GEORGE Osborne has been urged to clear up confusion about whether a planned high-speed rail line across the Pennines will serve Bradford.
The Chancellor sprang a surprise yesterday when he proposed a ‘HS3’ link to slash slow journey times between Leeds and Manchester and create a “Northern powerhouse”.
But Treasury aides quickly admitted he was simply “starting a conversation” and that nothing was decided about where, when and how the line would be built.
Mr Osborne said only that it would be “based on the existing rail route”, with “new tunnels and infrastructure” to speed up much-criticised journey times
One aide told the T&A that the Treasury was open to improving either the faster Leeds-Manchester link, via Huddersfield, or the line via Bradford and Halifax.
He added: “There is no route, or detailed plan at the moment. Nothing is ruled in, or ruled out, at this stage.”
Robert Goodwill, under secretary of state for Transport, was in Bradford yesterday, and on the HS3 proposals said: “You look at the two major conurbations in the North and you have Manchester and Leeds/Bradford. Despite the fact they are only about 40 miles away from each other it still takes an hour to travel between them by train. There is a lot of potential for better connectivity between the two areas. It wouldn’t stop at every station, but it would really improve links. It is about linking all these ideas together.”
Gerry Sutcliffe, the Bradford South Labour MP, said: “The new line needs to serve Bradford and Calderdale, not just Leeds and Huddersfield - and it needs to be from Hull to Liverpool.
“The principle is right. But it takes nearly three hours to get from Liverpool to Bradford, so there needs to be some strategic thinking.”
Kris Hopkins, the Conservative MP for Keighley, welcomed the announcement, arguing there was the potential to halve the Leeds-Manchester travel time to around 25 minutes.
He said: “A new East-West connection would provide a major and permanent boost to our economy in the North.”
Council chiefs in Leeds and Manchester have been asked to put forward their ideas, ahead of a detailed proposal – by the end of the year - by the company behind the North-South HS2 network.
Meanwhile, all of West Yorkshire could be ruled by a single elected mayor, under a second initiative put forward in Mr Osborne’s Manchester speech.
The Chancellor threw his weight behind so-called ‘metro mayors’ in England’s biggest cities, with responsibility crossing local council boundaries.
And he promised ‘Boris Johnson-style’ powers and freedoms to any city which adopts “a single leader who can speak for the whole area”.
Mr Osborne said: “There’s a mis-match between the economic importance of the great northern cities and their political clout.
“I am putting on the table and starting the conversation about serious devolution of powers and budgets for any city that wants to move to a new model of city government - and have an elected mayor.”
Mr Osborne did not explicitly argue for ‘metro mayors’ but did suggest a single elected leader for Greater Manchester, covering ten local authorities.
Two years ago, voters in Bradford comprehensively rejected a ‘city mayor’ in a referendum, after the Government rejected Lord Heseltine’s plea for ‘metro mayors’ instead.