Yorkshire MPs have led calls for the Government to adopt a “bolder, more ambitious approach” to transport spending to help all the UK’s regions - and especially the North - to flourish.
Hull North MP Diana Johnson last night spearheaded a House of Commons debate on the issue, urging Ministers to abandon the current “skewed” formula for evaluating transport spending amounts - and put “fare paying passengers and not dividend troughing” shareholders first.
Ms Johnson said the Department of Transport’s spending priorities were ”of national concern across party lines, and in every region of the UK”.
“Whether it’s on rail franchising or transport investment, the Department of Transport is, I think, giving passengers and taxpayers a raw deal,” she said.
In a wide ranging debate, backbench MPs made use of a special Parliamentary procedure to scrutinise the spending of the Department of Transport, using a so-called “Estimates Day Debate”.
In her opening speech, Ms Johnson said there were “significant long standing problems” with the way the country both runs and invests in its transport infrastructure, adding that she wanted to press the case for a “bolder, more ambitious” approach which “leaves no city or region behind”.
And she stressed the urgent need for Transport for the North - the sub-national body formulating regional strategy in Yorkshire and beyond - to be given additional powers so it could have “the same clout and borrowing powers” as Transport for London.
“We cannot increase productivity and close the gap between our regions unless we dramatically upgrade our transport infrastructure and make up for decades of under investment,” she said. Also speaking was Judith Cummins, Labour MP for Bradford South, who said the Government’s current formula for targeting investment was “deeply unfair”.
“If the Government targets transport investment in areas of high economic development, or places where people already use public transport extensively, this is reinforcing inequalities rather than correcting them,” she said.
“Transport spending should be used for unlocking economic potential, and of course, investment in [public] transport is one of the key ways to encourage people to use it.
“Bradford, like towns and cities across the North, is held back by a persistent lack of investment in our transport infrastructure.
“In recent months we have seen the cancellation of rail electrification projects, the postponement of essential motorway upgrades in Yorkshire, and combined authorities forced to reduce bus services due to continuing budget cuts.
“The North as a whole, and Yorkshire in particular, is getting a raw deal.”
She called for a “step by step” increase in per person funding on transport in Yorkshire until it is equal with London.
“The ambition for a Northern Powerhouse will remain unmet for as long as funding disparities in transport remain in place,” she said.
She added that current “gross inequalities” have “real consequences” for cities like Bradford, which despite its young population and flourishing business sector, does not have a through railway station and is not directly on an intercity network.
“Bradford’s unsatisfactory rail line is a perfect example of the wider problem,” she said.
Transport Minister Jo Johnson told the House that the Government wants to “devolve power away from Westminster so cities and regions play a greater role in managing their own transport services”.
But he disputed claims of widespread regional disparities.
He told MPs the Government would be investing £10 per head more in the North than in the South over the four years to 2020/21.
Addressing his department’s Yorkshire critics, he insisted discussions should be “informed by accurate figures” and not “misapprehension about the levels of spending in the North and the South”.
“We are investing over £13bn in the North over this Parliament up to 2020,” he said.
“Every single train in the North of England is being replaced or refurbished.”
The Minister added: “We are investing across the country, creating a major road network funded by vehicle excise duty.
“We are allowing local authorities to improve or replace the most important A roads in their areas, and to tackle the bottlenecks and reduce congestion and connect new housing right around the country.
“This is a Government as committed to transport infrastructure as no Government has ever been.”
Meanwhile the debate was told that Britain should be “rather more French” in pushing ahead with major public sector projects.
Conservative MP Sir Robert Syms (Poole) suggested the UK took inspiration from across the Channel as he outlined the need for the Government to invest in the country’s roads
He said this would enable private sector companies and businesses to develop.
His remarks came after senior Labour MP Lilian Greenwood warned local roads were in a “diabolical state”, with the “patch and make good approach” not appearing to be sustainable.