THE reason why we launched our Level Up campaign was to push for what we knew our region deserved, says Business Editor Mike Hughes.

We had a history of being blatantly overlooked as the North South divide became a chasm and every stat about spending and Government focus drove in another wedge.

But then things started to change, driven by Downing Street’s clear support and applause for the Houchen effect across Teesside.

The pieces had fallen into place for them and here, at last, was something they could get behind to prove the value of their own Levelling Up agenda. Treasury jobs and freeport announcements followed and the region was reinvigorated and inspired that there could be highs after so many lows.

But already the longevity of the Government’s commitment is being questioned. Is Levelling Up just a buzzword or a heartfelt bridging of the divide?

Inevitably for the region where railways began, it was their latest incarnation that really lit up that debate.

HS2 was both controversial for the amount of land it would eat up and a lifeline for the reduced journey times that could transform commuting and, more importantly, for our reputation as a great business nation that could keep pace with the rest of the world.

But now the decision has been made as the Prime Minister announced his Integrated Rail Plan and cut the HS2 line short, with the eastern leg of HS2 between the Midlands and Leeds cut, and a promised Northern Powerhouse Rail link between Leeds and Manchester running partly on existing tracks.

Read more: All our Level Up stories are here

Instead he enthusiastically welcomed billions of pounds worth of faster travel times and earlier delivery times - but the focus of the nation’s rail masterplan would now be in the South.

That’s a difficult decision to come back from, but a seemingly mystified PM tried anyway, telling the CBI conference: “I must say that I thought, as a lesson in what happens when you tell the British people we’re investing £96billion in the biggest railway programme for 100 years, some of the coverage was missing the point.”

He said the controversial side of the plans was now dealt with because “You are mad to think that you always have to dig huge new trenches through virgin countryside and villages and housing estates in order to do high-speed rail.”


These new cut back plans mean he doesn’t have to do those terrible things he insisted he had to do a few months ago.

The PM rightly says the Government had to be “prudent” following £407billion of pandemic spending. We get that - but this is a matter of trust.

We’ve worked so hard to get so far and - for once - there seemed to be light at the end of the tunnel.

Have you turned off the light, Prime Minister?

Because we are once again back in the dark about what the North really means to you.



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