Will “Transport for the North” help or hinder Devo Manc?

A key component of the devolution of powers to The GMCA under the Greater Manchester Agreement is control of both budget and policy for major element of the Region’s hard and soft transport infrastructure.

The Chancellor established Transport for the North (TfN) to bring together northern transport authorities, and tasked it with working with government to create the first ever comprehensive transport strategy for the region, covering roads, rail, freight, airports and smart ticketing. TfN and the government published the first ‘Northern transport strategy’ on 20 March 2015 following Network Rail work on rail improvement options.

The report sets out a long term strategy to connect up the north, create a single economy and allow northern towns and cities to pool their strengths. Plans set out in the report include:

1. slashing journey times between major northern cities with investment in high speed rail;

2. developing new east-west road connections including a road tunnel under the Peak District; and

3. introducing Oyster-style smart travel cards and simpler fares across the north.

Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne said:

Connecting up the great cities of the north is at the heart of our plan to build a northern powerhouse. This report has the potential to revolutionise transport in the north and we will work closely with TfN to help make it a reality.

From backing high speed rail to introducing simpler fares right across the north, our ambitious plans for transport means we will deliver a truly national recovery where every part of the country will share in Britain’s prosperity.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said:

As part of my northern futures plan, I listened to what people wanted and have taken decisive action. I’ve already pledged to rid the region of rattling old pacer trains, introduced smarter ticketing in Sheffield and increased capacity on commuter services. All of this will ensure the north can race ahead in a stronger economy and doesn’t become one big bottleneck.

I’m extremely proud to be announcing this new strategy which will be transformative for the region. Modernising rail in the north and speeding up connections between cities will encourage business, boost tourism and give commuters the transport network they deserve.

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said:

This dynamic change, led by the Chancellor with northern leaders, transforms the way government looks at transport solutions for the north. No government has given such attention to the infrastructure of our great northern cities and how to deliver a world-class, integrated transport network for the north. The proposals announced today will reduce journey times while increasing capacity and connectivity, enabling growth.

Creating a northern powerhouse of jobs, investment and prosperity, is a key objective of the government’s long term economic plan. We are planning for transport and growth in a new joined-up way. Today we set out a comprehensive strategy for the northern economy which will help the north pool its strengths. TfN gives the north a powerful new voice.

Sir Richard Leese, Chair of the TfN Partnership Board, and leader of Manchester City Council, said:

Today marks the culmination of a huge amount of hard work to bring together a range of far-reaching transport plans which together will transform connectivity across the north of England, improving the passenger experience, boosting business and ultimately helping to rebalance the UK economy.

But our work is far from done, we must now ensure TfN delivers a north which has a vibrant and growing economy, acts as a magnet for inward investment, and which capitalises on the strengths of our great northern cities.

The cities of the north are individually strong, and increasingly have the tools to grow, but by working together they can be stronger than the sum of their parts. This new report sets out how that can be delivered through a long-term investment plan in rail, the important relationship between HS2 and regional rail services as well as roads, ports, and airports – covering both passengers and freight.

This strategy presents an opportunity to better connect the cities of the north, make the most of existing skills and businesses and attract new ones and the yardstick of success is quite simple – to empower the north to compete with the rest of the world and become an engine for growth in the UK.

Building on the concept of High Speed 3, the report sets out a long term strategy to connect the great cities of the north with a network of high quality rail connections. This ‘TransNorth’ network – with sections capable of speeds up to 140 miles per hour – would link Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Newcastle and Hull. With such a network journey times between:

* Liverpool and Manchester could be as low as 20 minutes

* Manchester to Sheffield and Leeds could both be 30 minutes

*Leeds to Hull could be just 45 minutes

* Sheffield to Hull 50 minutes

And Journey times from Manchester to Newcastle could be cut by 25%.

Supporting studies by Network Rail set out for the first time the different options for creating such a network and set out indicative costings. Options range from radically upgrading existing routes to building completely new lines. The government will now fund further development of the options identified, with road and rail plans now commissioned by TfN.

Achieving the objective of improving and integration the hardware and introducing the “software” across the region is all very well, but it takes Greater Manchester nowhere if it remains trapped in a broader inefficient system. The TfN report suggests there is a wider strategy to support the GMCA’s ambitions. How that plays out in practice (particularly from a post-Election perspective) is something the blog will be observing very closely.

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