The decision to scrap the northern leg of HS2 means over £72million will now be spent on upgrading the public transport network across County Durham, the Government announced today (Monday, February 26).

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the £2.5 billion investment for the north of England will be ‘transformational’ but the funding will not be made available until April 2025 – after the forthcoming General Election.

The money, previously earmarked for the axed high-speed rail line, will go into a ‘local transport fund’ targeted at smaller cities, towns and rural areas, which councils and unitary authorities will decide how best to spend.

The Northern Echo: Mary Kelly FoyMary Kelly Foy (Image: Contributor)However, Labour’s Durham City MP, Mary Kelly Foy, accused the Government of delivering nothing more than ‘empty slogans’.

She said: “The Tories take us for fools. Ministers have had 14 years to transform our transport services in the North East, yet it’s now - in an election year - that they make ‘transformational’ pledges.

“To add insult to injury, the former transport minister, Richard Holden, is literally an MP in the North East. What did he do for our public services? Nothing.

“The biggest transformation we need this year, is the Tories being booted out of power.

"This is just another slogan which will leave public transport in the North East no better off.

“Remember the Northern Powerhouse, or how about Levelling Up?

“Empty slogans don't fix public transport, a Labour government will."

The Government said County Durham’s funding will be allocated to the new North East Combined Authority and the news was welcomed by Sedgefield MP Paul Howell who said it would be used to improve transport connections between villages and towns.

The Northern Echo: Paul HowellPaul Howell (Image: Contributor)

He said: “Most of the Sedgefield constituency has had poor transport connections for a considerable time and over the last year this has got considerably worse as passengers have been driven away from services by an unreliable service, leading to a downward spiral with even less demand for services.

“This money will allow for a seven-year plan from 2025 to bring in new services, reinstate lost ones and boost existing routes so that people can get to work, education, shops, appointments and for leisure use.”

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Mr Sunak made the announcement during a visit to Goole on Humberside for his first regional Cabinet meeting outside of conference season since he took office in 2022.

The last time ministers gathered outside of London was for emergency talks ahead of the announcement that HS2 would be scaled back at last year’s Tory conference in Manchester – the city most directly hit by the U-turn.

Under the plan, North Yorkshire and York has been allocated about £369 million.

The Northern Echo: Rishi Sunak in Goole on Monday Rishi Sunak in Goole on Monday (Image: PA)Mr Sunak, MP for Richmond, said: “We have a clear plan to level up our country with greater transport links that people need and deliver the right long-term change for a brighter future.

“Through reallocating HS2 funding, we’re not only investing billions of pounds directly back into our smaller cities, towns and rural areas across the North and Midlands, but we are also empowering their local leaders to invest in the transport projects that matter most to their communities - this is levelling-up in action.  

“The Local Transport Fund will deliver a new era of transport connectivity.

“This unprecedented investment will benefit more people, in more places, more quickly than HS2 ever would have done, and comes alongside the billions of pound worth of funding we’ve already invested into our roads, buses and local transport services across the country.”

But Henri Murison, chief executive of business group the Northern Powerhouse Partnership said the plans are simply a re-announcement.

He said: “I’m still kind of happy to receive this money in place of nothing but it is also coming alongside the fact that many of these same communities will not benefit from HS2 and we still haven’t got enough clarity on Northern Powerhouse Rail, which is still a very important and fundamental part of the North transport system.”

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The Northern Echo: Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham (Image: Contributor)

Stockton North MP Alex Cunningham said successive Conservative Governments have left the North East as a ‘transport backwater’.

He said: “It’s time for the Government to get real and put their money where their mouth is.” 

Shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh said the public was ‘sick and tired’ of the Government ‘taking them for fools’.

She said: “Only the Conservatives could have the brass neck to promise yet another ‘transformation’ of transport infrastructure in the Midlands and North after 14 years of countless broken promises to do just that.”

The Government says the new funding allocations will provide local authorities with long-term certainty over the amount they have to spend on transport services their communities need the most, for example expanding mass transit systems, filling potholes, roadbuilding or refurbishing bus and rail stations.

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Mr Sunak and ministers also met with communities, businesses and organisations to discuss their priorities for the fund and how their area can best benefit from the money.

Simon Clarke, Conservative MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, said: “While a Treasury minister, I saw first-hand how every cost assumption around HS2 kept going higher, while the business case after the pandemic with the rise of remote working became ever weaker. 

"Making the billions this project was swallowing up available for transport schemes that will make a far greater difference to communities like ours on Teesside is unquestionably the right thing for the Government to have done.”