Transport Secretary Grant Shapps 'determined' to link up northern towns and cities but says 'we only have one pot of money'

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Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has insisted his government's "determination" to properly link up northern towns and cities is "undimmed" amid lobbying efforts by leaders over the future of high speed rail in the region.

Mr Shapps, who has responsibility for the Northern Powerhouse in Boris Johnson's Cabinet, said it would be foolish for the Government to say "money's no object" when considering major infrastructure projects in the North.

But he said people should be in "no doubt" that the Government wanted to "get the country properly linked together" so "the North should have the same advantages".

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Transport Secretary Grant Shapps. Pic: PATransport Secretary Grant Shapps. Pic: PA
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps. Pic: PA

The National Infrastructure Commision (NIC) is next week expected to publish its rail needs assessment, recommending how major projects like Northern Powerhouse Rail will fit in with HS2.

Northern leaders are lobbying for the new high speed rail line between Leeds and Manchester promised by Boris Johnson last year to include a stop in Bradford city centre.

But they face a battle to persuade the Government to back their preferred route amid pressure to cut costs by choosing a less ambitious route that is billions of pounds cheaper.

Boris Johnson, who last year promised a high-speed Northern Powerhouse Rail link between Leeds and Manchester and said the benefits would be ‘colossal’, is being urged to ensure the new line stops in Bradford city centre.

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But his Government faces the choice between a £17bn route serving Bradford, which is backed by civic and business leaders, and an alternative costing £4bn less which misses out the city entirely.

And he has been warned that “delay and dither” on the proposals at a time when the future of the eastern leg of HS2 through Yorkshire is also reportedly under threat would show a lack of commitment to his own ‘levelling-up’ agenda.

The Yorkshire Post asked Mr Shapps whether he would accept the preferred route for the Leeds-Manchester line set out by Transport for the North or whether cost would be a consideration.

He said: "The usual rules apply, we only have one pot of money, we can only spend it in one place at a time and there are many parts of not just the rest of the country but the North, that are competing for the same cash.

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"So of course we've got a responsibility to spend our taxpayers money as efficiently and responsibly, as possible.

"The thing that you need be in no doubt about is our determination to link up the whole of the country and do it properly so the North should have the same advantages so whether you're in Bradford, Leeds or Manchester or Huddersfield we want we want to get the country properly linked together.

"So, yes, it would be foolish to say 'don't worry about money, money's no object', of course that's not the case. But our determination to link up is undimmed."

The rail needs assessment, which is expected to be published on Tuesday, will inform the Government's Integrated Rail Plan to be published in the new year.

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It is feared the NIC will recommend that the Eastern leg of HS2 between Birmingham and Leeds is done by a "phased delivery" which would mean Yorkshire may never see the benefits of the controversial high speed rail scheme.

But in the Commons this week Prime Minister Boris Johnson recommitted to building the eastern leg of HS2 through Yorkshire.

Harrogate MP Andrew Jones urged him to start the construction of the eastern leg of HS2, which will run from the West Midlands through Sheffield to Leeds, from the North.

And while Mr Johnson said Mr Jones was “completely right about the power of great infrastructure projects to deliver jobs”, he added: “And that’s why we’re getting on with both with the eastern leg of HS2 and with Northern Powerhouse Rail, and what I’ve asked the National Infrastructure Commission and Network Rail to look at is how those two projects can best be integrated to boost the economy of the whole of the of the North of the country.”