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AFTER BUDGET: Doubt is growing over new railway line in the North

AFTER BUDGET: Doubt is growing over new railway line in the North

Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham responds to the 2021 Autumn Budget at a press conference, Image: GMCA

Plans for a new railway line connecting the North of England are in doubt according to metro mayors in the region.

Details on a new line from Liverpool to Leeds via Manchester and Bradford which was ‘promised’ as part of Northern Powerhouse Rail are still awaited.

But Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham suspects bad news is being delayed, saying ‘doubt is growing’, but he continues to hope it will happen.

Meanwhile, Liverpool City Region mayor Steve Rotheram said he is ‘fearful’ the government has ‘gone cold’ on the whole idea of a new railway line.

It comes after Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced that an Integrated Rail Plan would be published ‘soon’, but he did not commit to any cash for a new line.

Speaking after the autumn budget speech, Burnham said the lack of any positive reference to the Northern Powerhouse Rail ‘does cause concern’.

He said: “If you go back to the original Northern Powerhouse, we were promised that increased connectivity between the Northern cities.

“And even this Prime Minister in his first speech in Manchester promised that new line that would go from Liverpool through Manchester to Leeds via Bradford. That is what we believe we’ve been repeatedly promised.

“It just feels like some bad news is being delayed here.

“We will wait to find out what the government’s decisions are in the Integrated Rail Plan, but the North is united on this. We need that new line to deliver the step change that we need in rail connectivity across the North of England.”

The Labour mayor welcomed that the government was ‘buying into the idea of London-style transport system’ with a £1bn investment in Greater Manchester.

But he argued that, like London, the North should not be forced to chose between better regional links or improved intra-city transport systems.

He also criticised cutting air passenger duty rather than reducing rail fares ahead of COP26, describing the budget as ‘weak on net zero’ overall.

Referencing reforms to alcohol duty which would see tax cuts on drinks such as sparkling wine, Burnham said: “I would have preferred to hear slightly less about carbonated wine and much more about a decarbonised economy.”

Six Levelling Up Fund bids in Greater Manchester were successful, including funding for a new civic hub in Radcliffe, Bury Market and Ashton Town Hall.

Burnham credited the Labour-run councils and MPs for securing the cash.

He also welcomed the ‘partial u-turn’ on Universal Credit which will see the taper cut by 8 pc within weeks, but he said this does not go far enough.

The metro mayor said that nearly two thirds of Universal Credit claimants in Greater Manchester would not benefit, leaving 200,000 people no better off.

He also claimed that government spending increases would not be sustained.

He added: “It did feel like a budget more for today than tomorrow. And too much focus on alcohol can leave you with a big risk of a hangover tomorrow.”

 

Words: Joseph Timan, Local Democracy Reporter


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