The ministers were accused of a “massive takeover” and of silencing the leaders of the north of England by withdrawing the powers of Transport for the North (TfN), the statutory body set up for advise the government on the region’s transport needs.
A senior official of the Ministry of Transport written to the CEO of TfN, Martin Tugwell, said Thursday he would stop paying the organization to develop Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR), a hotly contested train line across the Pennines.
TfN, which is overseen by a board of directors of all the mayors and heads of northern councils, had proposed a £ 36bn scheme to build a new line between Manchester and Leeds with a stop at Bradford.
But on Thursday the government said it would only build a bit of new track, with most of the route taking the existing Trans-Pennine line via Huddersfield rather than Bradford, which has no transit station.
The government’s approach cut costs in half, but disappointed its own MPs, especially those in Bradford, which despite being home to more than half a million people, recently turned out to have the worst connections railways from all UK towns.
Robbie Moore, who became MP for Keighley in 2019, told Parliament: “In my opinion, the District of Bradford has been completely wronged. We are one of the most socially disadvantaged areas in the UK and we need to improve transport connectivity. “
In a letter sent the day after the government rail review was published, David Hughes, chief executive of the rail infrastructure group overseen by the Department of Transportation, told Tugwell he would stop paying TfN to develop NPR.
“Rather, this work will be funded under the normal provisions of the rail network improvement portfolio, directly by the ministry,” he wrote.
Shadow Transportation Secretary Jim McMahon said: “This is a huge takeover in Whitehall. When George Osborne made plans for Northern Powerhouse Rail and signed the first decentralization agreement with Greater Manchester in 2014, I was the head of Oldham Council and believed in it, even though it was about ‘a Conservative government, because it was far better for us to control our own destiny than to be beholden to Whitehall, which would always put us in second place.
“I just feel like we’ve backed off. The entire architecture that was supposed to support decentralization has been dismantled.
Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, said: “It is worrying. There are clearly a number of people in Whitehall who don’t like the idea of the North having a louder voice. They want to dictate rather than work in partnership. As soon as the north begins to offer positive solutions and interventions, it tries to control us. Not only have we lost infrastructure, but we have also been silenced.
He insisted that TfN must not fold. “I will fight for it. It is the only formal structure of the British government apparatus that allows the North to come together with one voice. “
Economist Jim O’Neill, who was a northern powerhouse minister under Osborne, criticized TfN’s board for failing to develop clear priorities. “One of the challenges of TfN was that they seem to have a hard time prioritizing and there is usually too much compromise and not enough reconciliation,” he said.
Sarah Longlands, chief executive of the Center for Local Economic Strategies, said TfN’s destitution calls into question the entire concept of the northern power plant, as envisioned by Osborne as chancellor.
“I think it’s probably dead from a government perspective,” she said. “It is clear, especially through Covid, that this government has a centralization program… The verdict has fallen on whether they want to be associated with the North Power Plant, but if he is not dead he is under respiratory assistance. “
A rail expert said that so far TfN has received around £ 60million a year to pay consultants, Network Rail (soon to become Great British Railways) and HS2 Ltd to develop NPR, but now that money would go straight to Network Rail to develop it.
The government cut TfN’s core funding by 40% earlier this year, from £ 10 million to £ 6million, and canceled a plan to bring smart ticketing to the north. TfN chief executive Barrie White left shortly after.
The Guardian understands that TfN will continue to receive a core grant from the government in 2022-2023 as well as limited funds to act as a “co-sponsor” of NPR. This means that TfN will provide strategic direction and advice to government on a range of issues, including integration with local transport and infrastructure and local development and regeneration opportunities.
A spokesperson for the Department for Transport said: ‘As we deliver Northern Powerhouse Rail, as part of our £ 96bn investment in the railway, we need to make sure there is accountability and accountability. clear surveillance that deliver significant benefits to passengers as quickly as possible. As with all major projects, the program will be managed by the government.
Transport for the North “will continue to provide strategic direction and important advice,” they added.