Transport for the North is close to making “specific recommendations” to Government on how to achieve better outcomes for road and rail connectivity across the North, according to TfN chairman John Cridland.
The Northern transport body is weeks away from delivering a report to Government, looking at how to progress with major rail improvements, including HS3 and Northern Powerhouse rail, and road initiatives such as the TransPennine tunnel.
Cridland presented at the Northern Powerhouse conference held in Manchester yesterday, where he took to the stand to promote TfN’s vision to use transport to “return to the dynamism and growth we had in the North in the 17th-century.”
Speaking to Place North West, Cridland outlined how TfN planned to convince policymakers to increase investment in Northern connectivity.
“We identified at the beginning of the TfN journey some key specifications to get Northern connectivity to the standard that it needs to be. The investment required to get to those outcomes is varied. It could be about updating existing rail, or sometimes the only way to achieve the goals could be entirely new rail.
“What you are going to see in the coming weeks and months is quite specific recommendations to achieve each of those outcomes, as near as possible, and which of them will give the best return on investment,” he said.
“On the road side this includes three big strategic studies; on the North West quadrant of the M60, the TransPennine tunnel, and proposals for better East-West connectivity with improvements to the A66 or A69. Feasibility proposals are being drawn up for each of them, and we will report on those in the coming weeks and months.”
Speaking earlier at the conference was Northern Powerhouse minister Andrew Percy. When grilled on plans for improving Northern transport, he repeatedly said he was “awaiting recommendations from TfN”. With the Government visibly shifting responsibility to TfN, was there a risk devolution could turn to scapegoating if proposals don’t prove popular?
“The Government is recognising that the North and Northern leaders need to come up with these proposals themselves,” Cridland responded. “The decisions used to be worked up in London, which is a long way away from the North. We’re much more likely to get these proposals right if they’re actually developed in the North.
“My job is to make the investment case, then it’s clearly the job of ministers to weigh it up from a Treasury point of view as there’s only so much capital to go around.”
A recent report by the Institute for Public Policy Research highlighted the increasing gap in spending on infrastructure per head in London and the North, with £1,943 per person expected in the capital, compared to £682 per person in the North West, and £190 in Yorkshire.
With each region clamouring to get schemes prioritised in the face of such discrepancy, as TfN chairman Cridland is tasked with ensuring a level playing field across the North.
“We have to the look at the proposals using a ‘one North’ perspective, looking through a ‘one North’ lens, to get the greatest return on investment,” he said. “We can’t just spread the jam thinly, that would simply lead to a dissipation of impact.”
“Not every project can go ahead,” he admitted. “There is more that we would like to do than there will be public or private capital to invest in. We need to get Northern leaders to sign up to proposals which will get the greatest return on investment. Ultimately it has to be meaningful to as many Northern citizens as possible.”