The Conservative Party is facing a growing backlash from angry northern commuters after it was revealed that the north of England has seen £59 billion less in transport spending compared to London over the last ten years.
Almost 35,000 people have signed a petition demanding more investment outside the capital amid a row over a North-South divide in government spending, with organisers claiming its success “lays bare the real anger in the north” about recent developments.
Last week, transport secretary Chris Grayling announced government support for a £30 billion Crossrail 2 scheme for London just days after axing or downgrading rail projects in Wales, the Midlands and the North, the Press Association reported.
Meanwhile, figures published by the Institute of Public Research (IPPR) North revealed that the area is “underfunded” by almost £6 billion a year compared to London.
Separate analysis claimed that the vast majority of Department for Transport staff work in the capital and the south east, leading to an “institutional bias” that “patronises” northern commuters.
Leaders in Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Sheffield and Newcastle say Grayling had created “considerable uncertainty” and raised fears about the future of the Northern Powerhouse and the government’s aim of rebalancing the UK economy.
Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham and Liverpool city region mayor Steve Rotheram plan to convene a summit for northern political and business leaders in late August, before the return of Parliament.
IPPR director Ed Cox, who organised the petition, said the Department for Transport (DfT) “just isn’t listening” and called on the government to “deliver on its previous promises”.
“Its response has been to patronise northern commuters up-in-arms as mouthy troublemakers who need a good lecture on London’s special transport needs,” he said.
“The Government keeps saying that London businesses will pay half of Crossrail 2, but it’s being tin-eared on calls for the North to get these investment-raising powers too.
Cox added: “Northern businesses would like to contribute but we need Transport for the North to get the powers TfL has to raise investment for essential infrastructure.”
But the DfT insisted money for the north is not being cut, despite the fact earlier pledges to electrify trans-Pennine rail lines to improve speed and capacity are now in doubt.
Instead, new “bi-mode” trains which run on diesel and electricity are planned. Critics say electric trains are faster, cleaner and greener.
A spokesperson for the DfT said in a statement: “Building transport infrastructure has the potential to drive economic growth, create jobs and spread wealth across the country. That’s why we’re spending £57 billion on HS2, which will better connect Manchester and Leeds to the Midlands and London.
“It’s also why we’re committed to improving trans-Pennine services, and are working with Transport for the North to cut journey times and increase capacity between the major cities of the north.
“We are currently investing over £1 billion to improve rail infrastructure across the North of England, and major upgrades to the Manchester – Leeds – York route are being designed and developed.
“We are also investing £800 million on new road schemes in the North West, creating around 600 jobs – including upgrading the M62 to a four-lane smart motorway.”
They continued: “In spending taxpayers’ money, it’s vital for the government to deliver value for the whole country.
“So while we have agreed to work further with Transport for London on Crossrail 2, we have also said that London needs to pay half of the upfront construction costs and we have not committed any public funding yet.”