Rallying calls for better cycling infrastructure, “chaotic” timetable changes, and the next generation of transport projects were under the spotlight at this Place North West event, which featured figures from Government along with the region’s most prominent transport providers and professionals.
More than 250 people attended the event at Manchester’s Hilton Hotel, supported by partner Transport for the North and sponsored by Broadway Malyan, Lexington Communications, Waterman Group, and Winckworth Sherwood.
Speakers included Richard Allan of Northern; Chris Boardman, Greater Manchester cycling & walking champion; Jessica Bowles, director of strategy at Bruntwood; Peter Broadley of Virgin Trains; Andy Burnham, mayor of Greater Manchester; Andrew Cowan, chief executive of Manchester Airport; Danny Crump, director of urbanism at Broadway Malyan; Alex Dillistone, partner at Winckworth Sherwood; Martin Farrington, director of city development, Leeds City Council; Sandie Forte-Gill, regional delivery director, Highways England; Chris Grayling MP, Secretary of State for Transport; Mike Horner, development director, Muse Developments; and Robert Hough, chairman, Peel Airports.
Also speaking at the event were Anna-Jane Hunter, director for North of England rail at Network Rail; David Jones, sustainable transport strategy manager, Cadent Gas; Frank Jordan, executive director of place at Cheshire East Council; Stephen Joseph, transport policy consultant; Nicola Kane, head of strategic planning & research, Transport for Greater Manchester; Neil Lees, deputy chairman, Peel Group; Julian Lipscombe, director, Bennetts Associates; Lorna Pimlott, director of sponsorship & policy, HS2; Pat Ritchie, chief executive, Newcastle City Council; Angie Ridgwell, chief executive, Lancashire County Council; Frank Rogers, chief executive, Liverpool City Region Combined Authority & director general at Merseytravel; Steve Rotheram, Metro Mayor of the Liverpool City Region; Barry White, chief executive of Transport for the North; and Adam Wisher, head of Manchester at LCR. The event was chaired by Place North West editor Jessica Middleton-Pugh.
Transport for the North’s Strategic Plan
Barry White of Transport for the North kicked off the event with an update on the transport body’s strategic plan for the North, which aims to kick start the delivery of Northern Powerhouse Rail and major transport improvements across the region.
Northern Powerhouse Rail is the cornerstone of the plan, said White, who called on the Government’s spending review in the autumn to provide “a clear view” on how the scheme would be funded.
The Strategic Plan provides “solutions to transport issues designed, developed, and delivered by the North, in the North, for the North,” said White, to reverse “decades of underinvestment”. The plan, he said, was “ambitious but achievable”.
Public sector perspective
White was followed by a panel discussion featuring Alex Dillistone, Martin Farrington, Angie Ridgwell, and Pat Ritchie.
- Farrington said the Leeds City Region would be putting forward business cases for three new stations on key commuter and economic growth areas outside the city centre, and called for “leadership from the Department for Transport into a coherent investment plan” for Leeds railway station
- End-to-end connectivity and dealing with rurality was one of Lancashire’s key challenges, said Ridgwell, who argued transport policy was “too road-centric” and said road and rail, rather than multi-modal transport solutions, were often the “default fall-back position” for the Government
- Jordan said Cheshire East’s ambition to be carbon neutral meant building environmental protection into transport planning has become increasingly important: “We have £300m to invest in infrastructure and large land ownerships, so we need to be making sure we develop sustainable places with transport thought about from the very beginning”
- Dillistone called for the North to have its own hybrid bill, like Crossrail and HS2, rather than a development consent order, to make sure major transport projects are delivered
- Ritchie said it was important that the North’s cities don’t compete for transport funding but work together, with regions needing to recognise their respective strengths: “Investment into the north on the back of connected transport plans benefits all of us”
Running the North’s networks
After a networking break, a panel of transport operators followed, featuring Richard Allan of Northern, Peter Broadley of Virgin Trains, Sandie Forte-Gill of Highways England, Anna-Jane Hunter of Network Rail, and Frank Rogers of Merseyrail.
