Boris Johnson is facing a backlash from MPs, mayors and a coordinated local newspaper campaign as he’s poised to scrap the eastern leg of the HS2 rail project between Birmingham and Leeds.
The prime minister is this week expected to confirm a watering-down of plans for both HS2 and a new Leeds to Manchester rail line.
Ahead of an anticipated scaling back of the projects, likely to be confirmed when the government’s “Integrated Rail Review” is announced on Thursday, Mr Johnson has been hit by anger from northern politicians.
Tracy Brabin, the Labour mayor of West Yorkshire, wrote to the prime minister to urge him to stick with delivering HS2’s eastern leg “in full”, as well as to build a new rail line from Leeds to Manchester.
Following reports that the Leeds-Manchester section of the £39bn Northern Powerhouse Rail project will be delivered through upgrades to existing track, rather than a new line via Bradford, Ms Brabin wrote: “The government has a choice to make.
“It can choose to unlock the potential of the North, or it can let us down once again, limiting your levelling up ambitions.”
South Yorkshire mayor Dan Jarvis said ministers were “either serious about levelling up or not” and warned that those he represents “will not be fooled by half-measures and spin”.
Conservative MP Kevin Hollinrake, who represents Thirsk and Malton in North Yorkshire, told the i newspaper that scaling back rail plans would show the government is “not willing to put our money where our mouth is”.
Labour’s Naz Shah, MP for Bradford West, said: “This is Boris pulling the whole damn rug from under our feet and ripping up the floor behind him.”
Shadow transport secretary Jim McMahon accused ministers of attempting to “quietly back out” of infrastructure schemes that they had “committed to dozens of times”.
In his Conservative Party conference speech last month, Mr Johnson vowed: “We will do Northern Powerhouse Rail, we will link up the cities of the Midlands and the North.”
In February last year, on HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail, Mr Johnson told MPs: “Both are needed, and both will be built – as quickly and cost-effectively as possible.”
As well as the backlash from politicians, a string of northern newspapers have published the same front page on Tuesday calling for the government to deliver on Northern Powerhouse Rail and HS2 in full.
One of those newspapers, the Manchester Evening News, said on its website: “Today the North calls on government to finally put its money where its mouth is.
“With ministers poised to release their long-delayed plan for railway investment this week, we warn it is time to replace rhetoric with reality where the north of England is concerned.
“Enough’s enough. The prime minister has been prepared to use chronic central government neglect of northern England to his political advantage. It is time to keep his side of the bargain.
“Where rail investment is concerned, that does not mean a smattering of piecemeal upgrades dressed up as a transport revolution, ready for deployment on leaflets at the next election.
“It means new inter-city lines to and across the North, a move supported both by Northern leaders and the Conservative manifesto.”
The Manchester Evening News was joined in the campaign by five other newspapers; The Gazette in Teesside, The Journal and The Chronicle in Newcastle, the Huddersfield Examiner and the Hull Daily Mail.
At a Downing Street news conference on Monday, the prime minister advised people to “wait and see” the results of the Integrated Rail Review on Thursday.
But he said it would be “absolutely fantastic” for the North, the North East, the North West, and the Midlands.