth is keeping our promises."

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Rail improvements are desperately needed Image: Geof Shepard

Deeds not words

Reaction to Prime Minister Truss's statement was cautiously optimistic.

The Mayor for Greater Manchester Andy Burnham tweeted: “To be fair, this is a u-turn for which the PM deserves real credit. It is a railway that the North of England desperately needs and we will work with [the Prime Minister] to make it a reality.”

Jonathan Webb of the IPPR think tank said: “The Prime Minister is right to confirm the promise she made during the Conservative leadership contest to deliver Northern Powerhouse Rail in full, including Bradford. 

“But the time for confirmation of promises has passed – the proof will be in the pudding. For years now, the North has heard promises on Northern Powerhouse Rail that remained unmet while an £86bn transport spending gap brew between the North and London. Only deeds, not words, will do now.” 

Charlie Cornish of the Manchester Airport Group said: “The Prime Minister’s renewed commitment to delivering Northern Powerhouse Rail in full, including a new line between Liverpool and Hull with a station in Bradford, will help unlock the North’s full potential and drive a rebalancing of the UK economy. 

The priority now must be to be deliver the once-in-a-generation investment as soon as possible, to transform links between the North’s towns and cities, and connectivity with the rest of the world through Manchester Airport.”

Follow Lucy on Twitter @hotcupoftea