Following the launch of Transport for the North’s draft 30-year strategy, Liverpool City Region Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram has said he will write to the Prime Minister over what he sees as an obvious conflict of interest in the Government that could impact TfN’s growth plans.
Rotheram believes Jo Johnson’s roles as both a Minister for Transport and Minister for London could result in an imbalance in funding between transport schemes in the South and the North.
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He was speaking at TfN’s launch of its 30-year plan, aiming to rebalance the Northern economy by improving transport links for both people and freight across the region. This includes improvements to rail systems which could slash journey times between Liverpool and Manchester, and Manchester Airport, by more than half, dubbed ‘Crossrail for the North’.
Rotheram said: “I am writing to the Prime Minister to explain the obvious conflict of interest that would exist with Jo Johnson having responsibility for London, and therefore economic growth, and then transport, when there’s two competing projects.
“One is here, Crossrail for the North, and one is down there, Crossrail 2, and I think I know which way a Tory Government would act. We can’t allow further money to be pumped into an overheating economy while we’re being given crumbs from the table.”
He added: “With this new rail system journey times of 15 and 20 minutes to Manchester and Manchester Airport are feasible.
“We have to do something anyway because Liverpool to Newcastle takes about the same time now as it did when there were steam trains – how long can we allow that to continue to happen?”
TfN estimates its plans would cost up to £2.3bn a year to deliver, which Rotheram said was a “paltry” cost.
“If the Government was really serious about rebalancing the economy then they would find something quite quickly. It literally is a drop in the ocean compared to the £56bn that they are currently investing in HS2… but the whole thing is predicated on the Government doing the right thing,” he said.
TfN unveiled its 30-year strategy at six locations across the North, with Liverpool the chosen location for the North West launch. Rotheram was joined by TfN finance director Iain Craven, and Liverpool Local Enterprise Partnership representative and chair of transport authority Merseytravel, Cllr Liam Robinson.
Cllr Robinson said better transport links could open up new horizons for the thousands of small businesses across the region: “A small business owner in Bootle could trade with someone in Hull just as easily as Huyton.
“This is not a wish list. There’s hard economic rationale we know it can deliver.”
Despite the ambition, it remains to be see how TfN’s plans will be funded. There is as yet no money granted from Government to support the proposals, or decision-making powers. TfN’s position as a statutory authority means the Government has to “consider” its recommendations when making transport decisions, but there is no enforcement powers beyond that.
Corridors to growth
TfN believes that by rebalancing the UK’s economy through a sustained 30-year programme of transport infrastructure investment, the plan could deliver a £100bn boost to the economy and 850,000 additional jobs by 2050.
A full list of the improvements needed to lift the Northern economy has not yet been published, but the launch event focused on emerging priorities for the Liverpool City Region and Cheshire area, including the provision of a freight rail-route across the central Pennines, enabling goods to travel off-road between Liverpool’s Super Port and the Humber ports; the Growth Track 360 proposals in North Wales, Cheshire and the Wirral; rail connections between the Port of Liverpool and the West Coast Main Line, linking Liverpool directly to the HS2 network by a new line between Liverpool and the HS2 Manchester spur via Warrington; and dualling the A500.
TfN said that by making it easier for people and goods to travel across the region it will increase access to jobs, support businesses and better utilise transport hubs such as the Port of Liverpool and Liverpool John Lennon Airport.
Seven corridors of opportunity are identified in the plan that are key to achieving these aims, including the West and Wales corridor, an Energy Coast corridor, and the Central Pennines corridor.
Alongside the corridors, TfN outlined its emerging vision for Northern Powerhouse Rail, the strategy to deliver a reliable and resilient rail network between the North’s six biggest cities and other significant economic centres. The target is for Manchester Piccadilly to have capability for eight NPR services per hour. The improved lines would deliver a Liverpool to Manchester journey in 28 minutes, and Manchester to Leeds in under 30 minutes, including a stop at Bradford.
The NPR vision was 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.
The public are now being asked to share their thoughts on the proposals during a 13-week consultation.
The public consultation will run until 17 April 2018 with engagement events taking place in Crewe on 19 February, Liverpool on 28 February, Manchester Airport on 7 March, Llandudno on 14 March, Chester on 15 March, Warrington on 22 March, and Wigan on 26 March.
A final version of the plan will be published later in the year and submitted to the Government for ministerial consideration.
The full draft strategic transport plan is available to download here