Osborne calls for Manchester to Leeds high speed rail link

Published on Monday, 23 June 2014 10:37
Written by Daniel Mason

A high speed rail link between Manchester and Leeds could help create a "northern powerhouse" in the UK economy, George Osborne said today.

The plan would see a new line follow the route of the existing railway between the two cities, with upgraded tunnels and other infrastructure.

In a speech at Manchester's Museum of Science and Industry, the chancellor said cities in the north of England were "individually strong, but collectively not strong enough" allowing London to dominate "more and more".

"That's not healthy for our economy; it's not good for our country," he said. "We need a northern powerhouse too. Not one city, but a collection of northern cities, sufficiently close to each other that combined they can take on the world."

Osborne said that could be created by "joining our northern cities together - not physically, or into some artificial political construct - but by providing the modern transport connections they need; by backing their science and universities; by backing their creative clusters; and giving them the local power and control that a powerhouse economy needs".

The current transport system was "not fit for purpose", he argued, pointing out that it was quicker to travel the 283 miles between London and Paris than less than half the distance between Liverpool and Hull.

"We need to think big. We need an ambitious plan to make the cities and town here in this northern belt radically more connected from east to west - to create the equivalent of travelling around a global city.

"As well as fixing the roads, that means considering a new high speed rail link. Today I want us to start thinking about whether to build a new high speed rail connection east-west from Manchester to Leeds. Based on the existing rail and rail route, but speeded up with new tunnels and infrastructure."

The new line would be in addition to HS2, which will connect London to Birmingham, Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds. Osborne said his latest proposal should be included in the current review of the second phase of HS2.

He likened opponents of high speed rail to opponents of the original railways. "I've discovered that almost everything worth doing in politics is controversial," he said.

But Labour's shadow chancellor, Ed Balls, claimed "nobody will believe the Tories can deliver the jobs, growth and investment we need for the north of England".

"On high speed rail, we said months ago that we need value for money for the taxpayer and to improve the existing plans to maximise the benefits for the whole country and strengthen the links between northern cities," he added. "Ministers need finally to start listening."

Dr Richard Wellings, head of transport at the Institute of Economic Affairs thinktank, said high speed rail was an "expensive and inefficient way" of linking northern cities.

"Because northern conurbations are spread out geographically and include numerous different towns, high speed trains between the largest city centres would make little difference to door-to-door journey times for a high proportion of travellers," he said.

"The chancellor should be focusing on smaller-scale schemes that deliver high returns for the taxpayer or, better still, that can be financed privately, rather than concocting a headline-grabbing vanity project designed to attract votes."

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