‘Nothing ambiguous at all’ about our Network North plans – Transport Secretary

The Transport Secretary denied there was “anything ambiguous at all” about the Government’s Network North rail plan amid questions over which parts of the days-old scheme are guaranteed to be delivered.

Mark Harper suggested some apparent pledges, which were included in documents released on Wednesday, had instead been “examples” of “the kinds of things” money could be spent on.

Appearing on Sunday’s morning media round, he was pressed on the fate of the Leamside Line – a disused railway in the North East – which Government plans published earlier this week said would be reopened.

“We gave some examples to people about the sorts of things… that that money could be spent on to bring it to life for people, and we know those are local priorities,” he told the BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg show.

Northern Powerhouse graphic
(PA Graphics)

The Government has pledged to funnel £1.8 billion into the North East with money made available by scrapping the northern leg of HS2, Mr Harper said, adding it would be for the local mayor to decide how to spend the funds.

“I don’t think there’s anything ambiguous at all. We’ve taken every penny of the savings from HS2 – £36 billion – and we’ve set out how they’re going to be spent in the parts of the country where HS2 was going to be spent… I think it’s very clear, and happy to be judged on it,” the minister said.

It comes after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak defied senior Tories and business leaders to scrap the HS2 rail line from Birmingham to Manchester, saying “the facts have changed” and the cost of the scheme had “more than doubled”.

HS2 network graphic
(PA Graphics)

But days later, some benefits appeared to have been watered down or dropped altogether.

A pledge of “£100 million for a mass transit system for Bristol” was listed in documents on the Government website on Wednesday but had disappeared a day later.

Mr Harper said the money will still be available for the West of England mayor “for him to spend on his priorities”, which will likely include the transit system.

The same list included a statement that “the Leamside Line, closed in 1964, will also be reopened”.

But a newer version of the document instead said that the £1.8 billion allocated to the North East from the City Regional Sustainable Transport Settlement 2 and HS2 funding “could part fund the reopening of the Leamside Line”.

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