January 16 2018 @ 14:49 by Alison Cowie
Plans for future transport investment in the North East and the wider North of England have been outlined today (January 16) at an event marking the publication of a 30-year plan to drive economic growth.
Cllr Nick Forbes, Leader of Newcastle City Council and thematic lead for transport on the North East Combined Authority, and Andrew Hodgson, chair of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership – who are both members of the Transport for the North Partnership Board – launched the plan at Newcastle International Airport.
Transport for the North’s Strategic Transport Plan is the first of its kind and outlines how connections across the North of England need to be improved to drive growth and close the economic gap between the North and the rest of England. The public are now being asked to share their thoughts on the proposals through a thirteen-week consultation.
Aimed at rebalancing the UK’s economy through a sustained 30-year programme of transport infrastructure investment, the plan could deliver a £100 billion boost to the economy and 850,000 additional jobs by 2050.
Cllr Nick Forbes, chair of the North East Combined Authority’s Transport North East Committee, said, “Improving transport infrastructure across the North East and the wider Northern region is a crucial step in achieving a stronger economy and better opportunities for our residents and businesses.
“This draft plan sets out the main investment priorities which would improve road and rail connections, providing more efficient journey times between major Northern towns, cities and employment sites, as well as improved cross-Pennine links.
“This investment would not only support business growth, attract new businesses to our region and create jobs but would also enable people to access a wider range of employment and training opportunities – not just in their local area but also further afield.
“We believe this would transform not just our regional economy but also the future prosperity of the country as a whole.
“Our task now is to unite as a region in persuading government of the importance of matching our ambitious plans with the resources and powers necessary to make them a reality.”
Andrew Hodgson, chair of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “A strong, well connected, environmentally friendly and sustainable transport system is crucial if we want our economy to grow and continue to make this region an enjoyable place to live and work.
“This is an excellent opportunity to people to have their say and share their personal experiences of travelling around the North East and beyond. I urge everyone to engage fully with the process as the outcomes will affect us all.”
Transport for the North is working to make it easier for people and goods to travel across the region, increasing access to jobs, supporting businesses and improving the movement of freight and goods across the North and to its ports and airports. Seven ‘corridors’ of opportunity are identified in the plan that are key to achieving these aims.
The study looking at the ‘Connecting the Energy Coasts’ corridor will improve connectivity between some of the UK’s important non-carbon energy and research assets in Cumbria, Lancashire, North Yorkshire, the North East and Tees Valley whilst the ‘East Coast to Scotland’ will improve corridor speed and reach along the East Coast Main Line and other key lines to provide enhanced connectivity in the North East, Tees Valley and North Yorkshire as well as onward connections into Scotland.
While a full list of the improvements which will be needed has not yet been published, emerging priorities for the North East include upgrading strategic highway links to the rest of the North and to Scotland, Northumberland to Newcastle rail connections, the Leamside Line and Durham Coast Line and improved access to Newcastle International Airport. These are in addition to the baseline investment assumptions set out within the plan.
John Cridland, Transport for the North chairman, said, “The North is a rich, diverse region and home to around 16 million people. We have vibrant communities, buzzing cities, five stunning national parks, an abundance of talent and a wealth of high-performing businesses. Transport for the North’s vision is of a thriving North of England, where modern transport connections drive economic growth and support an excellent quality of life.
“For the first time, civic and business leaders and transport operators are speaking with one voice on transport to make sure the North fulfils its potential. Our plan proposes a revolutionary investment programme that will make it possible to travel to high quality jobs. This is an ambitious programme that will improve our roads and railways, and will also drive a sea change in skills development in the North and ensuring we meet that historic gap in investment.”
Alongside the corridors, Transport for the North has for the first time outlined its emerging vision for Northern Powerhouse Rail, a rapid, reliable and resilient rail network between the North’s six biggest cities and other significant economic centres. Northern Powerhouse Rail, which would see much faster connections between Newcastle and Leeds via Durham, Darlington and York, would reduce journey times between Newcastle and Leeds to 60 minutes.
The plan is accompanied by an updated Rail Strategy for investment in the North’s existing lines, stations, services and franchise operations, reflecting the planned integration of Rail North into Transport for the North in April this year.
In the short-term, Transport for the North has commenced a rolling programme from now until 2021 to introduce integrated and smart ticketing across the North of England. This will make paying for and planning travel much easier, starting in major cities and across the busiest routes.
The investment priorities are backed up by research that links the North’s prime capabilities in advanced manufacturing, digital, energy and health innovation. The cost of the 30-year plan is estimated to equate to less than £150 per northern citizen per year, or £2-2.3 billion per year.
This figure also includes spending which would already be expected as part of ongoing strategic transport investment in the North, with only £50 per person per year (£700-900 million per year) additional spending. Regional spend figures issued by the Infrastructure and Projects Authority for the four years from 2017 calculated that projected Government spend on strategic transport will be £1,039 per head for the three Northern regions (North West, North East, Yorkshire and Humber).
The public consultation on the Strategic Transport Plan will run until 17 April 2018 with engagement events taking place across the North, including in Durham on 5th February, Sunderland on 6th February and Newcastle on 7th February. A final version of the plan will be published later in the year and submitted to the Government for ministerial consideration.