George Osborne calls on government to back Northern Powerhouse Rail plans

Former chancellor George Osborne is calling on the government to fund the Northern Powerhouse Rail project.

Former chancellor George Osborne and business leaders in the north have called on the government to boost spending on transport projects in the north, such as Northern Powerhouse Rail.

The move follows recent anger from political and business leaders in the north of England after the government announced they would scrap plans to electrify a number of rail lines. In July, transport secretary Chis Grayling announced the cancellation of rail electrification projects on the Midland Main Line, Great Western Main Line and in the Lake District and he later suggested that the electrification of the rail line between Manchester and Leeds could be cancelled. The same month Grayling announced the government would support Crossrail 2, a north-east to south-west railway in London.

Writing in the Financial Times today former chancellor Osborne called on the government to commit to building high speed rail links across the north of England, starting with improvements across the Pennines. This project is referred to as to as Northern Powerhouse Rail or HS3 or Crossrail for the North. 

Osborne’s article coincides with the launch of a campaign this week by the Northern Powerhouse Partnership. The partnership, which Osborne chairs, is calling on the government to commit to Northern Powerhouse Rail.  Specifically the Partnership is calling for ministers when they set out the design of High Speed Two Phase 2b (Crewe to Manchester and Birmingham to Leeds) later this year to remodel four junctions so they complement Northern Powerhouse Rail, start detailed planning work on Northern Powerhouse Rail and allocate a long term capital budget.

A letter sent to the government has the support of a number of businesses based in the north including Mace, Arcadis, ARUP, Bruntwood, Manchester Airport, Drax Power Ltd, West & North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce, Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, Yorkshire Bank, Think Architecture, Leeds Business Improvement District, Town Centre Securities PLC and Harvey Nichols.

In his FT article Osborne said the project would “transform the northern economy”, bringing seven million extra people within a 90 minute journey time of one of the northern cities. The former chancellor said the project could cost £7bn but said that the investment could be spread over many years. He added that the transport budget was set to accommodate both Northern Powerhouse Rail and other projects, such as Crossrail 2. 

T|he Financial Times also reports that Business North, a lobby group, has written to ministers calling for an end to the north/south divide on transport spending. According to the FT the letter’s signatories include Chris Hearld, chair of Business North and KPMG’s northern region, Henrietta Jowitt, deputy director of the CBI and Steven Underwood, chief executive of the Peel group. 

Tomorrow, business and political leaders will take part in the Northern Transport Summit to discuss how to ensure electrification and further upgrades go ahead. Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham, Liverpool City Region mayor Steve Rotheram and the leaders of Leeds, Sheffield, Newcastle and Manchester councils are expected to attend the summit. 

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