June 4, 2019
When George Osborne metaphorically pulled back the covers to reveal his Northern Powerhouse in June 2014, he spoke of wresting the country from its London-centric state to deliver greater connectivity, productivity and prosperity.
A principle element would be a focus on the transport network. In terms of North East rail travel, this need has arguably never been greater.
As Dennis Fancett, spokesperson for the North East branch of Railfuture – the independent and voluntary organisation campaigning for a bigger and better railway – tells North East Times, “this area is crying out for the levels of investment that would be approved in London without even a second thought.”
Changes are afoot.
As well as HS2, the East Coast Main Line is being upgraded for new Azuma rolling stock – made in Newton Aycliffe by Hitachi Rail Europe – and Network Rail is extending platforms at Dunston, Yarm and stations in Northumberland.
However, the issue was put into sharper focus when the Northern Powerhouse All-Party Parliamentary Group, backed by scores of MPs and peers – including some from the North East – wrote to Chancellor Philip Hammond. Their letter called on Mr Hammond to support Transport for the North’s (TfN) £39 billion “transformational” Northern Powerhouse Rail plan alongside HS2.
According to TfN’s plan, which has support from CBI North East and the North East England Chamber of Commerce, Northern Powerhouse Rail would put 15,000 extra businesses and 300,000 more people within 90 minutes of Newcastle by using a HS2 East Coast Main Line connection to Leeds.
When combined with a scheduled Transpennine route improvement, for example, TfN says its proposal would cut journey times from Middlesbrough to Manchester and Liverpool by 40 minutes and 50 minutes, respectively.
Dennis, who is also chairman of the South East Northumberland Rail User Group, agrees Northern Powerhouse Rail could help deliver a watershed moment.
“We strongly support the call from the Northern Powerhouse MPs for rail investment for the North to be given the same priority as HS2,” he said.
Nevertheless, he has reserved some caution.
The Northern Powerhouse has been accused of being too skewed towards the North West and Yorkshire – at the expense of the North East – and Mr Fancett said ending such disparity must be key to future rail improvements.
“We are concerned that even Northern Powerhouse Rail tends to concentrate predominantly on the Leeds-Manchester corridor and overlooks the North East,” he said.
“It does not, for instance, call for improved connectivity between Teesside and Tyneside and overlooks the strategic significance of the Newcastle-Carlisle rail corridor, which we believe has a vital role to play in connecting the east and west coasts. It also ignores the fact there is no local service into Newcastle from stations north of Morpeth, which would significantly boost the north Northumberland economy.
“Our campaigns address these issues and we urge the Chancellor and the Department for Transport to think about the North, but the North East in particular, as our region contains some of the most economically deprived communities in the country.”
Transport for the North
To read more about Northern Powerhouse Rail, visit www.transportforthenorth.com/reports/glance-northern-powerhouse-rail/