Features

Whatever happened to the “Northern Powerhouse”?

The transport secretary, Chris Grayling, has been accused of betraying millions of taxpayers over Crossrail 2.

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The transport secretary, Chris Grayling, has been accused of "betraying millions of taxpayers" after backing Crossrail 2, a £30bn underground line through London, just days after ditching plans to electrify rail routes in England and Wales, says Graeme Paton in The Times. Electrification was at the "heart" of David Cameron and George Osborne's "bold" Northern Powerhouse scheme, says Sebastian Payne in the Financial Times.

But, under Theresa May, the Tories' interest in the north has "sadly" diminished. "The capital always needs more transport capacity, but too often the government defers to the southeast where the decision makers commute."

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Quite, says Helen Pidd in The Guardian. Crossrail 2 starts in Grayling's Epson constituency. The fact that it takes 49 minutes for the "fast" train to cross the 21 miles from Blackburn to Manchester is one reason the likes of Blackburn have so much deprivation and unemployment. Figures from the Institute for Public Policy Research North reveal that the north would have received £59bn more in funding over the past decade had transport spending per head matched London's. "If Grayling spent more time up here", he would understand the Tories' unpopularity.

If anything is a waste of taxpayers' money, it's HS2, says Daniel Hannan in The Daily Telegraph. A recent report puts the cost at £104bn, up from a 2010 estimate of £32.7bn. And where has the money gone? On fees, mainly. This is, after all, a government scheme, and government schemes have a tendency to attract consultants, advisers and rent-seekers. Grands projets invariably become more expensive as they go on.

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All may not be lost for the north though, adds Payne. One "enduring element" of the Powerhouse scheme was devolution from Whitehall to local government, including the creation of directly elected mayors for cities such as Manchester and Liverpool. If Labour's Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram, who represent these cities, "can convince Grayling that the north needs better trains, Britain's metro mayors will have proved their worth".

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