Mayors and combined authorities across Lancashire will have greater control over setting local train fares, timetables, and budgets under sweeping new plans set out by the Prime Minister.
In a speech in Rotherham today, the Boris Johnson set out his intention to allow Northern communities to take more control over their services. It means local people will have more power over how their trains are run, including the frequency and fares, as well as allowing them to hold local providers to account.
He said: "Today I am announcing my intention to give the railways of the north back to the people of the north. Back to the places where they were born. Back to Stockton and to Darlington. Back to Liverpool and Manchester.
"On local lines in metropolitan areas, we will give greater control over fares, service patterns, rolling stock and stations. And outside the combined authority areas, I want communities to take control too.
“That might be through county councils taking on similar roles, in their areas, for stations or branch lines. Or it might be by transferring local branch line and rural services to community rail partnerships, owned by local people. And as you have asked, we will give you far greater control over your budgets."
The news follows a campaign by newspapers across the North in June, including the Lancashire Post and Blackpool Gazette in which it joined forces with rival publishers to challenge Britain’s main political parties to commit to a package of policy measures to turbo-charge the North’s economy. The 'Power Up The North' collaboration was between hundreds of newspapers and websites from JPI Media, Newsquest and Reach.
The Prime Minister said that many of the North's best services, including Merseyrail, the Manchester Metrolink, and the Nexus Tyne & Wear Metro, are already run by, or on behalf of, locally elected politicians. “They're always going to care more about their trains and trams than someone in Whitehall,” he said.
The Prime Minister also said that "in this birthplace of the railways, we can do so much better. Today – coming from London on the train, it took me just over an hour and a half to get to Doncaster. But if, for example, you travelled from Liverpool to Rotherham – less than half the distance – you might have had to leave an hour earlier than me, and change as many as three times."
He lamented that fact that many Northern cities still have “to put up with old diesel trains, running once or twice an hour, from stations where the only form of welcome on the platform is a bus shelter.”
However, drawing on his experience as Mayor of London, the Prime Minister warned that “as well as taking power, you will have to take responsibility. That means alongside taking the credit, you will be taking the heat.”
He also made clear that the North's railways must remain part of a national network, which is what passengers want.
The move to hand down more control, in partnership with the railways, is one of the recommendations from the Williams Rail Review, led by independent chair Keith Williams.
Henri Murison,director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership said:
“The commitment of the Prime Minister to the Northern Powerhouse, five years on from the speech which launched it, is to be welcomed. First he in Manchester promised Northern Powerhouse Rail, which will benefit from Liverpool to Bradford and Leeds, from Sheffield up to Newcastle, and today he supports the case for rail devolution. We believe that integrated transport will enable growth, ensuring that we have more talent available to reach the jobs our businesses create.”
“Our existing Mayors, such as Steve Rotheram in Liverpool City Region and Ben Houchen in the Tees Valley, need further powers and long term secure funding, controlled locally. We also still have half the North waiting for an elected Mayor, with devolution one of the key original ingredients of securing economic rebalancing. The litmus test on devolution is getting more deals negotiated and existing ones extended, and the Treasury needs to give its full support to the process as it did five years ago.
“The new body to drive economic growth will put us on the world stage and should be the one to drive and deliver the Northern Powerhouse Industrial Strategy and must be driven by leaders in the North. We look forward to working with the Prime Minister with northern business leaders to ensure it plays a constructive role in the work of taking powers and resources out of their control by Whitehall.”