- Allan said Northern had “learned some very painful lessons, not just for our customers but the industry too” from last year’s timetable changes, which was caused by “trying to deliver a timetable change in 16 weeks because of late infrastructure delivery”
- Forte-Gill said there would be “a massive ramping-up of activity” across the motorway network as new schemes come on stream, and added: “Port to port connectivity and north south links and a corridor up to Scotland are all critical”
- Asked by the audience about the idea of renationalising train operators, Broadley said: “There are some areas where private companies do a really good job, and others where public ownership is clearly the best option. I don’t think the private or the public sector have all the answers – it’s all about getting the balance right”
- On smart ticketing, Rogers added: “W need to have free access between cities – that’s being progressed, but reallocating the revenue is important, and how that gets back to operators in different ways, so fares can be reinvested in their point of origin”
- Hunter said there could be more opportunities for new railway stations in the North, and said there was “a lot more” that could be done with major stations, including “turning them into destinations rather than places to catch a train”, taking inspiration from King’s Cross in London
Lorna Pimlott of HS2 then presented an update on progress so far for the multi-billion-pound project and its impact on the North of England.
HS2’s hybrid bill for the North of England, phase 2b, will be “the largest-ever hybrid bill in Parliament”, and will bring “thousands more seats” to the network, boosting capacity and moving freight off motorways onto the rail network.
The investment in stations in the North could provide the opportunity to deliver 16,000 homes in Manchester and 7,000 in Crewe. She added the current preference, and what is included in the hybrid bill, is a surface station at Piccadilly.
Liverpool, however, is not included in the Phase 2b hybrid bill, and Pimlott said “a decision has not been made and won’t be made by HS2” on how the network connects to the city.
Andrew Cowan of Manchester Airport and Peel’s Robert Hough then took the stage to discuss the role of the region’s airports in transport connectivity.
- Hough said he was “concerned” that Manchester Airport could be made “the Heathrow of the North” and called for “balanced growth” in the region’s airports
- Cowan added he was “worried Government policy would be predicated on inaccurate passenger forecasts”, with Manchester Airport already beating the Government’s predicitions, 10 years ahead of schedule
- Hough added Liverpool John Lennon Airport’s 2030 plan, potentially including extended runways, terminals, and commercial development, was “deliverable” but said “the demand has to be there to support it”, predicting 7m passengers will use the airport by 2030
- Cowan said Manchester’s £1bn transformation plan was “not just a building project but about transforming the passenger experience to make it world-class”. He added the Airport needed “the right revenue streams” coming in to support its future growth, including from retail and parking charges
Walking, cycling, and sustainability
Olympic cyclist and Greater Manchester’s cycling and walking champion Chris Boardman took to the stage.
He set out the region’s investment in cycling and walking routes and called for a step-change into how these are delivered.
“Riding a bike or crossing a street should not require bravery,” he argued. “250 million journeys are less than 1km in greater Manchester – that’s an embarrassing stat, but look at how little needs to change to make a difference.”
While there is £160m set aside to make this happen, he added: “It doesn’t always have to be expensive segregation – some neighbourhood roads only need subtle intervention to change these streets from rat runs to people-focussed. Non-controversial, quick to install interventions can make a big difference.
“We’re talking about cultural change, and that’s scary; we’ve slid over into it being safer to do nothing,” he said. “It’s about enabling people to not have to drive, and making better places to live.”
The conversation then moved on to clean air with a presentation from transport consultant Stephen Joseph.
He highlighted the role of urban, suburban, and transport design in improving air quality and reducing emissions: “There is a need for urban quarters rather than isolated developments; what we don’t want to see is an American approach of providing places without pavements and encouraging nothing but car use.
“Better practice does exist with examples including Poundbury, Kilnwood Vale, Shawfair, Kidbrooke. Increasing pressure on the Government to tackle these issues of air quality is now central to transport policy.”
David Jones of Cadent Gas then presented an overview of how hydrogen could revolutionise the transport sector and deliver sustainable transport methods across the North of England.
A potential network of hydrogen supply, using spare capacity on the existing gas network, could provide a “low-carbon solution” to help address air quality issues. This was particularly important for freight and HGVs, which would need between eight and 15 filling stations across the North West in strategic locations.
Nicola Kane of TfGM and Danny Crump of Broadway Malyan followed with an outline of the Streets For All project.
This aims to make “Greater Manchester one of the places in the world to grow up, get on, and grow old,” with a focus on providing better transport and more sustainable ways of linking the region’s different centres and towns.
This is supported by the upcoming Greater Manchester Spatial Framework, and predicts that by 2040 50% more journeys will be made by walking, cycling, and public transport, supported by interventions put forward by the Streets For All team.
