Transport for the North has seen funding and key powers removed following the body’s furious reaction to the revised Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) project.
Louise Gittins, the chair of the group, branded the government’s Integrated Rail Plan (IRP) “woefully inadequate” on Thursday, after it massively scaled back the NPR project linking Manchester and Leeds and ditched the bulk of the HS2 high-speed track extension from Birmingham to Yorkshire.
A letter from theDepartment of Transport sent the following day confirmed that the North’s umbrella transport authority would be stripped of its responsibility for developing Northern Powerhouse Rail, a move that has been described as a “Whitehall power grab” by Labour.
David Hughes, director of the DfT’s Rail Infrastructure Group, said in the letter to TfN chief executive Martin Tugwell that the department intended to take “full and immediate responsibility” for developing NPR’s strategic outline case.
TfN would be relegated to an advisory role, becoming only a “co-sponsor” of the project.
Responding to the news, Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham said it was clear proof of opposition in Whitehall to the north having a strong voice.
Mr Burnham said: “It’s worrying. There’s clearly a number of people in Whitehall who don’t like the idea of the north having a stronger voice. They want to dictate rather than work in partnership.
“The minute the north starts to come up with solutions and positive interventions, it tries to rein us in. Not only did we lose out on infrastructure, we got silenced as well.”
Demonstrable track record
Mr Tugwell defended TfN’s “demonstrable track record” and said it was “essential” that the body continues to shape Northern Powerhouse Rail.
“TfN is in discussion with DfT officials about the best possible way of moving the NPR programme forward in an efficient and inclusive manner,” he said.
“TfN has a demonstrable track record in developing evidence-led, cost effective solutions that reflect the needs of the north’s communities. It is essential that the NPR programme continues to be shaped by the knowledge, insight and constructive challenge that underpins TfN’s work.”
Mr Burnham said he would “fight” for the survival of TfN.
“This is the one formal structure in the British machinery of government that allows the north to come together with one voice,” he said.