North will be short-changed by Boris Johnsons rail plans, Conservative MP Philip Davies warns

The North will be “short-changed” by Boris Johnson over rail upgrades, a Conservative MP has warned.

Philip Davies, the MP for Shipley, warned it would be a “massive disappointment and a huge missed opportunity” if a cross-country link between Manchester and Leeds, via Bradford, is not part of the plan announced later this week.

He joined a host of Conservative and Labour voices who have expressed their concern over suggestions the government may scale back its ambition on rail in favour of quick-fix schemes which will join up parts of the existing network.

While this may solve some of the issues around capacity and speed in parts of the North, MPs fear that without a new East-to-West link via Bradford, major cities will be left behind and young people will continue to leave for other better-connected areas.

Reports ahead of the major announcement on Thursday suggest part of the new eastern leg of HS2 will be scrapped, with the line stopping at East Midlands Parkway instead of Leeds, as previously planned.

Other sections of the existing rail route between Leeds and Sheffield and Manchester and Crewe will be upgraded, but a link between Manchester and Leeds, via Bradford, has not been confirmed.

A major part of the Northern Powerhouse Rail plan the prime minister has previously pledged to support, this link would improve access to major cities for people living in areas of high unemployment.

Mr Davies, whose constituency is just north of Bradford, said scrapping the link would be “completely unacceptable” and leave his constituents feeling let down.

But, amid claims the Treasury has forced a rethink of the plans over costs, he blamed political leaders in the Midlands and North for focusing too much attention on HS2 instead of Northern Powerhouse Rail’s East to West route.

“The issue has never been getting to London, the problem is getting across the North itself,” Mr Davies said.

“The strategy from some council and business leaders in the North of asking for everything has blown up in their faces and the North is going to be short-changed as a result.

“If the Northern Powerhouse link doesn’t go ahead because of overspend on HS2 they should hang their heads in shame.

“Anything less than the new link would be a massive disappointment and a huge missed opportunity.”

Other MPs in the region have echoed his concerns, with Labour’s Naz Shah, the MP for Bradford West, telling Sky News she is “appalled” by claims the East to West route will not go ahead.

“Bradford has the fastest growing rate of child poverty in the country and this is the one thing that could make a real difference,” she said.

“The government talks about levelling up but it lets down the younger generation.”

The city is one of the largest in the UK but has high levels of youth unemployment, deprivation and inequality. According to a recent report, it also has the worst rail connections of any UK city.

Campaigners claim a new line between Manchester and Leeds, via Bradford, would cut journey times and increase capacity on the line, while encouraging businesses to base themselves in the city.

Ms Shah warned the train station is currently a “cul-de-sac” as services have to enter and exit the station via one route, forcing trains to reverse back on themselves.

Making it easier to get between the major northern cities by public transport would also cut car use and help meet carbon reduction targets.

But others warn transport isn’t the silver bullet for cities like Bradford.

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Paul Swinney, director of policy and research at the Centre for Cities, said improving skills and developing better transport links within cities rather than between them would make a bigger difference.

Government sources have been reluctant to comment on the rail plans before they are released in full on Thursday.

Yet a Treasury source denied any change to previously supported schemes was down to cost, but was instead a desire to deliver change as quickly as possible.

The prime minister has thrown his support behind the Manchester to Leeds route on a number of occasions, stating in the 2019 manifesto that “a key part of our plan to level up the UK’s cities and regions is to connect them”.

He also claimed that while talent is spread evenly throughout the country, opportunity is not.

Mr Johnson has pledged to ensure every child has the chance to do well wherever they are in the country.

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