12 August 2015
Publication of a £13bn transport blueprint for the Northern Powerhouse yesterday was hailed as a missed opportunity to progress long term schemes.
The document outlines work underway in road and rail projects throughout northern regions but fails to mention any of the long term plans identified in the Northern Transport Strategy published in March. “Badging it as a blueprint is a missed opportunity,” said Marc Davies, chair of the ACE Northern Region and Head of Environment at WYG in Leeds.
“The document earlier in the year had strategic ideas around road and rail and options for TransPennine routes. Progressing those ideas would have been very positive and shown proper commitment to the Northern Powerhouse.”
The blueprint was published as Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin visited projects in the north of England including the Farnworth rail tunnel upgrade north of Manchester and the newly constructed A5758 Broom’s Cross Road in Merseyside. Pointing to £13bn investments underway he said that the investment was having a huge impact and that government was determined to keep the momentum going.
His visit follows an announcement at the end of June that the electrification of the Midland Mainline and the Leeds to Manchester line had been put on hold which was seen as a setback for investment in northern connectivity. The new blueprint doesn’t mention this. “Given recent announcements about pausing electrification of the TransPennine route it would have been great to include that and it is silent on HS2 and TransNorth projects which are more transformative,” said Davies.
Other experts agreed that the plans need to be part of a wider strategy. "To achieve their full potential, the latest plans must form part of a broader Northern integrated transport strategy, which could include HS2, a high speed east to west rail link and other peripheral projects. These projects bring with them separate challenges, such as finding the funding and generating public support over the medium term – but these are areas that leaders are already focusing on," said Malcolm Bairstow, partner and head of infrastructure at professional services firm EY.
The earlier Northern Transport Strategy was published before the General Election in March. The document took a long term view on transport needs with the development of a TransNorth rail network linking Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds, Newcastle and Hull central to the plans. It was accompanied by Network Rail estimates showing that five new high speed rail links between major cities in the region would cost as much as £65bn and massively cut down journey times. Manchester to Leeds for example would take just 30 minutes from today’s 49 minutes. The strategy also outlined the cost and benefits of upgrading existing lines rather than building new ones and this was valued at between £12.5bn and £23bn.
Following on from this a list of priority projects is expected to be published in Spring 2016 by the newly created Transport for the North partnership. The organisation had its first meeting in January and is currently governed by an interim Partnership Board which brings together the six northern city regions - Greater Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Sheffield, the North East, Hull and the Humber - together with the Department for Transport and senior executives from their Local Enterprise Partnerships, Network Rail, Highways England and HS2 Ltd.
This article first appeared online at Infrastructure Intelligence.