George Osborne’s promise of a third high speed rail line linking his Northern Powerhouse is being undermined by a “piecemeal approach to rail investment” putting at risk regional economic growth.
A damning report on the way the Government plans major rail projects has questioned why the North’s transport needs were not included at the earliest possible stage, with the East West high speed line proposed by the Chancellor last year coming almost as an afterthought to the High Speed 2 line set to increase links to London.
The influential Commons Public Accounts Committee today questions why there appears to be no attempt at the Department for Transport to set a clear plan for multi-billion pound spending commitments.
The report has been seized on by Labour’s shadow transport secretary Michael Dugher as evidence of a “disorganised and piecemeal approach to transport investment” while committee chair Margaret Hodge said the Department for Transport had potentially missed the chance to bring real economic gain to the North by not starting work on the case HS3 at the same as HS2.
Ms Hodge said: “The Government recently announced proposals for High Speed 3. It did not carry out an assessment of High Speed 3 before it gave the go-ahead to High Speed 2 and it therefore did not test whether improved connectivity in the North was a greater priority.”
The MP added that the Department was “risking repeating the mistakes of the past with HS2 given the limited resources it is investing in supporting the project to secure regeneration benefits from this £50 billion programme”
Barnsley MP Mr Dugher told The Yorkshire Post it was time to establish an independent National Infrastructure Commission, a move the Government has so far blocked.
He added: “We now need a long-term infrastructure plan rather than a short-term politically driven approach.
“Ministers need to maximise the benefits for the whole country from rail investment projects, which can help to regenerate our cities in regions such as Yorkshire, get young people into work and helps our small businesses to grow.”
The report comes after the Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin used a speech in Leeds to urge Northern councils to come together and set out their priorities for the region as devolution talks continue.
Last night a DfT spokesman said: “This scrutiny is welcome. The report sets out some of those questions in detail and acknowledges that progress is being made.”
He added: “HS2 will have a transformational effect, rebalancing the economy and helping secure the UK’s future prosperity, providing high value for money to the taxpayer.
“With Sir David Higgins as chairman of HS2 Ltd, we are fully focused on keeping costs down and are determined that this vital part of the Government’s long-term economic plan will be built on time and within budget.”