Leaders push for cross-border rail funding

Local authorities have redoubled efforts to convince Chancellor Rishi Sunak to support projects such as a new Deeside Parkway station and the modernisation of Chester’s station in the Budget Statement on 3 March.

The news coincides with reports that Transport for the North has been asked by Secretary of State Grant Shapps to hold off on submitting its outline business case for Northern Powerhouse Rail until completion of a Government report into how it will link to HS2, suggesting the funding situation could tighten.

Prior to the Spending Review in November, local authority leaders from North Wales, the Wirral and Cheshire West & Chester in the public-private Growth Track 360 partnership had urged Chancellor Rishi Sunak for a £20m development fund to enable progress across key projects.

Key among these are North Wales Coast mainline improvements including upgrading Shotton station; and the Wrexham to Liverpool Transformation, which includes the Deeside station and the introduction of direct services.

Also included is Chester’s overhaul, fitting in with the development of the Chester City Gateway plans being advanced by CWAC in partnership with Network Rail and London Continental Railways.

Growth Track 360 intends to apply through the Levelling Up Fund announced by Sunak, which will provide seed-corn local infrastructure investment for England in £20m lots; but due to its cross-border asks, said it bleeives direct intervention by Sunka is the best way to advance its projects.

CWAC leader Cllr Louise Gittins, who chairs Growth Track 360, said: “Cheshire and the Wirral are situated at the western periphery of the North of England with important economic ties to North Wales.

“This means that the Mersey-Dee region can be overlooked in transport planning for the North of England which centres on the trans-Pennine corridor.

“We already make a big contribution to the UK economy and can do even more with the right investment now.”

Growth Track 360 vice chair Cllr Ian Roberts, leader of Flintshire Council, added: “The Mersey-Dee region is a high priority area for rail improvement by the Welsh Government.

“However, rail infrastructure investment is still a UK Government responsibility.  This means we need the Chancellor to take the lead in empowering infrastructure investment on both sides of the border.”

Meanwhile, according to a report by The Yorkshire Post, concern is growing that Transport for the North is being sidelined by the Department for Transport, with fears that the DfT’s Integrated Rail Plan will rule out the most ambitious version of the crucual Manchester-Leeds part of the Northern Powerhouse Rail plan.

Henri Murison, director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, responded: “If the Government are truly committed to levelling up, and the economic rebalancing of this country, delivering Northern Powerhouse Rail and HS2 in full are critical to that ambition.

“Cutting back on either or both would a betrayal of businesses and communities.”

Already this year, TfN has had its funding slashed, meaning the cutting of support for its headline £150m smart ticketing programme.

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