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Transport Connectivity: North of England

Volume 661: debated on Thursday 13 June 2019

Mr Speaker, as you know, we have a big programme of investment in transport across the north, after decades of underinvestment. That includes replacing every single train in the north of England, getting rid of the long-outdated Pacer trains, buying new trains for the Newcastle upon Tyne Metro and investing nearly £3 billion in the road network in the north, including an extensive smart motorways programme. The Transforming Cities funds are delivering to individual cities the opportunity to improve metro systems.

The Secretary of State may have seen that newspapers across the north have come together again this week to call on the Government to commit to a series of policy changes to power up the north. Towns and cities, villages and hamlets—despite our diversity, the north stands as one to call for more powers and more funding. At the heart of that must be the transformative new rail network linking the great north cities, including Bradford. Will the Secretary of State grasp this moment and make Northern Powerhouse Rail a priority, with a city centre station in Bradford?

First, Northern Powerhouse Rail is a manifesto commitment for this Government. The work is being done at the moment to take it forward. Indeed, as the hon. Lady should be aware, in the past few days we have published further details of the interchanges between Northern Powerhouse Rail and HS2, thus demonstrating further our commitment to that project.

With regard to Bradford, as the hon. Lady knows, I have had meetings with the council leader. I am extremely sympathetic to the need to ensure that Bradford is a proper part of the Northern Powerhouse Rail network.

Will my right hon. Friend consider publishing a report, showing in table form the investment in transport in the north between 2010 and 2019, and between 2001 and 2010, so that we can see what investment has been given to the north over the past nine years, and in the previous nine years, which just happened to be under a different Government? This Government can be incredibly proud of the investment in the north.

I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend. I pay tribute to him for what he did to step up investment in the north. When I listen to the Opposition waxing about a lack of investment in the north, I simply remind them that when they were in power they let a Northern Rail franchise with no investment in it at all, whereas this Conservative Government are replacing every single train in the north with either a brand-new or a completely refurbished train.

When I drive around Europe this summer, I will not find any two major cities less well connected than Sheffield and Manchester. A review has been done of improving the road connections between those two cities, and there is now an agreed best way forward. When will the Government activate that, so that we get an all-purpose, all-weather route between those two cities?

I can tell the hon. Gentleman that the concept of the tunnel, which has been much reviewed and much discussed, is on the board agenda for the next Transport for the North meeting, and we are looking forward with interest to seeing the detail of those proposals. It is clearly necessary to improve trans-Pennine links. That is why we are committed to dualling the A66 and are putting in improvements on the A69. It is why I have asked Highways England to start work on better links between east Lancashire and west Yorkshire. Quite clearly, particularly given the vulnerability of the M62 to bad weather, a second route between Manchester and Sheffield must also be a part of the future.

Although North West Leicestershire is the centre of the midlands, most people in London think it is in the north. Despite delivering the highest economic growth outside London and the south-east, we have no passenger railway station. What is the Secretary of State going to do about that? Would not reopening the Ivanhoe line be an excellent idea?

I am very much aware of the potential to expand services in the east midlands by bringing back into service some of the routes that no longer carry passengers. It is why the new franchisees in the east midlands will be looking at bringing back services on the Robin Hood line, and I am happy to commit to discuss with my hon. Friend in much more detail whether we can do something similar in future with the Ivanhoe line.

Thirty-three northern newspapers, including the Manchester Evening News, The Northern Echo, the Yorkshire Post, the Sheffield Star and the Liverpool Echo, are all supporting the Power Up The North campaign, demanding an end to underinvestment in the north. This Government have repeatedly broken their promises of investment in the north, with the region set to receive just a fraction of the investment to be made in London, and “northern powerhouse” has to be much more than a slogan. So will the Secretary of State take the opportunity to commit not only to electrifying the trans-Pennine route, but to matching Labour’s £10 billion-plus commitment to deliver a Crossrail for the north?

What I am not going to do is match Labour’s record of investment in the north, because it was lousy. The Labour Government spent nothing on trains, and did not upgrade railways in the north. We are upgrading roads in the north, and upgrading railways across the north. The trans-Pennine upgrade is the flagship—the largest investment programme on the railways in the next control period—and Labour Members have the brass neck to say that they are the ones with a plan. They did nothing; we are doing things.