Critics blast ‘disastrous’ watering down of Northern Powerhouse Rail 

The Prime Minister is due to announce this week that the proposed new rail link between Manchester and Leeds will not go ahead, opting instead to upgrade the existing route between the cities.

Experts claim the current route between Leeds and Manchester is constrained in terms of capacity.  

A new link, running via Bradford, would provide a high-speed connection between Manchester and Leeds, thus freeing up capacity on existing lines for local services. 

On Thursday, the government’s Integrated Rail Plan is to be published, outlining how Whitehall plans to improve the nation’s railway network. 

After promising to deliver the Manchester to Leeds line on numerous occasions, it will no longer feature in the plan for Northern Powerhouse Rail, it is understood.

First reported by the i, the news has met with anger from Northern leaders. 

“Throwing money at 150-year-old tunnels towards Manchester because it will cost less is not Northern Powerhouse Rail,” said Northern Powerhouse Partnership director Henri Murison. 

“The suggestion that an upgrade of the current route across the Pennines is going to unlock the potential of the North as a productive and successful counterweight to London and the South East for the UK is misguided and, in economic terms, disastrous.” 

A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “Work is continuing on the Integrated Rail Plan. We will publish it shortly and do not comment on speculation.”

The £39bn Northern Powerhouse Rail project is aimed at improving east-to-west links in the North of England through an extensive package of upgrades and new lines.  

As well as the proposed Manchester to Leeds link, a new line connecting Liverpool and Manchester via Warrington also forms part of the vision. 

Once delivered, the network is predicted to contribute £14.4bn to the UK economy by 2060, according to Transport for the North. 

TfN, which has led on the creation of NPR, was contacted for comment on the scrapping of the Manchester to Leeds link. 

NPR has long been considered a key pillar of the government’s levelling up agenda. 

However, news that a key part of it is to be scrapped has raised questions over Whitehall’s commitment to delivering real change in the North.  

Deputy leader of the Labour party Angela Raynor took to Twitter to blast Boris Johnson. 

“In the North we know never to trust what the Tories say,” Raynor said. 

“We were first promised Northern Powerhouse Rail seven years ago. Not a yard of track has been laid, and now it never will be.” 

Oldham West and Royton MP Jim McMahon, who is also the shadow transport secretary, said the decision to scrap the critical chunk of NPR was a “betrayal”. 

“Pulling the rug, betraying the Midlands and the North won’t be made up by a watered- down Northern Powerhouse Rail.” 

With three days until the Integrated Rail Plan is published, Murison has called on Johnson to change his mind on the Manchester to Leeds link. 

“The Prime Minister has only a few days to correct the course his government is on despite his previous promises and instincts.” 

In June, Downing Street shrugged off suggestions that the Manchester to Leeds link would be scrapped. A spokesperson said the government was “absolutely committed” to delivering the project. 

Your Comments

Read our comments policy

There is no money to spend unless it’s a project in the south.

By Meeseeks

Absolute joke. Our company has stopped doing work in Leeds due to the difficulty travelling by car up the M62 from Liverpool. As a weekly user of the train service to London I see no benefit of HS2, the service is good. The only issue is when the line does go down due to incidents you cannot travel on the east coast line and jump across due to the terrible cross country services in the North. Government has pumped billions into Cross Rail (1&2) and HS2 all southern centric policies. The levelling up campaign is an orchestrated spin policy that does not deliver the northern investment required to compete economically with London.

By Michael Green

The line between Manchester and Leeds is constrained by short trains and a deliberate throttling of capacity by prioritising Manchester airport as a train destination.

How many billions have already been spent and lost trying to work around a completely unnecessary problem?

If Manchester airport was such the be all and end all, surely a dedicated fast metro line from Piccadilly would have been built? Funnily enough the Manchester authorities have never bid for that…

By Jeff

If this was in London, it would be passed without question.
This is a vital link, as is Manchester-Sheffield and Manchester-Liverpool.
Its not just above the poor/old/short configuration trains, its about reducing the journey times to make the connection quicker and more desirable.

Agree re: the Manchester Airport trains. No locals use them because a) they are not direct, b) they are so unreliable and c) they only really cater for people going to and from the City Centre and not Greater Manchester…that’s why its only used by tourists that stay in the City Centre. Locals get a taxi/drive. Or, if you have a day to spare, you could travel to the airport by Tram.

The Northern Powerhouse is only a powerhouse if the infrastructure is corrected and properly connected.

By A.

So much for levelling up. They could spend all that money on Crossrail but not on us.

By Anonymous

Terrible decision, look at the huge cost , overruns and delays in cross rail no questions raised there ! Also the completion of HS2-to Birmingham then Manchester makes things even worse for Yorkshire , East Midlands and the north east . Levelling up a few million for Tory marginal seats ( about 5% of what they lost cos of cuts to councils) but no real investment

By George

Surprise, surprise, no disgraceful! HMG finally pulls the Leeds leg of HS2 and bins the high speed rail link betweenManchester and Leeds. RIP Northern Powerhouse and The Levelling Up Agenda. Tells us all where HMGs priorities rely lie – the South East and the Tory rural constituency. Sad, sad, sad.

