Chancellor Rishi Sunak has admitted that his £7bn pre-Budget pledge for new transport projects contains only £1.5bn of new money.
Extra spending will go on train and tram upgrades in England’s cities, Mr Sunak said as he seeks to fend off protests that pledges to the north and Midlands are being broken.
Pressed on how much of the money was new, the chancellor conceded £4.2bn had previously been announced. “What we’ve done is top that up by £1.5bn,” he told Sky’s Trevor Phillips on Sunday.
He added: “It’s a great example of levelling up in practice, and it’s ultimately just going to create growth in all of those places.”
Mr Sunak would not be drawn on whether metro mayors would also be told that HS2 will be built in full to Leeds, and whether a stop for Northern Powerhouse Rail would be confirmed for Bradford. “It wouldn’t be right for me to speculate,” he said.
Fears have been growing that the HS2 scheme’s eastern leg is to be significantly trimmed or even scrapped as part of the upcoming integrated rail plan.
The Independent has learned that a new station in Leeds and a new line connecting the city are likely to be given the go-ahead – but trains will be forced to slow down and run on existing tracks between Yorkshire and the Midlands in a scaling-back of the HS2 leg.
Labour’s West Yorkshire mayor Tracy Brabin expressed her dismay at the lack of commitments over HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail from the chancellor – warning him not to “water down” pledges.
“What is important for us is that stop in Bradford. We can’t have a watered-down version of our transport network,” she told Sky News. “We have been underfunded for decades.”
She added: “Now is the opportunity for government to be bold, to be ambitious and to come with us with our vision for West Yorkshire to have that London-style transport system that will really make us that powerhouse we can be.”
Mr Sunak pointed out that Conservative mayor of the West Midlands Andy Street and Labour’s Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham had welcomed the announcements he had made.
“What the money announced yesterday was about is about what we call intracity transportation, and that’s about how do we get people who live in and around a city to be able to get into the middle of it and out again easily,” the chancellor said on Sunday.
Mr Burnham praised the government and said there was now more “alignment” between regional leaders and Whitehall, as his city region appeared to be the big winner from Treasury announcements.
It was confirmed Greater Manchester would be handed £1bn in capital funding for the infrastructure elements of the transport plan at the budget on Wednesday.