Government backtracks on key transport pledge 24 hours after Sunak's 'Network North' promises

5 October 2023, 14:14 | Updated: 5 October 2023, 14:17

The government has dropped its commitment to reopen the Leamside Line
The government has dropped its commitment to reopen the Leamside Line. Picture: Getty/Alamy
Kieran Kelly

By Kieran Kelly

The government has dropped its commitment to one of its key transport pledges, just 24 hours after Rishi Sunak promised to revitalise travel with 'Network North'.

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The government had promised to reopen the Leamside line, a disused railway line, located in the North East of England.

The rail line has been described as "the most important piece of infrastructure for the economic future of the North East" by activists campaigning for it to be reopened.

Just 24 hours after the government said it would reopen, it has dropped its commitment.

Roads minister Richard Holden has now said the government is only "committed to looking into it" - falling short of committing to reopen the rail line.

Meanwhile, all reference to reopening the Leamside Line has been removed from the government's Network North website.

Leamside line
The Leamside line is a disused railway line, located in the North East of England. Picture: Alamy
Rishi Sunak pledged to transform transport with 'Network North'
Rishi Sunak pledged to transform transport with 'Network North'. Picture: Getty

Chief Executive of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, Henri Murison, says the announcement makes the entirety of 'Network North' a "fairytale", ChronicleLive reports.

He added: “If this is what they have done and they have gone back on their word, how can we believe anything else that they have said in the last week?

"How can the prime minister have any credibility on the commitments he has made? If they don’t honour their commitments made on this it would be significant evidence of a betrayal of the North of England.”

Meanwhile, the government also pledged to extend the Metrolink line to Manchester Airport - where it has already existed for nearly nine years.

Read More: Rishi's on the wrong track: David Cameron and George Osborne slam decision to scrap HS2 northern leg

Read More: Rishi Sunak filmed video cancelling HS2 days before Tory conference announcement - despite saying he'd not decided

It comes after it emerged Sunak had filmed a video in Downing Street confirming the scrapping of HS2 - despite then insisting for days after that no decision had been taken.

Until yesterday the PM insisted no decision on the future of HS2 had been reached. But a video released after his Tory Party Conference speech appeared to have been shot in Downing Street - meaning it would have been recorded before Sunday.

Mr Sunak and other senior ministers spent the bulk of the Conservative conference refusing to comment on the future of the controversial rail link.

Ministers today defended the Government over the row, while Mr Sunak himself declined an opportunity to apologise to the North for "false promises" on HS2.

In his social media video, posted yesterday, the PM hailed his plans for a new 'Network North' - a series of transport projects that he is aiming to fund through £36billion in savings from cancelling HS2.

He said: "How are we able to do this? Because I am stopping all phases of HS2 beyond Birmingham and we will reinvest every single penny saved into transport projects across the North and Midlands."

But, during the four-day Tory conference, the PM had repeatedly refused to confirm he'd taken a decision on HS2 despite intense speculation about his plans.

A spokeswoman for Mr Sunak said: "Cabinet made the decision yesterday."

Under plans to scrap HS2, the high-speed rail network will now only run between Birmingham and London Euston.

Some £36bn will be saved by cancelling the rest of the project, Mr Sunak said.

"Every region outside of London will receive the same or more government investment than they would have done under HS2, with quicker results," he told the Tory Party Conference on Wednesday.