In his keynote speech to the Northern Powerhouse conference in Manchester, the Minister for the Northern Powerhouse acknowledged “massive challenges” facing regional productivity, largely due to poor transport connectivity “choking investment”.
Speaking on the second day of the conference, Andrew Percy MP defended the concept of the Northern Powerhouse and said “we’re achieving quite a bit already, and we’re recognised throughout the world.”
“Government is stepping up, not stepping back,” he assured the audience. “It is looking to address the long-running challenges in the economy that we know are holding us back in the North.
“I desperately and passionately want to see improved East-West connectivity, it’s simply not good enough after decades of underinvestment. Disparity between the North and the South is a massive challenge, and we’re looking at future allocations that has to be taken into account.
“Transport connectivity is a choke on investment in the North, but big infrastructure investment isn’t going to happen overnight.
“It can’t be done just by Government, it needs buy in from stakeholders in the North.”
More than a buzzword
The debate around how to improve the North’s transport network has dominated discussion during the two-day conference.
The first panel discussion on Wednesday was made up of business leaders from across the rail and port industry in the North.
When asked by Place North West whether the concept of the Northern Powerhouse has had a tangible impact on their transport priorities so far, they responded:
Martin Frobisher, route managing director, Network Rail: “The Northern Powerhouse has brought greater focus to the issue of East-West connectivity, and the discussion around how to ensure it’s not just all lines radiating from London.”
Andrew Herring, infrastructure partner, Squire Patton Boggs: “It’s put a name to a scalable geography, that is globally relevant. I suppose that’s an ‘intangible tangible’ but it means that we can equate the Northern assets to other regions internationally.”
Kate Willard, chair of Atlantic Gateway, and head of corporate projects, Stobart Group: “It has made a difference because it’s built an awareness that the North does exist and needs to be connected. That may seem facile but in that perspective it has helped. If the message is that the Northern Powerhouse is ‘ours to shape as we see fit’, at its loosest sense, the label has helped in that debate around the North existing.”
Leighton Cardwell, director of WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff: “Ultimately, it’s an economic underpinning to the narrative, it gives a stronger emphasis on the economic benefit of schemes, and also creates the principle of collective ownership.”
Alex Hynes, managing director of Arriva Rail North: “Had the previous Chancellor of the Exchequer not pushed the Northern Powerhouse concept so hard in central Government, I’m not sure we’d have got the funding for the pacers.” Arriva took over the Northern Rail franchise last year and is implementing a £1bn investment in rolling stock, financed by Eversholt Rail Group.
Paul Griffiths, phase two development director, HS2: “It is tangible, it’s given us an organisation we can work with in Transport for the North, and a way in which we can co-ordinate our efforts when it comes to transport priorities.”