NORTH East motorists should pay new road charges and other “green taxes” to fund Manchester transport upgrades, a regional official told MPs.
David Begg advises regional development chiefs about how transport can boost the North of England’s economy and said any new high-speed rail line should first go from London to Birmingham and Manchester.
His comments sparked alarm amid North East business and political leaders, who questioned whether his plans were actual priorities for the region.
MPs at a hearing of the Commons transport committee that’s investigating priorities for the railways asked the professor what schemes he would save or drop amid potential spending cuts.
Improvements to the rail network in and around central Manchester – the so-called Manchester Hub – were essential, said Prof Begg, who set out how they could be paid for by everyone else.
“We need to change the name of the Manchester Hub,” he argued.
“Crossrail for the North of England is a better term, otherwise people view it as a Greater Manchester project. We miss out exactly what actually it is going to do.
“So I would push really hard for the Manchester Hub and improving connectivity across the Pennines,” said the professor who chairs the Northern Way transport compact.
He added: “I would raise more money and I would raise more revenue from green taxes. I am not a fan of increasing tax on activity we are trying to encourage like work, so I am dead against big increases in income tax.
“I would argue very strongly for green taxes and I would also urge the Government to relook at road pricing.”
Any new high-speed rail line should first go between London, Birmingham and Manchester because their current lines would become overcrowded sooner, argued Prof Begg.
He added that Yorkshire and the North East needed to follow soon after and before the link went to Scotland.
A Government-commissioned report on the issue could offer “better news” for the region, he said. Tyne Bridge MP David Clelland stressed the need for an East Coast high speed rail link and expressed concern about the Northern Way.
The Labour representative said: “I have always been a bit nervous about it because it is dominated by the Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool axis and we were always going to be on the fringes of that.”
The MP warned that road charging would be “very unpopular” unless it was phased in an acceptable way and highlighted how it was being done in the Netherlands, where other driving taxes are being axed.
“Just to impose additional charges on motorists would be very unpopular before a general election and I don’t think the Government would do that,” he said. “There needs to be a more intelligent debate about how we raise the money to provide the public transport we all want and deserve.”
Ross Smith, head of policy at the North East Chamber of Commerce, observed that the professor’s priorities would not reflect those of businessmen across the North East.
“And I would like to see much more done to work out these priorities before people make grant claims like that.”
Any suggestions of road charging were “premature” he added.