Boris Johnson had to request a round of applause after pledging to fund the core Leeds-Manchester section of the Northern Powerhouse Rail project late last month.
What could explain the hesitance of those in the audience at Manchester’s Science and Industry Museum? Perhaps they were not fans of the new Prime Minister, or perhaps they were just weary of promises from political leaders.
Either way, Johnson has made improved transport links a key part of his strategy to unite the country and unlock opportunity. And while he needed to nudge his audience to get them to put their hands together, the statements that followed from stakeholders bubbled with enthusiasm.
“The fact that the Prime Minister has today firmly committed to delivering a Northern Powerhouse Rail network is a major leap forward for the North. One our business and political leaders have been working tirelessly to secure for several years,” said Barry White, Chief Executive at Transport for the North.
In his speech, Johnson said he wanted to inject some pace into the Northern Powerhouse Rail project “so that we can unlock jobs and boost growth”.
“I want to be the Prime Minister who does with Northern Powerhouse Rail what we did for Crossrail in London,” said the former Mayor of London.
“And today I am going to deliver on my commitment to that vision with a pledge to fund the Leeds to Manchester route.
“But I want to stress it will be up to local people to decide what comes next, as far as I’m concerned that’s just the beginning of our commitments and our investments. We want to see this whole thing done.
He continued: “I have tasked officials to accelerate their work on these plans so that we are ready to do a deal in the autumn.
“It is the right thing to do, it’s time we put some substance into the idea of the Northern Powerhouse Rail.”
There was also a welcome for the comments that Johnson went on to make about buses – a subject that rarely attracts the attention of Prime Ministers, or even Secretaries of State for Transport.
Johnson said he wanted to improve transport services within cities, not just between cities, so that people don’t have to drive.
“That means buses. I know a lot about buses, believe me,” he said. “I love buses. I helped to invent a new type of bus, very beautiful that it is.
“I will begin as a matter of urgency the transformation of local bus services – starting here today in Manchester.
“I will work with the Mayor of Greater Manchester on his plans to deliver a London style bus system in the area under powers we gave to him – you Andy [Burnham] – in the Bus Services Act.
“I want higher frequency, low-emission and zero-emission buses, more bus priority corridors, a network that’s easier to understand and use.
“I want local partnerships between the private sector, which operates the buses, and a public body, which coordinates them.”
Johnson contrasted the differing experiences of buses in London – “ where we have all these things” and elsewhere. He pointed out that bus use in the capital has almost doubled over the past 25 years while it has fallen by more than a third in other metropolitan areas over the same period.
“I think we can see the first results, here in Greater Manchester, within a few months,” he said. “And I want the same for any other part of the country where local leaders want to do it.
“Good bus connections, good transport connectivity, is also vital to so many of the towns that feel left behind.”
About the Author
This post was written by Robert Jack. Robert is Managing Editor and Publisher of Passenger Transport. He has worked as a journalist, editor and publisher in the passenger transport sector for 18 years. He has played a key role in many transport-related conferences and events.