Transport for the North – what the future holds

Written by Greg Parkinson

Despite considerable improvements in infrastructure over the last decade or so many companies across Yorkshire and the Humber still cite connectivity as a major issue when it comes to doing business in the North of England.

After all, whilst HS2 continues to make headlines, with new and improved services to and from London reportedly shaving previous minutes off a Capital City commuter’s journey, many continue to question the benefits that will have on major Northern hubs such as Sheffield, Hull, Manchester, Leeds and York – especially amidst the age old issue of attracting and maintaining top talent in specific sectors.

In response to growing concerns amidst the business community already established within the region, Transport for the North (TfN) was founded in order to take action, with a view to providing the systems needed to drive economic growth. And justifiably so!

It was just last year that the Northern Powerhouse Independent Economic Review - commissioned by Transport for the North on behalf of Northern partners – demonstrated in a report how unique capabilities which are present across the North could be harnessed to transform the region; adding almost £97billion to the UK economy and creating up to 850,000 jobs by 2050.

But with yet more changes in government, how secure are plans to further bolster the various rail, road, air and sea links across the region?

In his first public appearance in his new role as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport Jesse Norman MP, who appeared alongside Transport for the North at the inaugural Northern Transport Summit, said that he was looking forward to working ‘closely with Transport for the North as it identifies its transport priorities to help drive economic growth in the region’.

A statement that is very much aligned to the organisation’s overarching vision of a ‘thriving North of England, where modern transport connections drive economic growth and support an excellent quality of life’.

Following his presentation, Mr Norman met with Transport for the North’s Chair, John Cridland, and Chief Executive, David Brown, to discuss this very topic. A topic which, moving forward, will be further informed by the release of a Strategic Transport Plan.

Reportedly to be made up of a Position Statement, Initial Major Roads Report and Initial Integrated Rail Report, the plan in questions follows hot on the heels of the Independent International Connectivity Commission’s findings – released in February of this year - that improving international links with the North could see 75 million air passengers travelling to and from the region each year by 2050, nearly double the current number.

A figure further supported by reports that better road and rail links for the region’s ports could result in more freights being shipped directly into and out of the region.

Further complementing the role of existing local transport bodies, moving forward TfN hopes to add strategic value by ensuring that funding and strategy decisions about transport in the North are informed by local knowledge and requirements. A pledge it says is in line with the devolution agenda; with TfN drawing powers down from central government rather than up from local government.

And so, whilst it is still early days, further complicated by the recent announcement that the organisation’s Chief Executive David Brown will be leaving in September to take up a new post as Managing Director of Arriva Rail North Ltd which operates the Northern rail franchise, early indications are that there remains a solid commitment to improving the infrastructure of the north of England.

A journey we will be following with interest in the coming months and years.

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