Almost £7bn will be allocated in next week’s budget to “level up” urban transport in cities around England, the government has said.
City regions will receive a total of about £5.7bn in sustainable transport cash, while another £1.2bn will go towards improving bus services.
Only about £1.5bn of what the Treasury is styling a “local transport revolution” appears to be new money, with £4.2bn having been previously announced in 2019 for cities, and the bus funding coming from a £3bn fund promised by Boris Johnson last year.
The chancellor, Rishi Sunak, will allocate the money on Wednesday to pay for train and station upgrades and the expansion of tram networks in cities outside London.
Sunak said: “Great cities need great transport and that is why we’re investing billions to improve connections in our city regions as we level up opportunities across the country.
“There is no reason why somebody working in the north and Midlands should have to wait several times longer for their bus or train to arrive in the morning compared with a commuter in the capital.
“This transport revolution will help redress that imbalance.”
Greater Manchester will be the greatest beneficiary, with just over £1bn to spend on new Metrolink trams, bus corridors and the 140-mile active travel “Bee Network”.
A similar amount will go the West Midlands for metro stations and bus rapid transit schemes, with West Yorkshire (£830m), South Yorkshire (£570m), Tees Valley (£310m), the West of England (£540m) and Liverpool City Region (£710m) the other beneficiaries.
The £1.2bn for buses will be dedicated to a new programme to improve infrastructure and services outside London, including London-style integrated ticketing. The recipients are yet to be selected.
Pressure has been growing to divert funding from large infrastructure projects to local transport connections, with thinktanks highlighting the difficulty in accessing jobs in the north, not least “red wall” constituencies.
The Greater Manchester mayor, Andy Burnham, told the Conservative conference in the city earlier this month that the mark of “levelling up” would be when Manchester passengers could travel for the same price as London.
On Saturday, he welcomed the extra funding but said: “Infrastructure investment alone will not make levelling up feel real to the people of Greater Manchester. That will only happen when the frequency and coverage of bus services are increased and fares are lowered to London levels.”
A National Infrastructure Commission report highlighted weak public transport networks in England’s city regions as hampering productivity, jobs and wages.
The thinktank Centre for Cities has also urged improving intra-city connections, highlighting the time stuck in rush hour for commuters travelling by car in Liverpool, Birmingham and Manchester.
The transport secretary, Grant Shapps, said Sunak’s expected funding announcement to modernise transport network was “at the heart of our levelling-up agenda” and would “serve as a catalyst for the regeneration of towns and cities”.
The spending on northern transport comes as Transport for London remains in negotiation about its funding, with the latest short-term settlement due to expire in December, and another £500m needed this financial year to cover the continuing drop in revenues since Covid.
The focus on local spending also comes amid widespread speculation that the government will ditch the eastern leg of HS2 from Birmingham to Leeds, whether by official decree or permanent delay.