Conservative leadership race: Truss and Sunak pledge rail improvements in North

Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak have both committed to reversing parts of a watered down plan for rail improvements in the North after the government faced a backlash from regional leaders.

It came as the two Conservative leadership hopefuls travelled to Leeds to face questions from party members at a hustings event on Thursday evening, 28 July.

Speaking before the event, Ms Truss said she was committed to building Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) – a new high speed link across the north – if she becomes prime minister.

Meanwhile, Mr Sunak said he wanted to see high-speed trains brought all the way to Leeds under the HS2 project linking London and the North. He also said he would look again at plans for a new station in Bradford.

The pledges from the two leading Tories represent a significant reversal of elements of the government's Integrated Rail Plan (IRP) announced in November.

That plan ditched the new NPR line, with a promise to upgrade the existing network instead. It also shelved the eastern leg of the HS2 project which would have served Leeds.

On Thursday Ms Truss said a multibillion-pound coast-to-coast NPR line, stretching from Liverpool to Hull, was "absolutely crucial for the future of the north of England".

Speaking to ITV News in Leeds, where she grew up, Ms Truss said: "I know how poor the transport is and, frankly, it’s not got much better since I was a teenager getting the bus into Leeds city centre.

"What I want to see is really fantastic rail services, better roads so people are able to get into work."

She promised to create a "clear plan" with MPs and regional mayors to make it happen.

Mr Sunak, the self-confessed "underdog" in the battle for the keys to Number 10, claimed he was "a very long standing supporter of Northern Powerhouse Rail" but stopped short of saying he would reinstate the plan if selected.

"What I want to see if great connectivity between Leeds, Bradford and Manchester, and I want to make sure we are delivering on that," he said.

However, he suggested improvements to the HS2 project, saying: "I want to see HS2 trains brought up to Leeds and I've already, as chancellor, funded the projects to look at how best to do that. And also one of the last things I did as chancellor was to meet with leaders from from Bradford specifically to understand the plans and opportunities for Bradford station and those are all the things I'd like to deliver on as PM."

The government faced claims of broken promises from regional mayors and councils when it announced the IRP in November.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said then Prime Minister Boris Johnson had "ripped up" promises he made that HS2 would go all the way to Leeds and that there would be a new NPR line from Manchester to Leeds.

"This was the first test of 'levelling up' and the government has completely failed and let down everybody in the North. You can't believe a word the Prime Minister says," he said.

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