Network North: Is ‘Levelling Up’ a Lie?

Lydia Beck
by Lydia Beck

When it comes to government policy and funding, the North of England often seems to miss out. The scrapping of the Northern leg of HS2 is one of the most recent examples of this, so is ‘levelling up’ a lie?

North Cut out from HS2

Last month, Rishi Sunak announced that the Northern leg of HS2 from Birmingham to Manchester was to be scrapped due to spiralling costs.

This means that the high-speed rail line intended to transform transport over Britain now will only exist between London and the West Midlands. Once again, ‘levelling up’ has been abandoned in favour of serving the needs of London.

Sunak’s Alternative: Network North

Sunak has promised that all the funds intended to be used for the Midlands and Northern areas of HS2 will be reinvested into transport plans for those same areas.

Some of the funding from these new plans include:

  • £12bn to better connect Manchester and Liverpool
  • Nearly £4bn allocated to improve local transport across the North’s six city regions
  • £2.5bn to fund local transport for towns and smaller cities
  • Upgrades to the Energy Coast Line between Carlisle, Workington and Barrow, enabling trains every 30 minutes between them
  • £100m shared across North and Midlands to support the development of London-style contactless and smart ticketing
  • £3bn for improving connections between major cities
  • £2bn towards new Bradford rail station and line connection
  • Almost £3.3bn set aside for building potholes
  • £2 bus far extended to December 2024 rather than rising to £2.50
  • £700m bus funding package for the North
  • £1.5bn for Greater Manchester
  • Nearly £1bn for Liverpool City Region

“Every penny of the £19.8 billion committed to the Northern leg of HS2 will be reinvested in the North; every penny of the £9.6 billion committed to the Midlands leg will be reinvested in the Midlands; and the full £6.5 billion saved through our rescoped approach at Euston will be spread across every other region in the country.

Instead of one line, serving a handful of stations and tens of thousands of people each day, Network North will serve hundreds of places and tens of millions of people each day, right across the Midlands and North. That is real levelling up.”

This all sounds pretty good, doesn’t it, but how can we be sure the government will deliver and that this isn’t just another failed promise?

As argued by The Yorkshire Post,

“Taken together, it means the Government has cancelled the certainty of a high-speed rail line serving the North and Midlands that was more than a decade in the planning in favour of a series of hypothetical schemes that run the risk of either requiring much more funding or simply not coming to fruition at all.

It is little wonder there is growing cynicism about whether much of ‘Network North’ will happen as billed”

Andy Burnham’s Response to Network North

Mayor of Manchester, Andy Burnham, responded to the replacing of the Northern leg of HS2 with Network North by pointing out how no Northern leaders or mayors had been consulted in this new plan. Whilst the HS2 transport plans involved Northern leaders and helped represent Northern voices, this new plan does not. How can a plan be created to help the North of England without the input of actual Northerners?

“So, what has been announced today is not a solution to the East-West bottleneck that we face on the railways in the North. It does not deliver that new line. It involves patching up existing lines and leaving us with a problem that has still not been fixed. So, it doesn’t work East-West.

“It just does not make any logical sense to take HS2 trains up from London to Birmingham and then off HS2 onto the West Coast Mainline which is already a heavily congested line

“And people here know […] it’s not just East-West where people can lose hours of their working week when making journeys. It can be North-South as well, because neither railway is as reliable as it needs to be for people here in the north of England.”

Manchester City Council Leader, Cllr Bev Craig has said

“We need to approach this with diligence and a watchful eye to make sure the North isn’t being hoodwinked into the promise of more cash, into the promise of more investment, and into the promise of legislation to deliver this without it being realistic or without it ever being on the table”


Will the government actually deliver the new plan of Network North or will it face the same fate as the northern leg of HS2? Will the north finally have our transport needs considered? I guess only time will tell…

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