George Osborne David Cameron HS crown copyright

David Cameron and George Osborne criticised Rishi Sunak for cancelling the Northern leg. Credit: Lynne Cameron/PA Wire, Crown copyright via Open Government Licence v3.0,


Sunak’s transport games leave North fending for itself

Once again, we have seen the real view from Westminster – with leaders looking down on the regions and assuming we will dance to any tune they play for us, writes Paul Unger of Place North.

Network North was welcomed cautiously at best. Delivering mass transit in Leeds has been announced and abandoned many times before, as has dualling the A1 in the North East.  There will inevitably be much local government time spent chasing clarity on status and timelines for the transport projects selected for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s list – on which his own cabinet and Network Rail were not consulted.

The fact that Northern towns and cities can still boast thriving universities, developers who are cracking on, and fund managers that are busy spending, shows that delivery is nearly always internally driven by regional doers grappling with a badly dealt hand rather than supported by national policy.

That Leeds, Newcastle-Gateshead, Manchester, Liverpool can perform at all well, despite the austerity and London-weighted funding regime they live under, is a testament to the private sector risk-takers and public sector stalwarts working with missionary zeal to do business together and improve the lives of people who live outside the M25.

Think what could be done if austerity were to end and public services restored to an acceptable level of competence. When you must check to see if the trains are cancelled or the teachers are striking before you agree to a meeting, one understands how far there is to go.

Sunak is on thin ice trying to position himself as the change candidate that the electorate needs – it’s his own party that has been governing for 13 years. Clearly, there is a wide-open door now for Keir Starmer, carrying that figurative Ming vase across the ice rink to get there. If he can produce coherent deliverable plans for growth in the North he will win many friends.

Assuming the rumoured May 2024 general election date turns out to be true, then we have only months to see if Starmer can do this. He has so far avoided committing to the cost of HS2 but he will be under pressure now to come up with a tangible line on Northern prospects after Sunak’s moves made plenty of enemies. David Cameron and George Osborne were among those to criticise the cancellation of the Northern leg as the wrong decision.

Many in the regional property scene were already preparing for a change in government and saw Sunak on borrowed time.

Labour’s job is to put coherence, competence, and capital into transport infrastructure, social housing, carbon reduction, and much more.

On HS2, many weren’t holding their breath anyway. There were so many doubts and budget rethinks by successive prime ministers before Sunak that the Prime Minister only added insult to injury. It was never the one key to unlocking the future, more a significant symbol of hope that levelling up was a real policy movement.

Meanwhile, regional leaders have to carry on regardless, looking after the interests of their areas just as they have done for years – thankful there are businesses just as determined as ever to deliver.

  • Paul Unger is publisher of Place North

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