LEADERS from across the North West met in St Helens for a "timely meeting" this morning (November 22) to discuss the future of our region's transport system - following the disappointment of the government's rail announcement last week.

David Baines, leader of St Helens Council, was joined by metro mayors Steve Rotheram and Andy Burnham, as well as regional leaders from Wigan and Warrington to plan for a transformational and integrated transport network across the North West.

After the government's controversial Integrated Rail Plan (IRP) announcement last week, the "timely" meeting at St Helens Town Hall comes at a time when many in the North are feeling a sense of betrayal; with promises for a 'Northern Powerhouse' rail network scaled back and predominantly featuring upgrades to existing rail lines.

Speaking to the Star, Cllr Baines called the government's transport plan a "very watered down" version of what was promised, which highlights a "lack of interest and a lack of concern in transport in the North and our communities".

Cllr Baines said: "[The IRP] wasn't a shock unfortunately, as we're used to this government letting people down and making promises that they don't then deliver on. They've announced a significant amount of investment, but it's not what they promised, it's not what's needed."

With current connectivity across the North described as "not good enough", Cllr Baines continued: "It doesn't support communities in places like St Helens [...] that for decades have been so underfunded compared to London and the South East. If they're serious about levelling up, they can start by supporting investment in our public transport that residents here rely on."

As public transport is often disconnected, unreliable and expensive across the North West, regional leaders have committed to a transformative plan that connects people across the wider region with ease, makes travelling more efficient and eco-friendly, and brings transport back into public ownership to better serve our communities.

Cllr Baines explained: "I want people in St Helens to have access to public transport, whether it's bus or train, that is affordable, reliable and convenient. [It should be] one ticket, tap on and tap off, publicly owned and where profits don't come before people.

"I think that's the least that residents in St Helens should expect. If it's good enough for residents in London, it's good enough for us."

Leaders in attendance to discuss the plans included councillors and MPs from across St Helens and the wider North West.

St Helens North MP, Conor McGinn commented: “I was delighted to join Mayors Steve Rotheram and Andy Burnham, our St Helens Council leader David Baines, and regional leaders to push forward plans to transform transport for local people.

“Far from being at the periphery of one city region, our dynamic borough holds a unique place at the centre of two. With the right transport investment from Government, St Helens could further cement its place as this key bridge, bringing massive benefits for local people and the wider North.

“So instead of breaking promises, Ministers must finally deliver the affordable, quick and reliable transport they said they would. We won’t stop pressing them until they do."