Grayling defends government record on northern spending

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling has spoken out in defence of government's spending on transport in the north, claiming that critics have not done their sums correctly. If transport projects that are carried out by local authorities but funded from Westminster are taken into account then the north gets just as much as areas in the south, he said. The IPPR North think tank has calculated that transport spending in the north has averaged £282 per person over the past 10 years, in comparison to London's £680.

Speaking at a meeting of northern business leaders, Grayling said: "The figures used were misleading, and certainly do not represent the true picture of investment. They give a very partial view of what is happening." Grayling gave the example of a new link road from Heysham to the M6, delivered by Lancashire County Council but paid for mostly from Department for Transport grants. 

"Because this was a locally driven project rather than a national scheme, it and scores of schemes like it weren’t counted in the IPPR figures. But the road is completed and serving the people and businesses of north Lancashire. The reality is that when you include those centrally funded and locally delivered projects, this government is spending more per head on transport in the north west than we are in the south east. There are regional discrepancies, but they are nothing like those suggested by critics," Grayling said.

The long-running argument of north versus south transport spending came to the fore again this summer after Grayling announced the axeing of some of Network Rail's electrification plans days after stating government's support for Crossrail 2. That support is now conditional on London meeting half of the £32 billion price tag up front rather than through fare revenue and business rates after Crossrail 2 is built, but the timing of both announcements brought an angry response from politicians and business leaders in the north and the spending comparisons that Grayling is now having to deny.

Grayling also defended government's rail electrification programme, which is continuining and achieved "dozens-fold" more than previous governments, he said. However, escalating costs and Network Rail's funding difficulties have led to a major rethink. Grayling pointed out that continuing the electrification of the Midland Mainline to Sheffield would cost £1bn for the sake of one minute saved on journeys.

"People have got to stop only thinking about how a train is powered, and focus instead on getting the best possible improvement for passengers. In the case of the Midland Mainline, we are adding extra tracks for part of the route. We are putting in place better signalling, we are working on straightening the curves on the route and we are buying brand new 125 mile an hour hybrid/bi-mode electric trains for the route. We will electrify those parts of the route where it will make the biggest difference, reducing journey times from London to Sheffield by 20 minutes at peak times," Grayling said.

One of the lines that is now unlikely to be electrified is the TransPennine route between Manchester and Leeds. This and other routes previously expected to be modernised with electric power, including the Great Western west of Cardiff and the northern end of the Midland Mainline, will now get bi-mode electric-diesel trains. The TransPennine line will also receive £5m of development funding through the Digital Railway programme, Grayling said. The central section of Thameslink through London will be the first to switch to automatic train control next year. DfT is now looking at eight strategic business cases for rolling out the Digital Railway programme to other routes including the TransPennine line.

"I want a big increase in transpennine capacity, on roads and on rail. It’s why we are pressing ahead with the A66, and looking for new road corridors. And it’s why I want the modernisation of the transpennine rail route to use the latest technology to maximise its potential for the future," Grayling said.

"We’re already seeing how digital technology is transforming the London underground. And some metro lines. Digital technology and digital control rooms mean a more reliable service, an even safer railway, and more capacity for passengers. With this in mind, I have asked Network Rail to put together a plan setting out how they could embed digital technology in the transpennine upgrade, and I have set aside an initial £5m of development funding to scope this work."