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Last Updated: Saturday, 15 March 2008, 13:11 GMT
Hague woos north with road pledge
William Hague
William Hague claims a Tory revival in the north

The Conservatives are launching a review of transport links in the north of England as part of a bid to win back voters in the region.

Party leader David Cameron said on Friday a future Tory government would consider long-awaited upgrades to the A1 and improvements to rail links.

He stopped short of pledging the cash needed, citing uncertainty about the state of public finances.

But William Hague told the Tory spring forum he would launch a policy review.

Mr Hague, who in addition to being shadow foreign secretary is chairman of the party's Northern Board, charged with leading a Tory revival in the region.

The party is holding its spring forum in Gateshead, the first time it has held a national party conference in the North East - a sign, party sources say, of its determination to regain ground in Labour heartlands.

Anger

At one time the Conservatives had more than 60 MPs in the North of England, but now the party has just 19.

It has invested heavily in new campaign centres in Bradford, Newcastle and Salford in an effort to rebuild its strength on the ground in parts of the country where it has all but disappeared from local councils.

It has also identified transport as an area where voters in the North East feel they are missing out.

Mr Cameron accused Labour of unfairly favouring London in transport investment, spending 1,637 per head in the capital since 2000 compared with 577 in the North East.

Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly last year sparked anger in the region by ruling out any major improvements to the A1 until at least 2015.

Councils and business leaders want the road dualled, claiming it will boost prosperity and reduce road deaths.

'Northern revival'

Mr Cameron has stopped short of pledging the cash needed to upgrade the A1 citing uncertainty about the state of the public finances he will inherit from Labour if he wins the next election.

But Mr Hague told the Spring Forum: "I can announce that we are establishing a special policy commission to inform the work of the next Conservative government, with the task of reviewing the transport needs and links of the north of England and making recommendations on the priorities for the future.

"When it comes to the needs of our northern regions, we are going to be not only highly organised as a party, but highly prepared to deliver as a Government."

The MP for Richmond, in North Yorkshire, claimed a "northern revival" which had said had seen the Tories gain control of more councils in Yorkshire and the North West than any other party.

He said Conservatives were "marching on with a spirit and a strength even here in the north of England not witnessed for many years".



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