But critics urge government to match plans with devolution of powers
Industry leaders have welcomed the government’s announcement of a raft of infrastructure schemes for northern England, to be delivered under a beefed up Transport for the North client body overseeing major schemes in the region.
Chancellor George Osborne announced a string of potential Transport for the North (TfN) schemes last Friday, after announcing the government’s intention to invest heavily in northern infrastructure in last week’s Budget, including committing to a ‘HS3’ high speed rail link between Manchester and Leeds.
Schemes unveiled last Friday included developing new east to west road connections including a road tunnel under the Peak District, rolling out Oyster card-style travel, accelerating the delivery of phase two of HS2, and expanding the M6 and parts of the M62 and M1 to four lanes.
The government also released a Network Rail strategic study into potential multi-billion-pound new high speed lines or rail upgrades between northern cities (see graphic and box below).
TfN has been given £6.4m to support its strategic work and its remit has been extended to the whole of the north of England. An independent chair will be appointed to the body.
Osborne said: “Connecting up the great cities of the north is at the heart of our plan to build a northern powerhouse. This report has the potential to revolutionise transport in the north and we will work closely with TfN to help make it a reality.”
Think tank IPPR North welcomed the transport plan, but warned the announcement had to be matched by investment and devolution of powers.
“Further detail on proposed schemes is welcome, but the funding to make these plans a reality has yet to be allocated - meaning the Northern powerhouse still remains a laudable political ambition, rather than an engine of Northern prosperity it needs to be.
“Ultimately, five-year Northern infrastructure budgets need to be properly devolved to TfN as they are in Scotland.”
The Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA) also welcomed the announcement, but called for cross-party backing for the plans ahead of the general election.
Alasdair Reisner, chief executive of CECA, said: “For the Government’s ambitions to be realised we are going to have to see spades in the ground as well as words on the page.
“That means that, ahead of the election, we need all parties to confirm that they would push on with these plans if they are in government. Anything else runs the risk of these proposals dropping down the agenda, acting as a brake on much-needed growth in the north.”
Labour slammed the government’s transport plans for the North as a “desperate, last ditch attempt to win votes in the North ahead of the general election.”
Shadow transport secretary Michael Dugher said: “Labour has a better plan and a big offer for the North as part of our plans to deliver the biggest devolution of economic power and funding to England’s city and county regions for generations, including transport, housing and business support.
“Cameron, Osborne and Clegg have zero credibility in the North.”
Network Rail’s suggested Northern rail upgrades
Leeds to Newcastle in 50 minutes (compared with 87 minutes currently): £8.5bn-£14bn
Sheffield to Manchester in 27 minutes (compared with 48 minutes currently), and Manchester to Leeds in 30 minutes: £12bn-£19bn
Manchester to Leeds in 30 minutes (compared with 49 minutes currently): £6.5bn-£10bn
Leeds to Newcastle in around 70 to 80 minutes: £1bn-£4bn
Sheffield to Manchester in 39 minutes: £3bn-£5bn
Manchester to Leeds in 34 minutes: £4.5bn-£7bn