Hannah Miller: Leaders agree on preferred Northern Powerhouse Rail route but what does it mean for the North West?

Northern leaders have agreed on a final preferred route for Northern Powerhouse Rail, the high speed line that would link towns and cities across from Liverpool to Hull, and up to Newcastle.

Under the plans, trains would stop at Liverpool, Warrington, Manchester airport and city centre, Bradford, Leeds, Hull, York, Darlington, Durham and Newcastle.

The proposal involves a combination of new track and upgrades to existing routes, as well as using some of the planned HS2 line.

Sheffield would also be connected to the East-West network via HS2.

The former chancellor made a bold promise of a 'Northern Powerhouse' in 2014.

Northern Powerhouse Rail was a pet project of former Conservative Chancellor George Osborne, who invoked the idea of a high-speed connection between Manchester and Leeds in his first ever ‘northern powerhouse’ speech in 2014.

Since then the Government has repeatedly claimed to be committed to the new line, with Boris Johnson saying only last week that he would ‘invest massively’ in the scheme.

But there are fears behind-the-scenes that the full length of the project may be in doubt, after the Government’s Infrastructure Commission recommended scrapping the eastern leg of the HS2 line, which uses some of the same track as the existing Northern Powerhouse Rail plans.

Under the umbrella of Transport for the North, leaders from across the region provide advice that the Government is legally obliged to consider.

Unlike HS2, on Northern Powerhouse Rail northern leaders also have access to a full range of documents and strategic considerations shared with the Department for Transport. Northern leaders are understood to be keen to continue in this ‘co-client’ role so as to enhance their oversight of the project.

George Osborne previously said a Northern Powerhouse rail network had to be planned for.

Along with improving rail connections and slashing journey times, Transport for the North say their proposal will create more than 70,000 jobs across the region in the next forty years.

Previous documents from 2019 put the cost of the full scheme at £39 billion.

Leaders argue that investment from the Government would add £14.4 billion per year to the UK economy by 2060, along with taking the equivalent of 58,000 cars off the road.

Transport for the North say their aim would be to start construction ‘by the mid-2020s’. It’s expected the project could be completed anytime between 2029 and 2040, depending on progress.

Questions still remain over the Northern Powerhouse Plan - such as whether there could be a new (and expensive) underground station at Manchester Piccadilly.

Northern leaders are understood to have delayed decisions over such details while they wait for the Government’s ‘Integrated Rail Plan’ to be published. It will outline how the HS2, NPR and other major rail schemes might best be delivered, including how to ‘reduce cost’. The IRP was expected in ‘early 2021’, with speculation it may now be published before the end of this month.

Today the Department for Transport said: "We thank Transport for the North for their proposals. We are considering this alongside other inputs such as the National Infrastructure Commission’s Rail Needs Assessment, as part of the Integrated Rail Plan.