BUDGET | Northern Powerhouse Rail gets £37m boost

A matter of days after the Government agreed a £350m short-term loan to London’s delayed Crossrail project, the Chancellor’s Budget has earmarked £37m towards supporting the development of Northern Powerhouse Rail.

The funding has been set aside to help further development of the rail project, also dubbed ‘Crossrail of the North’, which is intended to improve East-West connectivity.

Transport for the North, the transport body tasked with putting together the business case for the project, has targeted starting construction in 2024. A full business case is due to be submitted to the Government in December.

The £37m of development funding is the only major rail announcement for the North of England in the Budget, and follows the Government’s £350m short-term loan given to Crossrail last week, a £15.4bn rail project set to open nine months late.

Barry White, chief executive of TfN, said: “This money covers what we had asked Government for to further develop Northern Powerhouse Rail during the next financial year as it moves closer to transforming lives in the North.

“This is the biggest and most important rail project in the North of England for generations. This December we will be submitting a strategic outline business case to Government, which will outline the costs and shape of the network and how it will boost connectivity and the economy of the North.

“The funding will allow us to further refine and develop this flagship programme, ensuring it delivers the economic returns it needs to as we progress towards a Full Business Case and spades in the ground in the mid-2020s.”

Targets for Northern Powerhouse Rail include the cutting of Manchester-Leeds journey to around 30 minutes, with six services an hour, and Manchester-Liverpool to 20 minutes. Manchester-Leeds is one of two key priority projects, along with improvements in the east.

Earlier this month, Northern Powerhouse Rail project director Tim Wood told Place North West that TfN felt it had Government support for the project and was confident of getting it off the ground. “If we don’t start now, the country is never going to get that second major economic area that it needs,” he said.

Elsewhere in the Budget, the Government pledged to publish a refreshed Northern Powerhouse Strategy next year, although there were no further details of what this might entail.

Both the Liverpool City Region and Greater Manchester will also benefit from additional money through the Transforming Cities Fund: Liverpool will get £38.5m, while Manchester gets £69.5m.

Bruntwood’s director of strategy Jessica Bowles welcomed the extension of the fund: “With Brexit around the corner, it was important that the Chancellor recognised that our future is as a high skill, knowledge-led economy. We look forward to seeing more detail on the big ticket announcement of £1.6bn to support the development of cutting edge technologies such as quantum computing, Artificial Intelligence, digital manufacturing and nuclear fusion.”

A pothole fund of £420m will be available to local authorities in 2018-19, with a further £150m put forward for what the Government said were “small improvement projects”; this includes areas such as improved junctions and roundabouts.

Other projects to benefit regionally include the proposed Eden Project North in Morecambe which received £100,000 to support its development. Bob Ward, regional senior partner at EY, said:  “That might be short change for the government but for the people in and around Morecambe, the regeneration benefits of such a project coming to fruition would be immeasurable.

“It demonstrates a recognition that growth and prosperity comes not just from major infrastructure and connecting towns to city centres but also by creating sustainable ecosystems within our regions towns as well.”

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