Disaster for Yorkshire as Tories break election promises on vital rail schemes
The Conservatives were accused of breaking election promises to Yorkshire voters after putting vital transport schemes on hold just weeks after polling day.
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin’s decision to halt the planned electrification of the transpennine route and the Midland mainline connecting London to Sheffield triggered a wave of criticism from across the region.
The announcement came just weeks after an election campaign during which the Conservatives repeatedly trumpeted their promises to invest in the region’s railways as part of their ‘northern powerhouse’ economic plan.
David Cameron’s official spokeswoman declined to comment on reports that the Prime Minister was aware of the problems at Network Rail before the election.
Former Deputy Prime Minister and Sheffield Hallam MP Nick Clegg said: “This is a disaster for Yorkshire and runs totally against the schemes I promoted in Government, which were designed to increase connectivity between northern cities.
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“Only by developing these key routes can we help boost the economies of cities like Leeds and Sheffield, create jobs for local people and encourage business to invest.”
Commitments to rail electrification featured in the Conservative manifesto and the long term economic plan for Yorkshire launched by David Cameron and George Osborne in Leeds in February.
Sheffield City Council leader Julie Dore described the announcement as “a blow for those of us committed to building a stronger North of England. “We call for this decision to be reversed immediately,” she added.
Coun Keith Wakefield, West Yorkshire Combined Authority transport committee chairman, said: “This blows a hole in the northern powerhouse rhetoric. This was supposed to be the centrepiece of the powerhouse economy of the North. Yet again, after an election we get news like this.
“We are still well behind the South. If we are serious about rebalancing the economy transport is key to delivering it.”
Mr McLoughlin announced in the Commons that the electrification schemes had been “paused” as part of a wider review of Network Rail’s £38 billion investment plan.
“Important aspects of Network Rail’s investment programme are costing more and taking longer. Electrification is difficult. The UK supply chain for the complex signalling works needs to be stronger, construction rates have been slow,” he told MPs.
“It has taken longer to obtain planning consents from some local authorities than expected.
“But that is no excuse - all of these problems could and should have been foreseen by Network Rail.”
Network Rail chairman Richard Parry-Jones is to step down and none of its executive directors will receive a bonus.
But Shadow Transport Secretary Michael Dugher, the Barnsley East MP, insisted the Government was to blame for not getting a grip on Network Rail.
He told Mr McLoughlin: “You spent the election campaign repeating promises you knew you would break after the election and that’s what has been revealed today.”
The delays could have a knock-on impact on proposals to electrify the Harrogate, Calder Valley and Selby lines.
Brian Dunsby, chairman of the Harrogate Chamber of Trade and Commerce, said: “We had always expected the Harrogate line to follow transpennine as locally that would make sense.
“We have got to hope that while there is a re-think about the more complex jobs like transpennine and HS3 some of the smaller jobs like Calder Valley, Harrogate and Selby can be done because they are simpler.”
Chris Hearld, Partner and Northern Chairman at KPMG, said: “Our clients across the North firmly hold that transport connectivity is the number one issue facing the future of the Northern Powerhouse initiative and the drive to fulfil the potential of the region’s economy. Any delay to improvements is regrettable and we hope to hear better news soon.”