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Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne will commit 300 million pounds ($430 million) for transport links between the main population centers of northern England as part of his bid to cut the economic gap between London and the rest of the U.K.
Osborne will use his budget announcement on Wednesday to earmark cash for planning a high-speed rail link between Leeds and Manchester, road improvements in the region and proposals for a Trans-Pennine tunnel, the Treasury said in a statement. Osborne will also back the development of Crossrail 2, a new rail route across London, setting aside 80 million pounds for the project.
"With the difficulties we see in the global economy, we’ve got to make Britain fit for the future," Osborne said in the statement. “Now is the time for us to make the bold decisions and the big investments that will help us to lead the world in infrastructure, and create jobs, push up living standards and boost our productivity for the next generation."
The investment announcement comes after National Infrastructure Commission Chairman Andrew Adonis called for a rapid start to work on improving transport links in the north of England alongside the development of London’s new rail route, connecting the northeast and southwest of the capital.
Work to upgrade the 40-mile (65-kilometer) rail link between Manchester and Leeds should be “kick-started” to cut journey times to 40 minutes from 49 minutes by 2022 and then to 30 minutes, Adonis said in a report published on Thursday. He also called for extra lanes to be added to the M62 motorway linking the two city regions, the most populous and economically productive in the north.
“There is no quick and easy way to travel between the two; in rush hour it can take more than two hours by car, by train it can be almost an hour,” Adonis said. “A better connected north will be better for jobs, better for families and better for Britain. The work should begin as quickly as possible.”
The paucity of existing transport links is illustrated by the fact that in the 200-mile stretch between Stoke-on-Trent, in the central England, and Edinburgh in Scotland the M62 is the only multi-lane highway running east to west. Manchester’s Piccadilly rail station should be redeveloped and connections to the city’s airport, Britain’s third busiest, must be improved, Adonis said.
Adonis’s report is the third released by the commission, set up by Osborne last year, in the run-up to the chancellor’s annual budget. The agency has also recommended steps to boost electricity storage systems and add more power interconnectors to Europe.
Osborne will also announce on Wednesday that he is setting up a 1.2 billion-pound fund to release brownfield land to build more than 30,000 "starter homes" across Britain, the Treasury said.