Why should the North get special treatment? This was asked at a meeting last week about transport investment in the North, or rather lack of.
The question was posed by a reporter from a London based national television news channel and shows why we have to shout louder than ever for government investment in our region.
The North gets no-where near its fair share of funding for new infrastructure such as rail and roads. The facts speak for themselves. Independent analysis shows we would have received £59bn more over the last decade if levels of investment matched those Whitehall allocated to London in that time.
We get £190 transport funding per head from government in Yorkshire, compared to £1,940 per head in London. London’s figure increases to £3,400 per head when Cross Rail 2 – the recently confirmed new rail link going east to west across London - is taken into account.
It doesn’t have to be a choice of investing in either London or the north. Funding can be found for both and improvements in the north would benefit the UK as a whole. A new high speed rail link between northern cities would help create economic growth and jobs to benefit the economy nationwide. This is particularly important as we move towards leaving the EU.
Leeds and Manchester are only 40 miles apart. That’s the same distance as the Central Line on the London underground. Yet there are very few people who live in Leeds and commute to work in Manchester, or vice versa. By rail it can take over an hour while rush hour on the M62 can sometimes take closer to two.
That’s why when government promises improvements, we have to make sure they deliver.
We’ve had two specific promises over the last seven years. In the short term, electrification of the Trans-Pennine route between Leeds and Manchester to cut journey times to 40 minutes. In the long term, a high speed rail network linking up the north’s major cities (this is known as Northern Powerhouse Rail).
The story of the Trans-Pennine electrification promise is infuriating, especially if you’re a commuter who has to stand every day on the slow, overcrowded, outdated Pacer trains currently used on the route. Government first announced electrification in 2011, with a completion date of 2019. After the 2015 General Election they “paused” the project and then delayed the completion date to 2022.
So when a few weeks ago the Secretary of State for Transport cast fresh doubt on the upgrade, business leaders, council leaders and mayors from cities across the north came together to speak with one voice to say enough is enough and demand those improvements must happen.
The Conservative Party Conference in Manchester next month, followed by the Autumn Statement in the House of Commons a few weeks later, will show whether government is listening.
It is imperative they use both occasions to give a commitment to fund the improvements needed, with a clear timetable for delivery.
In the meantime, we must continue to make clear how critical these improvements are for the North’s future prosperity. They’re important both in the short term for today’s commuters, and in the long term so children and young people in Leeds will grow up to have the opportunity to access jobs and benefit from the vast economic potential a connected north will create.
Councillor Judith Blake, leader of Leeds City Council