The transport secretary, Chris Grayling, has declared his support for Crossrail 2, alleviating fears in London that the project could be shelved but sparking anger outside the capital after he announced last week that rail electrification schemes would be cut elsewhere.
Grayling’s call for a fresh public consultation on Crossrail 2, a new commuter rail line running north-south across the capital, was greeted with relief by the London mayor, Sadiq Khan, who said the project was “essential for the future prosperity” of the capital. But outside the M25 there were claims that the government had abandoned ambitions to rebalance the economy of the country.
Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, said: “It won’t escape people’s notice that this commitment to London today comes just days after the transport secretary cancelled electrification schemes all over the country. It raises the question of whether taxpayers everywhere else outside of London are paying to make Crossrail 2 viable.”
The Liverpool City region mayor, Steve Rotheram, said that while he did not “begrudge” the investment in London and the south-east, there needed to be balanced spending to “support growth in the north as well”.
A joint statement issued by Grayling and Khan said they agreed that “there is no doubt London needs new infrastructure to support its growth and ensure it continues as the UK’s economic powerhouse”.
Crossrail 2 has been long regarded by Transport for London and business as a vital next step to ease congestion, but the project had been omitted from the Queen’s speech and Conservative manifesto.
Khan and Grayling, who have been at loggerheads over transport issues including the running of London’s rail services, met last week to discuss Crossrail 2, with its anticipated £31.2bn budget a cause for concern.
Revisions will “improve affordability while maximising the key benefits of the scheme”, possibly meaning planned stations will disappear from the route, as well as commit London to pay up to half of the construction costs, likely through higher business rates.
Grayling said: “I am a supporter of Crossrail 2 but given its price tag we have to ensure that we get this right.” He said he and Khan would develop plans “so that the public gets an affordable scheme that is fair to the UK taxpayer.”
Khan said: “Crossrail 2 is essential for the future prosperity of London and the south-east, so I’m pleased that the transport secretary and I have reached an agreement to take this vital project forward.”
A host of other rail upgrades around the UK, including electrification in south Wales and the Midlands to Sheffield and Nottingham, were cut last week, prompting fears that electrification of the trans-Pennine route between Leeds and Manchester will be the next to be scrapped.
The government has been loth to look as if it favoured London – although Khan produced research arguing that the capital receives less funding per transport passenger than the rest of the country, at around £7 per journey compared with more than £10 nationally.
However, a thinktank on Monday claimed that the north would have received £59bn more in investment over the last decade if it had received the same per person for infrastructure as London. IPPR North analysis said that the money would have been enough to fill a billion potholes or develop a new high-speed east-west crossing.
It said that public spending was on average £282 per head in the north compared with the national average of £345 per head, and an average £680 per head in London in the last decade – and that £1,900 per capita was due to be spent on transport investment from 2016/17 onward, £1,500 more than the north’s figure.
While Grayling and Khan pledged to “ensure a funding package which works for both London and the rest of the country and recognises other priorities”, news of the agreement intensified anger around the country.
On Saturday Burnham wrote to Grayling to accuse the transport minister of “a major broken promise to the people of Greater Manchester and the North, and the derailment of the Northern Powerhouse” if trans-pennine electrification did not go ahead.
Grayling said in Manchester on Friday that the trans-Pennine route was too complicated to fully electrify – a claim dismissed by industry experts as “just spin”. Roger Ford, industry and technology editor at Modern Railways, said: “We’ve been electrifying existing lines since the 1960s. There is no problem.”
He said that the bi-mode trains vaunted by Grayling, running on diesel as well as electricity, were a “bodge”, designed for short distances, not whole routes. “Now it is being seen as a long-term alternative to electrification.”
Cllr Keith Wakefield, transport chair of the West Yorkshire combined authority, said he was disappointed that a vastly improved trans-pennine route — often dubbed HS3 — looked set to be derailed.
“If the secretary of state is warming us up for bad news, this makes a mockery of the government’s ambitions to rebalance the economy of the country and once again government seem to be going short-sighted in the North,” he said.
The Department for Transport said plans to electrify the trans-Pennine route had not been scrapped. A spokesman said it was “committed to electrification where it delivers benefits, but will also take advantage of new technology to improve journeys.” An investment decision will be made next year.
Crossrail 2 and HS3 were named by the Infrastructure Commission as the most urgent projects of national importance to get under way. London transport authorities have warned that without Crossrail 2, Euston station will be unable to cope with the numbers of passengers alighting from HS2’s high-speed trains once the full network is in operation from 2033.