In a digression from his usual party line on cutting down the national deficit, George Osborne has emerged to express his support for devolution plans which, if they go ahead, will give major Northerns cities greater control over housing, transport, planning and policing. In what is hoped to be the first stage of the “Northern Powerhouse” dream, the Chancellor of the Exchequer is set to back plans for a fast rail line between Leeds and Manchester in this weekâs budget.
It was back in October that the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ plan was initially signed off though last weekâs comments were the first real sign of plans coming to fruition. Planned civil works have been drawn up by Transport for the North (TfN), the head of which, David Brown, said development was inevitable and necessary.
The route between the two major cities is predicted to be at the top of Lord Adonisâ report for the National Infrastructure Commission. Commentators have suggested the report could well include recommendations of anything from full electrification to a whole new network.
TfN has gone further, calling for a 30-mile tunnel to be built under the Pennines in order to link Sheffield and Manchester. The group has suggested the tunnel could slash journeys between the cities by some 30 minutes, as well as alleviating road congestion by providing a more convenient rail service. Five different outline plans have been submitted by the transport body and range from a door-to-door, city centre to centre city route, to one that winds around Manchester to the north-east of Sheffield.
The investment has been calculated to represent a £56.6bn increase to size of the northern economy by 2040. It would also include a new fast track rail line, connecting the northern ends of High Speed 2 by 2033. A new 20-mile section linking Liverpool to HS2 would also be built while lines would be upgraded.
The National Infrastructure Commission however is understood to be hesitant committing to what would be one of the longest underground routes in the world. The project is forecast to cost some £6bn. Adonis is understood to be concerned about the viability of other major projects such as Londonâs Crossrail 2 if the transport budget is spread elsewhere. Whether the north will ever receive the attention and joined-up treatment as the capital remains to be seen, but Osborneâs latest comments are surely a hopeful sign.