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Boris Johnson strips Transport for the North of powers after it criticises rail cuts

Boris Johnson strips Transport for the North of powers after it criticises rail cuts
Government drops Northern transport authority as ‘co-client’ of new rail line

The government has cut funding from the North’s umbrella transport authority and stripped it of responsibility for developing Northern Powerhouse Rail.

The decision, revealed in a letter to the organisation, comes after Transport for the North (TfN) criticised cuts to the scheme, which is supposed to improve rail services across the region.

TfN had been the co-client on the project alongside the Department for Transport and was responsible for instructing infrastructure manager Network Rail. But in the letter revealed on Friday the Department of Transport said it would be taking sole responsibility for directing future work on the project.

David Hughes, director of the DfT’s Rail Infrastructure Group, said in the letter to TfN chief executive Martin Tugwell that the department intended to take “full and immediate responsibility” for developing NPR’s strategic outline case.

TfN would be relegated to an advisory role, becoming only a “co-sponsor” of the project.

Transport industry sources said the move appears to be a response by the government to criticism from TfN.

The group’s chair, Louise Gittins, yesterday responded to the Integrated Rail Review by noting that the government had provided “even less than half” of what northern leaders had asked for. She branded it “woefully inadequate”.

TfN had also publicly voiced fears about cuts to the programme following leaks suggesting what was coming. The letter was sent on Thursday, the day the Integrated Rail programme was published, and came to light on Friday.

The letter from the DfT says it expects staff will have to leave TfN and that the change will have “significant impacts for staff currently working on the programme”.

It also adds: “Northern leaders will continue to be able to shape the NPR programme through direct, regular access to the Secretary of State in the Northern Transport Acceleration Council.”

Labour described the changed as a Whitehall “power grab”. Shadow transport secretary Jim McMahon said: “It was clear that once Transport for the North found its own voice and came up with a Northern Powerhouse Rail plan the government didn’t support, it would meet its end.”