Majority of officials who downgraded northern rail plans don’t live there


Only a quarter of the government officials responsible for cancelling HS2 to Yorkshire and downgrading plans for Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) actually live in the north of England and rely on the region’s sub-par trains, the Guardian has learned.

Of the 24 officials in the Department for Transport (DfT) responsible for writing the Integrated Rail Plan (IRP), just six live in the north, the DfT admitted in response to a freedom of information (FoI) request.

The government was accused of “betraying” the north in November, when the long-awaited IRP ignored recommendations from Transport for the North, a statutory body set up to advise the government on the region’s transport needs. That organisation, which brings together all the political and business leaders of the north, had asked for HS2 to reach Leeds and for NPR to run right across the country, including a stop in Bradford.

Steve Rotheram, the mayor of the Liverpool city region, said: “With so few northern voices involved in the decision-making process, it’s no surprise that the government chose to ignore millions of people across the north in foisting their cheap and nasty rail plan on us. It’s the same old ‘Whitehall knows best’ thinking that we have seen time and time again from a government who are doing more to hold us back than level us up.”

Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, said the admissions were proof the “cut-price” IRP was plotted from Whitehall and imposed on the rest of the country.

“You don’t have to spend long travelling on the north’s fragmented, unreliable, overpriced public transport system to realise that it has been built by people who don’t live here and don’t use it,” he said.

“Transport for the North was set up to correct this and give the north a strong transport voice. It’s so frustrating that its clear, united, cross-party advice on the IRP was simply ignored. The result is yet another cut-price plan imposed by Whitehall that will not solve our rail needs. We will only get the public transport that people in the north deserve when we are able to make our own decisions about it.”

The rail plans caused particular anger in the north-east, with local business leaders accusing the government of “ignoring” the region of 2.7 million people.

Jamie Driscoll, the North of Tyne mayor, said the FoI admissions proved the north of England needed to be able to make its own decisions.

“If anyone in the north ever believed this government was serious about investing in northern transport, they don’t now. The only way we’ll ever see a decent northern transport network is to give the north the power to raise the finance ourselves. That means devolving the transport budget. We’re nearly a quarter of the country’s population – give us a quarter of the budget, and let us decide how to spend it. And give us tools like land value capture, so we can create the wealth to pay for vital infrastructure,” he said.

The DfT said that one of the two ministers in the “core” IRP team lived in the north. It did not name them, but it is very likely to have been Andrew Stephenson, the minister for HS2 and MP for Pendle in Lancashire.

The department refused to reveal how many of the DfT’s three special advisers involved in the IRP lived in the north because it “would be unfair and would contravene current data protection legislation”.

In March 2021 the government announced the DfT was to create a “second headquarters” in Birmingham and a northern hub in Leeds, with 650 job roles created in the two cities by 2025.

Source: The Guardian