Starmer: Johnson failed “first test of levelling up” and “betrayed” North

Elliot Chappell

Keir Starmer has argued that the government failed “the first test of levelling up” with its integrated rail plan and accused Boris Johnson of betraying the voters in the North of England after ministers broke key infrastructure pledges.

In a Sky News interview this afternoon, the Labour leader said: “The North of England has been betrayed because the Prime Minister made two very important promises. HS2 all the way to Leeds, a new line – that promise has been ripped up.

“He also promised the Northern Powerhouse Rail, a new line from Manchester to Leeds and that plan’s been ripped up. This was the first test of levelling up and the government has completed failed and let down everybody in the North.”

The Labour leader also told viewers today that “you can’t believe a word the Prime Minister says”, adding: “If you can’t level up in Bradford then the whole levelling up agenda is seen for what it really is, which is just a slogan.”

Under the changed proposals unveiled this morning, Northern Powerhouse Rail will now not go through Bradford as previously promised by ministers. Bradford is the seventh biggest but worst connected major city in the country.

Grant Shapps also confirmed today that, under the integrated rail plan, the eastern leg of HS2 to Leeds has been scrapped and that plans for Northern Powerhouse Rail, a new east-to-west high-speed line across the North, have been downgraded.

30 mayors and council leaders from the North, including one Conservative, have put their name to a joint letter saying that the rail plan is inadequate, that it could hold back the North and that MPs should be given a free vote on it.

“I stand with my fellow northern mayors today because we are one North and if Bradford is left out on a limb, or if Newcastle and Hull get nothing at all, then that affects us too,” Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham said this afternoon.

“We all live in one place and we all need to get across the North of England, and actually I think that is the primary test that our residents will apply to the plans. It is the one that I will apply to the plans: connectivity across the North, that is the biggest problem we face.”

The Transport Secretary also revealed that there will be HS2 track from Crewe to Manchester, as promised, but that instead of the eastern leg of HS2 to Leeds, there will be a high-speed line established between Birmingham to the East Midlands.

The minister insisted that journey times will still be cut from 86 to 51 minutes for Manchester to Birmingham; 86 to 58 minutes for London to Derby; 74 to 26 minutes for Brimingham to Nottingham; 55 to 33 minutes for Leeds to Manchester; and 50 minutes to 35 minutes from Liverpool to Manchester.

Northern MP and Shadow Transport Secretary Jim McMahon, responding to the statement in parliament earlier, accused the government of having “completely sold us out”, adding: “What we’ve been given today is the great train robbery.”

Boris Johnson said last month that the government would build Northern Powerhouse Rail, and the government also faced criticism from its own benches today. Tory Robbie Moore said he was “deeply disappointed” by the integrated rail plan and said the Bradford district has been “deeply short-changed”.

Conservative MP Huw Merriman, chair of the transport select committee, told parliament this morning that the announcement showed “the danger of selling perpetual sunlight and leaving it to others to explain the moonlight”.

The announcement followed longstanding criticisms of the disparity between infrastructure spending between the South and North of the country and promises from the Prime Minister, both before and after the election, to ‘level up’ England.

Recent Institute for Public Policy Research analysis showed that between 2009 and 2020, the North received just £349 per person in transport spending while the UK overall received £430 per person and London received £864 per person.

The think tank’s research showed that if the North had received the same per person spending as the capital it would have received £86bn more, which is a figure higher than Transport for the North’s 30-year £70bn transport investment plan.

Within the North, the North East saw the lowest transport spending – an average of just £310 per person over the decade. Yorkshire and the Humber received £328 and the North West £379. The East Midlands and South West have also seen underinvestment, receiving just £258 and £270 spent per person.

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