More clarity demanded of Northern transport strategy

March 25 2015  

Commitments to funding and timescales are missing from Government’s promise to transform road and rail networks in the north of England, according to sector champions.

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin set out his ‘Northern Powerhouse’ strategy on Friday alongside Transport for the North chair Sir Richard Leese. The vision details plans to speed rail journeys from east to west between Hull and Liverpool and improve several motorways and major A roads. These could include tunnels beneath the Pennines.

Among the schemes promised are upgrading the M62 between Leeds and Manchester to four lane Smart Motorway, completing the upgrade of the A1 between London and Newcastle (pictured) and a possible new rail line from Manchester to Sheffield.

Many commentators welcomed the focus on improving infrastructure and services in the north, including Transport Select Committee chair Louise Ellman MP. But she added: “I am concerned that there is no commitment to funding.” She added that she welcomed a move to greater devolution, “but Ministers must clarify how the new arrangements will ensure that the needs of the city regions don’t dominate the needs of smaller towns and rural areas that also need the economic benefits of improved transport.”

The Association for Consultancy & Engineering’s northern chair Marc Davies added: “Better linkages between economic centres will go a long way to creating the Northern Powerhouse.” But, he added, “there should also be a commitment to limit the timescale and focus on progressing actual schemes rather than ideas. Without these this will go down as a missed opportunity for the northern region and the whole of the UK.”

CIHT’s director of policy and technical affairs Andrew Hugill said: “We believe that to achieve the vision’s strategy there must be certainty and continuity of investment over a longer period.

“The Northern Transport Strategy also outlines a new mode of governance which sets out how a number of organisations and stakeholders can work together to deliver it. We will be looking at how we can support this regional agenda and the role to be played through the CIHT Regions.”

British Chambers of Commerce director general John Longworth said: “The Northern Transport Strategy is a sensible list of priorities, but the next government must ensure that the critical road and rail projects it contains are funded and delivered. A strategy that gathers dust on a shelf won’t help improve business connectivity – only firm delivery commitments will.”

♦ Government this week also promised £275M for local roads maintenance, split between 31 schemes in 28 local authority areas. The so called ‘Challenge Fund’ is for one off major infrastructure schemes including bridge renewals, carriageway improvements and street lighting upgrades. The money is part of a £6Bn pot announced last December.

(Photo: Highways Agency)

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