George Osborne's Budget to commit funds to transport infrastructure schemes


George Osborne will use his Budget to give the green light to major transport projects to make sure Britain is "fit for the future", but critics warned it could be several years before the schemes are in place.

The Chancellor also faced claims that London was receiving greater investment than Mr Osborne's cherished "Northern Powerhouse".

Mr Osborne will confirm Government backing for the HS3 high-speed rail link between Manchester and Leeds, and the Crossrail 2 project to connect Surrey and Hertfordshire via stations in central London.

In a £300 million Budget package to boost transport links in the Northern Powerhouse, Mr Osborne is expected to commit the Government to taking forward HS3, with £60 million to cut journey times to 30 minutes from their current 49.

A full blueprint for HS3 will be drawn up by next year.

He will also announce £75 million to develop plans for a trans-Pennine tunnel between Sheffield and Manchester and explore options for improvements to the M60 ring-road around Manchester as well as the A66 and A69 coast-to-coast trunk roads further north.

Highways England is set to be given £161 million to accelerate upgrades to the M62 Liverpool-Hull motorway.

And he will launch a new £1.2 billion fund to release brownfield land to build more than 300,000 starter homes across the country.

Speaking during a visit to a Crossrail construction site in central London, Mr Osborne said: "In the Budget tomorrow, I'm going to give the green light to Crossrail 2 in London and the new High Speed 3 link across the North of England.

"I think an absolutely crucial part of improving the economy of our country is making sure we invest in our Northern Powerhouse, and improving transport links across the North of England will be a huge boost to the economy of the North of England and the whole of the United Kingdom.

"It is all part of a big plan in our Budget to offer long-term solutions to Britain's long-term problems, not go for the short-term fixes. Whether it's building in our capital city, or in the north of England, you're going to see in the Budget a commitment to plan for the long term and make sure Britain is fit for the future."

But Louise Ellman, chair of the cross-party Commons' Transport Select Committee and a Liverpool MP, said there is "far more investment in the South than there is in other regions" and described improving trans-Pennine links as "equally important" to the North as Crossrail is to London.

She said the £300 million Budget package to boost transport in the North "isn't very much" compared to Crossrail 2, which is expected to cost £27-£32 billion in total.

Mr Osborne's plans also met with a sceptical response from commuters in Manchester, with Kirsty Holden claiming: "It sounds like typical southern bias, they are just trying to fob us off."

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron, who constituency is in Cumbria, said: "This is fantasy infrastructure that will not create new jobs in the North or unlock our economic potential.

"It only lives in a Government spreadsheet or the chatter of a Whitehall committee. It is a sham. We need this infrastructure now and not in 10 years time but because of the Chancellor's choice to hold back borrowing he is stopping the creation of jobs and building the infrastructure we need."

The decision to back HS3 came as the National Infrastructure Commission - set up by the Government in 2015 to advise on long-term projects to boost the economy - released a report calling for "immediate and very significant investment" in transport for the North.

The new report followed last week's launch of a similar NIC study into Crossrail 2, which urged ministers to "get on right away" with the south-west to north-east cross-London line.

Commission chairman Lord Adonis said the package involved immediate improvements in the north of England as well as a longer-term HS3 plan and insisted that London was not getting the lion's share of transport investment.

"It's not just jam tomorrow, we have recommended immediate action on the M62, on the railways linking the northern cities, but of course you also need a longer-term plan to bring about transformation," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Pressed on the scale of investment in London compared to the North, Lord Adonis said: "The biggest single infrastructure project in Europe is HS2 and most of that spending is going on the Midlands and the North, to link the cities of the Midlands and the North together and then with London. 

"So it's not the case that all this investment is going in London, there is massive investment going in the Midlands and the North too. What's needed is to join it up so the short-term investments lead to longer-term ones and people haven't got to wait another 20 years before they get transformed services between Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Hull, which is essential."