The Transport Secretary has been accused of having “contempt” for the North of England as the row over transport links in the region rumbles on.
Chris Grayling incensed Northern civic and business leaders by saying the success of transport there depends on themselves rather than the Government.
Liverpool City Region mayor Steve Rotheram said the comments represented an “abdication of responsibility” by the minister, while Sheffield City Council leader Judith Dore said they showed “quite clearly his particular contempt for the North of England”.
The remarks were made in a Yorkshire Post article ahead of a Northern Transport Summit, which was called by leading figures in the region to demand a fair deal on transport from the Government.
Mr Grayling wrote: “Congested roads and overcrowded trains are a daily reality for thousands of commuters.
“Without modern, efficient and reliable transport links, the vast economic potential of the North cannot be realised.
Image: Chris Grayling says he wants the North ‘to take control’
“So I am pleased that leaders from across the North are gathering for a conference in Leeds this week to debate this very issue.
“The message I want to send them is simply this: although one of my biggest priorities as Secretary of State is to build the transport links the North needs to thrive, they must be designed and managed by the North itself.
“It is central government’s responsibility to provide funding and a delivery structure that ensures efficiency, value for money and accountability. But beyond this, I want the North to take control.”
He added: “It is not up to central government to grasp these opportunities. The success of Northern transport depends on the North itself.”
Mr Grayling provoked anger by supporting the new £30bn Crossrail 2 scheme in London and the South East, days after a series of rail projects in Wales, the Midlands and the North were axed or downgraded.
Reacting to the article, Mr Rotheram told the Leeds summit: “I think it’s an abdication of responsibility by Chris Grayling but also I would like to thank him for acting as a catalyst to get business leaders and political leaders so incensed and wound up that they now are speaking with one voice.”
Image: A series of projects in Wales, the Midlands and the North have recently been axed or downgraded
Councillor Dore said she found Mr Grayling’s comments “extremely disappointing”, adding: “We don’t need this adversarial sort of relationship and to come immediately out on the defensive is unhelpful.
“That just quite clearly shows his particular contempt for the North of England.”
Frank McKenna, chief executive of summit organisers Downtown in Business, said he accepted that Mr Grayling had not been invited, but said he had spoken to him on Wednesday and he had agreed to attend the next gathering.
The political and business leaders at the summit warned that the “Northern Powerhouse” will not become a reality unless there is substantial new investment in a modern transport system linking its main cities.
The region’s “huge economic potential” is being held back by “an outdated, expensive and slow transport system”, delegates heard, and the summit called on the Government to:
:: Fully honour commitments already given to deliver improvements to rail services across the North:: Prioritise its manifesto commitment to deliver new west-east rail infrastructure across the region:: Set out a fairer distribution of transport funding across the country