By Grumpy Old Git

HS2 North of Birmingham needs to be halted and the full NPR line from East to West needs to be implemented.
HS2 won`t truly benefit most cities in the North travel-wise but NPR will, and the North`s economy will too.
What would be the point of commuters from Sheffield, Newcastle,Liverpool, York, Hull travelling to a HS2 station to get to London when they can save that time and take a train from their own city.

By Anonymous

Why is anyone surprised about this ? Totally predictable

By Katrina Kerr

Disappointed but not surprised. The Government suggesting Leeds can have a tram as ‘compensation’ for missing out on both NPR and Eastern Leg of HS2 is astounding. Decisions on transport in the north need to be made in the north, for the north.

By Tom B

Not needed anyway, there’s a climate crisis, everybody should be working from home now, not travelling.

By Floyd

Sunak is behind this. He has a safe seat and clearly doesn’t care about the red wall. Utter betrayal. However, Raynor and MacMahon, should ask why when in power, Labour didn’t build these lines?

By Elephant

@Floyd. Everyone? Even firefighters, medical surgeons and builders?


Good point Lloyd, because people working from home use no energy whatsoever…..

By Loganberry

Unfortunately, I (and many others). We live here.
I loved London, and – ‘living up north’ is or rather was ‘superb’.
Do, We have to ‘move elsewhere’?
Horsens, Denmark – that was pretty good.
Sorry to read this.

By Jonathan Barrie Glanville

Not surprised in any way at all. The worst government in living history and I used to vote for them. How are we going to reduce car travel unless we have better trains? So angry.

By Derek

I have been waiting for this day.Our railways up here are victorian, old and barley fit for purpose. Meanwhile there are extensions to tube lines,in London.Hs2 serving London.The line between Leeds and Mcr is vital for the economy up here.Why do people where I live in Calderdale have no connection with the governments polices whatsoever but still vote Tory??.Shameful.

By Robert Fuller

The Tories:
“Get back to the office”.
Also the Tories:
“Don’t be ridiculous, we’re not going to improve your commute”


Northern Powerhouse , more like Northern Power failure , looks like the fancy wrapping has now been removed from George Osborne`s over-hyped gift, which is now reverted to what it was always meant to achieve ie an expensive high-speed link from Manchester to London.

By Anonymous

The UK must become a confederation with regional taxation collected and invested locally under local democratic control. The unified state govt in London can have the dregs to spend on major projects of key national importance: atomic weapons, aircraft carriers, MPs expenses, royalty, Whitehall ministries, London Transport, large military bases in the South, school fees for officers kids who must board at southern private schools, consulting fees for old boys owning consultancies, etc. Problem solved.

By James Yates

HS2, Crossrail 2, should have always been Liverpool to Newcastle via Leeds from day one.

HS3 should have then been have North to South, either from Leeds or Manchester depending on where the balance of volumes and uptake of HS2 fell.

Tories will always only ever do anything if it benefits London.

By Why do people vote for Tories?

If there was any part of me that wanted to vote Tory, it’s well and truly died.

And to think that there are people that say they’re a ‘different type of party these days’.

This is a big insult to everyone in the north.

By Anonymous

Not in the slightest bit surprised by this announcement, I also expect the HS2 link from Birmingham to Manchester will be cancelled within the next couple of years. So much for levelling up!

By Monty

If they cancel the proposed Leeds to Manchester train line then it’ll be one of the most stupid decisions in decades. Shocking.

By Dr B

It’s probably worth remembering that HS2 is unpopular with the wider public who suspect (quite rightly) that they’ll end up footing the bill for it, whilst receiving precious little benefit in return. If the government is indeed willing to spend an extra £40 billion upgrading regional rail services across the Midlands and North of England (not to mention giving Leeds a tram system), then that would be a hell of a lot more useful than a Bankers’ Express.

By Moomo

London Government don’t care about Liverpool – Manchester

By Anonymous

Come on moormo what benefit did the rest of the country get from cross rail 1 and 2??? Nothing. This is what government should do. The only thing wrong with HS2 is the title. Everyone focuses on speed when in reality the issue is capacity and the existing Victorian network could not deliver increased capacity. So let’s focus on the real issue

By Stillres

The pathetic upgrade of the Leeds/Manchester line which is proposed, will create chaos. It will result in replacement buses for months if not years on end and that will make the situation worse than it is now. The only way to prevent delays, is a completely new line, being built so that the current line will still be able to function, in its current dire state. The problem with our Southern government is they think if a line is closed, there are half a dozen alternatives, as there are in the South. If a Tube line is closed in London, there are ten others connecting to the central areas to choose from. A line between Liverpool and Leeds, via Manchester and Manchester airport would be a given in any other Northern European country. Do they actually think it is acceptable in 2021 for a 30 mile journey to take an hour?

By Elephant

Can we all just stop using the phrase/cliche Northern Powerhouse please? It was a smokescreen all along which too many regional leaders fell for hook, line and sinker. Public investment per head in the North West compared to the South East is minimal, something which devolution to date has failed to tackle. The money we get for transport etc. is the crumbs off the table.

By Mark Gilbertson

Related Articles

Sign up to receive the Place Daily Briefing

Join more than 13,000 property professionals and receive your free daily round-up of built environment news direct to your inbox


Join more than 13,000 property professionals and sign up to receive your free daily round-up of built environment news direct to your inbox.

By subscribing, you are agreeing to our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy.

"*" indicates required fields

Your Job Field*
Other regional Publications - select below