Philip Hammond pressed on rail plans during northern visit

Mayors Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram urge chancellor to prioritise Crossrail for the North over Crossrail 2

Philip Hammond has met regional leaders in the north of England as part of an attempt to prove that the government is committed to the so-called “northern powerhouse” project to close the north-south divide.

But the chancellor was accused by some of those he met on his tour of failing to make any concrete promises. “In truth we didn’t see the colour of his money today,” said Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester.

Burnham and his Liverpool counterpart, Steve Rotheram, urged Hammond to prioritise building a fast east-west rail link between Liverpool and Hull – a project known as Crossrail for the North – before the proposed £30bn Crossrail 2 line across London.

Crossrail 2 would begin in Epsom, the constituency of Chris Grayling, the transport secretary. Over the summer he broke a Tory manifesto promise to fully electrify key northern routes and then lent his backing to Crossrail 2, enraging many in the north. Hammond represents another Surrey constituency, Runnymede and Weybridge, which is very near another proposed Crossrail 2 stop, Shepperton.

Two weeks ago George Osborne, Hammond’s predecessor as chancellor and the originator of the northern powerhouse concept, urged the prime minister to commit to the northern rail line.

Burnham said: “We told [Hammond] that we felt Crossrail for the North was the highest investment priority for the country.

“For me, there can’t be a northern powerhouse without substantial investment in rail infrastructure. I was explicitly saying that the north is a higher priority than Crossrail 2 … It cannot be that London wins again at our expense and we are expected to wait even longer.”

He said he did not believe the government could afford both Crossrail 2 and Crossrail for the North. “We’ve got the cost of HS2, which is a big outlay, we’ve got the cost of Brexit, the divorce bill as it’s called – that’s another big outlay. Are we really saying there’s two £30bn-plus cheques lying around for both Crossrail 2 and Crossrail for the North? Well, we have doubts about that. So we are saying, in that scenario, if he’s going to have to choose, he should choose the north of England and we think parliament would back us up if it came to a choice.”

Burnham said Hammond had failed to provide clarity on what would happen to the Conservatives’ manifesto promise to electrify the key trans-Pennine route between Manchester and Leeds. Over the summer Grayling backtracked and said not all of the line would be electrified because new trains could switch between electric and diesel modes.

“The government is asking the people of the north to accept second best,” Burnham said.

Rotheram described the meeting as positive but lacking in promises. “I’m never happy when we have meetings where there’s no absolute commitment to fund things, but I think we had a fair hearing off him. It’s what comes next, as always. The chancellor has got two fantastic opportunities: one in Manchester at the Tory party conference [in October] and one in the autumn statement. Let’s see what comes out of those.”

Hammond said: “Boosting productivity in the north is at the very heart of the government’s ambition to build an economy that works for everyone. As we prepare to leave the European Union it is even more important that we support the northern powerhouse to reach its full potential. That’s why we are investing record amounts in infrastructure, and working with metro mayors to encourage growth and create opportunities throughout the north.”


Helen Pidd North of England editor

The GuardianTramp

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