The Transport Secretary has denied that Lancashire is a poor relation to the rest of the North of England when it comes to planned rail and road improvements.
Chris Grayling said that it was his goal to ensure the county was not left behind as projects to cut journey times across the North begin to take shape.
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Earlier this year, the strategic body Transport for the North (TfN) unveiled a plan for so-called Northern Powerhouse Rail, a combination of new and upgraded lines which will better connect Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Hull and Newcastle – and link into the HS2 route.
However, Mr. Grayling rejected the suggestion that Lancashire is set to lose out as a result of that city-based focus.
“The Northern Powerhouse is about the whole of North – and I’ve tried to make sure we have channelled money into other areas,” he said.
“We have completed the electrification of the line between Blackpool and Manchester and that means the trains on that corridor are going to be running at 100mph.
“You can’t change the world overnight, but that’s a big step forward for parts of Lancashire.
“We’re also replacing every single train in the North – those slow elderly trains are on their way out this summer,” added Mr. Grayling, who will today tell an audience in Manchester that the government has funded over £600m of green transport schemes in the North.
TfN also recently revealed its long-term plan for transport across the wider region over the next thirty years. That document does mention Lancashire as one of the key strategic development corridors in the North.
And according to Mr Grayling, the government’s willingness to invest in the county’s transport infrastructure has been demonstrated in past and planned projects in previously “neglected” areas.
“The Heysham link road [opened in 2016] is a really important example of unlocking a part of Lancashire that was poorly served by transport before.
“I’ve also mandated Highways England to start work on the routes between East Lancashire and Yorkshire.”
But the Secretary of State was more circumspect about whether TfN would secure the £39bn which it said was needed in its outline business case in order to make its plans for the North a reality.
“It’s not so much TfN getting £39bn – TfN is there to set investment priorities, but as the investment programme rolls forward [those] priorities will definitely be a part of that,” he said.
CALL FOR COUNCILS TO GIVE THE GREEN LIGHT TO GREEN INITIATIVES
Addressing the Transport for the North Summit today, Chris Grayling will trumpet “record investment” in sustainable and low carbon transport schemes across the North – including low-emission buses in places like Lancaster.
The majority of the £600m which the government has driven into green transport across the North was channelled through the Transport for Cities Fund – much of it via combined authorities with elected mayors.
But the Secretary of State denied that Lancashire had been pushed to the back of the queue, because it had not adopted that model of governance.
But he urged all local authorities to apply for funds which remain in the pot for the current financial year – including £2.5m to set-up on-street charging points in residential areas.
“No local authority in the North West has applied for [that] funding,” Mr. Grayling said.
“If you are contemplating a switch to an electric vehicle, the chances are you will want to charge your car at home. That’s fine if you’ve got a driveway – you can spend a few hundred pounds installing a charging point yourself – but not if you park on the street outside your house.
“We’ve only got two councils in the whole of the North that have applied for government funding to install charging equipment outside people’s houses – that money is there, so please come forward,” he added.
ARE LANCASTER AND WIGAN SAFE ON THE WEST COAST MAINLINE?
The Transport Secretary said he could not foresee a time when stations at Lancaster and Wigan would be forced off the West Coast Mainline because of HS2.
Last December, Lancaster City Council passed a motion calling for the station to be included as “a primary stopping station served by HS2 trains”.
A new franchisee is due to be appointed to run the West Coast route from March 2020 – and is also expected to be responsible for designing and running high-speed services when the first section of HS2 is completed.
But there has been concern locally that Lancaster may then become a branch line station so that HS2 services – running on standard track by the time they arrive in Lancashire – will have fewer stopping points en route to Scotland.
“That would mean passengers getting on Lancaster would have to take a local service to Preston before they could join up with the high-speed routes to London – adding time to their journeys,” said Martin Gibson, owner of Lancaster-based Miralis Data and a director of tech collective Digital Lancashire.
“There must be no risk to the status of stations like Lancaster and Wigan on the West Coast Mainline as a result of HS2,” he added.
Chris Grayling said he thought fears over the future status of the stations were unfounded.
“We’re years away from HS2 operating those routes, so it’ll be a matter for those in charge of the system at the time.
“But I can’t conceive of a situation where express trains from London disappear from Lancaster and Wigan – I just think it’s not going to happen,” Mr Grayling said.
THE LATEST ON LINKING LANCASHIRE AND YORKSHIRE
A £300,000 study into the prospect of a so-called “M65 extension” is due to report early next year.
Last month, Transport for the North representatives told a meeting of Lancashire County Council’s external scrutiny committee that the route might need a name change – because any new route was unlikely to be an actual extension of the motorway from its current end point in Colne.
Chris Grayling said: “I’m not there to judge, as Highways England are doing the work.
It’s a beautiful part of the country – I’m not expecting to plough a motorway through the middle of it. But I do think there is a need for some really upgraded roads there and much better links across the Pennines.
“You don’t have to build a motorway to have a much better road network.
“We’re looking first of all at a bypass for Colne. That’s a route that does need to be improved – at the moment the motorway ends in a supermarket car park and the road beyond that is second rate.
“I’m not necessarily advocating extending the motorway, but I’m certainly advocating a significant enhancement of the roads across there,” he added.
The Secretary of State also said that completion of viability assessment into reopening the railway between Colne and Skipton was “not too far away”.
He reaffirmed previous comments that the reinstatement of the route – which closed in 1970 – would be dependent as much on freight demand as that from passengers.
“There is a real shortage of track capacity across the Pennines, so you get a benefit for both parts of the rail sector,” Mr Grayling said.