Greater Manchester has a number of corridors which have levels of air quality that will be illegal by 2021, but Crump said things like underpasses “were not the solution” to encourage sustainable walking and cycling.
“The alternatives are unattractive at present, with cycling infrastructure limited and buses underperforming”, he said.
“Streets are critical to clean, inclusive growth, and their design needs to be flexible.” The team are now looking at a design guide for streets across the region.
The Government’s view
After a networking break, there was a keynote speech from Secretary of State for Transport, Chris Grayling.
- Responding to claims the Government had “its head in the sand” and that delay to the Northern Hub had caused “a direct deterioration of rail services” and “sustained disruption” in Manchester, Grayling insisted improving the Oxford Road rail corridor and Piccadilly Station was not cancelled, but said there was no “simple solution”
- He also said the Government was trying to work on a scheme that would minimise “years and years” of disruption” on the route
- “The original cost estimates were way out of kilter, the potential disruption that the project would cause to rail travel through the centre of Manchester is judged by everyone to be enormous, and I’m trying to work out, together with Network Rail [and] Transport for the North, what’s the best way to deal with that corridor”
- Asked about the imbalance in transport spending in the North and South of England, he added: “If you’re taking pure Government spending, the stuff that comes from my department, from the Department for Communities & Local Government, and through other routes, actually at the moment, spending per head is higher in the North than in the South”
- “The thing that distorts the figure is London taxes; if you take Crossrail as an example, more than half of that now is being funded by taxation on businesses raised by the Mayor. So, if you count that as public spending, then that’s what distorts the figures”
The developer’s perspective
A panel discussion then followed, focussing on developers working in and around transport interchanges, and featuring Jessica Bowles, Mike Horner, Neil Lees, Julian Lipscombe, and Adam Wisher.
- On his practice’s work on Piccadilly station, Lipscombe said: “Metrolink is heavily constrained in the belly of the listed station and doesn’t have room to expand. The strategic move is to shift it to the north of the station to put it directly under HS2. That causes all manner of challenges that have to be resolved, but it’s fundamental to get the station to work and get the city to work”
- Wisher said working in the rail environment “brings challenges, constraints and opportunities” but said developers needed “active engagement with the rail community and to work with them, not against them” to make the most of schemes around transport hubs
- Bowles said there were “massive benefits” to building next to transport hubs particularly around giving businesses access to talent, but added developers should be patient given developing next to things like live railways takes longer than other many other sites
- Horner argued developers “consult too much” on their proposals, with CPOs and call-ins meaning projects can often be delayed, sometimes fatally. “We should just get on with things,” he said. “Like the Heathrow expansion – just can it, or do it”
- Lees said Government “needs to make up its mind” over developer contributions to transport schemes. “There absolutely should be developer contributions towards transport projects, but the question of fairness is an important one – at what point do developer contributions detract from investment?”
Metro Mayors two years on
The event closed with a conversation with the region’s two Metro Mayors, Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram.
- Asked to reflect on his first two years in office and the impact on transport, Burnham admitted: “If I’m being honest, I can’t say we’ve made massive improvements. A lot of our time has been spent dealing with chaotic timetable changes”
- He added: “I feel very clear now on what we need – devolved control of the whole thing, so we can integrate it, create an incentive to use public transport, and a London-style transport system”
- Rotheram said: “The bit we’ve done fairly poorly over many years is that we haven’t looked far enough ahead – we need to think strategically and long-term about what a 21st Century Liverpool City Region will look like”
- “Whenever Government says there’s a pot of money, we’ve lost out in the past; we should’ve had a tram system by now but we didn’t get our act together,” he said
- Burnham said more taxes were not a solution: “The congestion charge was tried here a decade ago, and it was roundly rejected. “It’s not fair to put in a charge where many people have no alternative but to use their car. London never had a tax”
- Rotheram highlighted the need for further investment in skills to help deliver infrastructure and transport projects in the North: “If the Government is going to build millions of houses, and all these infrastructure projects, who’s going to build them? We need a lead-in period so people have the right skills for the jobs. If we had the powers we would do it ourselves”
The slides from the day can be accessed below:
For the full speeches by Chris Grayling, Mayor Andy Burnham and Mayor Steve Rotheram, visit Place North West’s YouTube channel
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