GOOD public transport is vital in ensuring that everyone can fulfil their potential in life.
As the lead member for Inclusive Growth at the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) I know how important this is to peoples’ prospects and opportunities.
Public transport has an absolutely key role in promoting social inclusion by enabling people from the widest possible range of groups – including jobseekers, low income families, young people, disabled people and older people – to work, learn and be economically active.
So, if we’re truly committed to sharing the benefits of prosperity more widely – not just within Greater Manchester, but across the country as a whole – good public transport is essential to tackling issues for people who feel ‘left behind’.
Sorting that out requires investment, of course. And above all, it requires fair investment.
That’s why last week’s announcement that the Government has ditched its pledge to electrify the Manchester to Leeds rail line was so disappointing.
In 2015, the Department for Transport had said electrification of the whole link going through Manchester, Leeds and York would be complete by 2022. This, we were assured, demonstrated the Government’s commitment to the Northern Powerhouse and it was also in their election manifesto published less than a couple of months ago.
Yet today we now find ourselves once again stranded at the platform…
This is the second time the pledge has been backtracked upon – a pause for ‘review’ was undone last time – and Greater Manchester isn’t the only place to suffer from these announcements by Chris Grayling, the Transport Secretary. He’s also scrapped electrification of the routes between Cardiff and Swansea, Windermere and Oxenholme in the Lake District, and between Kettering, Nottingham and Sheffield.
On Monday this was then followed by news that the Government will be spending billions more on Crossrail 2 – running as far north as Broxbourne in Hertfordshire and as far south as Epsom in Surrey, passing through central London.
That pledge was not in the Government’s election manifesto and is a massive slap in the face to the North and other regions.
In principle I’ve got no issue with South East commuters getting investment in their rail services; far from it. But it’s also very clear that different parts of the country are not being treated equally or fairly in this.
Data from Statista, using HM Treasury figures, shows that spending per head of population on transport infrastructure is £2,595.68 in London. That is 26 times more than the £99.19 spent per person in the North West.
That wouldn’t be so bad if our rail connections were already good but, frankly, we all know they are ‘state of the ark’.
Many residents will be very familiar with the substandard state of trans Pennine services with overcrowded carriages, vintage rolling stock and regular delays or cancellations. Journey times haven’t improved for decades – although fares have risen substantially – and don’t even dare to dream that you might be able to enjoy Wi-Fi access…
Making these announcements after Parliament went into summer recess all feels, shall we say, at least a tad convenient for Mr Grayling. But if he really thinks this will all be forgotten when they return to business after the party conference season, he is very much mistaken.
Andy Burnham has made clear the universal disgust at this decision across GM – and, rest assured, we’re all prepared to fight long and hard to get this decision overturned once again. This is not the end of the line on this story.
On a more positive note this week, I wanted to mention great news for Hollinwood.
On Monday I went to meet Neal Biddle, development director of Langtree, at Hollinwood Junction where we have signed a development agreement that could create up to 760 new jobs with leisure, retail, employment and housing.
This is a significant milestone and it hasn’t been easy to get here.
It started when I wrote to the National Grid asking them to talk to us about the redundant gas holder that has become such a blight on the area and blocking development.
They were planning to leave it there until 2023 at the earliest but we’ve reached agreement and can now get on with demolition to start regenerating this key gateway site.
Interest from potential occupiers is high and Langtree expect to be able to announce a first deal before the end of summer, so watch this space.
This is my last blog before the Oldham Council recess period, but it will return on August 23.
Until then, please get out and enjoy the summer weather with your family and friends and have a great time.