Tom Richmond: Heathrow expansion is a betrayal of the provinces

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THE Government had three chances this week to put the economic future of the regions first. It failed on all three counts because Cabinet ministers are too busy feuding amongst themselves rather than fighting for the country.

First, Business Secretary Greg Clark chose not to back a “world first” tidal lagoon project which would have harnessed the power of the sea at Swansea Bay to create a new source of green energy. This appears short-sighted. Even Windsor Castle is now powered by turbines on the nearby river Thames.

MPs snubbed the regions when they backed Heathrow Airport's expansion this week.

MPs snubbed the regions when they backed Heathrow Airport's expansion this week.

Second, the Government could – and should – have taken further action to address the mounting chaos on the North’s creaking train network. The fact Transport Secretary Chris Grayling is still in post is an insult to the regions.

Finally, the decision to approve Heathrow Airport’s expansion, backed by Labour MPs too, is another betrayal of the provinces. After all, the expansionist Doncaster Sheffield Airport is pressing for a spur off the East Coast main line to improve train access, while MPs set out to Parliamentary how better rail links could, for example, transform Birmingham Airport and, in doing so, ease pressure on Heathrow.

It was summed up by Justine Greening, a one-time Transport Secretary, and monthly columnist in The Yorkshire Post. “If you asked me to come up with the most backward-looking, ill thought-through, poorly bottomed-out, badly articulated, on a wing and a prayer, bad value-for-money, most polluting airport plan I could find, this would be it,” she said.

And that was before she bemoaned the Commons debate of being restricted to four hours – presumably it had to end before Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and supposed Heathrow opponent returned from Afghanistan – and accused Parliament of a lack of due diligence.

A plane landing at Heathrow Airport.

A plane landing at Heathrow Airport.

Given Ms Greening was in the Cabinet as recently as January, and knows how the Government works, it’s a truly damning indictment on the state of Britain – and the extent to which the regions have been marginalised by bickering Ministers putting careers before the country.

I NOTE that Theresa May was sat alongside Transport Secretary Chris Grayling for the tail-end of this week’s Commons debate – and vote – on Heathrow Airport’s expansion.

If only the PM had done likewise for the no-confidence motion in her 2016 campaign manager – or the recent debate over whether he should have his pay docked for serial failings here when it comes to the railways. Further proof that the North does not count?

CHRIS Grayling should have been attending the Northern Transport Conference in Manchester on Monday. Instead, he was on national radio claiming that he “does not run the railways”.

This was yet another snub. He could have attended the event and still had time to get back to Westminster for the Heathrow debate which only began at 5.46pm. All the late-morning trains left Manchester on time for London. I checked.

GIVEN his majority is just 331 votes, it was ill-advised of Pudsey MP Stuart Andrew to include a photo of him grinning alongside Chris Grayling on a station platform (with no train in sight) in his latest election promotional literature.

Unfortunately no mention was made about the deteriorating state of rail services in the constituency. I assume it is because Mr Andrew – a junior minister at the Welsh Office – felt the need to include just 17 photographs of himself in this four-page tabloid billet-doux to remind voters that he does exist.

THE local Tories also took the opportunity to include a leaflet proclaiming ‘We are investing nearly £400 million a week extra into our NHS’. Less clear is the fact that this will not be happening until 2023-24.

Two other points. Not one mention of the words ‘social care’ or the shocking state of GP services in an area where there’s a greater chance of Chris Grayling admitting responsibility for the railways than appointments being available at the medical practice.

BARELY an hour passes without Jacob Rees-Mogg, the backbench Brexiteer, appearing in a Westminster TV studio to promote his Tory leadership aspirations. Given this, perhaps he’d care to interject on the state of the North’s rail services or is he only interested in his own agenda?

THOUGH retired military top brass often make the case for extra spending, I was surprised to hear Otley-born General Lord Houghton, former chief of the defence staff, do so on the Today programme when he has previously told this newspaper that he doesn’t do interviews.

In the public spending battle now being waged, Gavin Williamson, the Scarborough-born Defence Secretary, must be serious when he said he “made” Theresa May and that he has the power to “break” her.

ON the subject of spending, Treasury chief secretary Liz Truss is in no position to lecture Michael Gove about Defra’s agenda. As Environment Secretary, her response to the Christmas 2015 floods in Yorkshire was a Grayling-like calamity.

The fact she’s still in office speaks volumes about the current Cabinet’s calibre.

I’VE just seen a new website being constructed under the banner ‘This is the North’. I’m intrigued by this mysterious PR trailer. Why? For more information, it says “Contact our London office” and then there’s mention of “our exclusive Shoreditch launch party”. The last time I checked, Shoreditch was in the capital.

tom.richmond@ypn.co.uk