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Transport Secretary confirms government is forging ahead on high-speed rail and a Northern Powerhouse

Patrick McLoughlin confirms high-speed rail and Northern Powerhouse are a priority in speech in Leeds. 

  • HS2 will be built, “…the full Y network from London to Birmingham to Manchester and Leeds”, Patrick McLoughlin confirms in his first speech since his reappointment;
  • He speaks passionately about “the power of transport to change things” and pledges “not to waste a moment” on working with regional leaders to create a Northern Powerhouse of jobs, prosperity, bright futures and closing the gap between south and north; and
  • In a signal of intent, the Transport Secretary says “nothing is more important” than growth and infrastructure and confirms the government is moving forward with plans for east-west high-speed rail links and will invest £13 billion in transforming northern transport this Parliament

Helping to end the decades old economic gap between north and south through billions of pounds of transport investment is a top priority for the government, Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin pledged to northern and midland leaders yesterday (1 June 2015).

In a keynote speech in Leeds, he said that boosting growth in the north, rebalancing the economy and creating a Northern Powerhouse were a vital part of the long-term economic plan.

The Transport Secretary said the election result was a massive vote of confidence in favour of High Speed 2 (HS2) and confirmed construction is on track to start in 2017. Work is also well underway on developing plans for high-speed east-west rail links.

He confirmed that £13 billion government funding would be invested to transform transport infrastructure in the north over the next five years - better connecting up the region so that northern towns and cities can pool their strengths and create a single economy, helping Britain better compete on the world stage.

And he pledged that the north will be empowered to shape its own future - by devolving power away from Whitehall. He said that by the autumn, Transport for the North (TfN) - the body established by the government to work with it on delivering a Northern Transport Strategy - will have a new independent chair to speak on behalf of the north with one voice on delivering improved train and bus services, rolling out smart ticketing, looking after passengers, reducing road congestion and speeding up links to ports and airports.

In his first speech since the election, Patrick McLoughlin told northern and midland leaders at Leeds Civic Hall yesterday:

If you think it is significant that I am making it here, in Leeds, on the eastern leg of HS2, and in the north, then you would be absolutely right. And if you think it is a sign of intent that my themes today are growth, infrastructure, and HS2, you would also be right.

Nothing is more important to this government than a healthy economy which benefits all working people. It means rebalancing our economy and building the Northern Powerhouse. We will not waste a moment getting on with the task.

He confirmed that rolling out a national high-speed rail network - both HS2 and east to west links - would be at the centre of the government’s plans.

The HS2 hybrid Bill committee will restart Parliamentary scrutiny of the bill for phase one - between London and Birmingham - shortly.

The government will announce the way forward for phase two from Birmingham to Leeds and to Manchester, later this year. During this Parliament the government will also make significant strides in getting HS2 to the north sooner, maximising the benefits of the transformational scheme which will free up space on the crowded rail network, improve connectivity, promote regeneration, boost skills and generate tens of thousands of jobs.

The Transport Secretary confirmed that legislation would be prepared in this Parliament, looking at bringing HS2 to Crewe faster than planned, subject to further analysis and decisions on the preferred route.

Work will also continue to look at ways of using the HS2 line to introduce faster regional services and at the case for speeding up construction of the Sheffield to Leeds section.

Building on the concept of High Speed 3 (HS3), the government will also progress plans to transform east to west rail connectivity with high-speed services linking Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Newcastle and Hull, radically reducing travel times, increasing frequencies and improving the customer experience.

Patrick McLoughlin said:

The general election result was a massive vote of confidence in favour of HS2.

So the argument has been won. HS2 will be built, the full ‘Y’ network, from London to Birmingham and Birmingham to Manchester and Leeds, with construction starting in just two years.

HS2 will change the transport architecture of the north. But it will also change the economic architecture.

He added:

And we are moving forward with plans for new high-speed rail links, running right across the north, from Liverpool in the west, to Hull in the east. It will slash journey times, provide a substantial boost to capacity and help bind the north together as a single, powerful economic force. We believe in the power of transport to change things.

Speaking after a visit to see progress on the building of a new station at Kirkstall Forge rail station on the Leeds to Bradford line - for which the Department for Transport (DfT) has contributed £9.5 million - the Transport Secretary said that to help unlock economic growth the government is also:

  • making major improvements to the A1, M62, M1 and A555 and looking at building a road tunnel under the Peak District;
  • building the Northern Hub to transform the rail network across the region;
  • introducing new trains on the East Coast Mainline
  • adding capacity for 44 million more rail passengers

He said:

This is the best opportunity in well over a century to level the playing field between north and south. Not by dragging London down, but by firing up the rest of the country - the east and west midlands and the new Northern Powerhouse - with transport connections that match the very best in Europe.

We are a One Nation government that will bring our country together. That means ensuring this recovery reaches all parts of our country: from north to south, from east to west.

Also attending the event at Leeds Civic Hall was James Wharton, minister responsible for Northern Powerhouse within the Department for Communities and Local Government, Andrew Jones, Northern Powerhouse minister at DfT, and Sir David Higgins and Simon Kirby from HS2 Ltd.

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