Transport investment in the North has never received as much attention and debate as at present. There are a great deal of passionate views surrounding the level and type of funding that has been provided, locally, regionally and nationally.
In January 2018, Parliament approved the establishment of Transport for the North (TfN) as a statutory Sub-National Transport Body. TfN subsequently set out its strategic and economic rationale for increasing transport investment for people and businesses across the North, from the North East and Cumbria through to Cheshire and the Humber.
Developed and approved by the North’s 19 local transport authorities, TfN’s Strategic Transport Plan is a truly momentous demonstration of the North’s collaboration and ambition. The Plan takes a unique and unprecedented approach. For the first time ever, Northern transport needs and opportunities are being considered at a regional level, by people who actually live and work in the North. That matters.
For Transport for the North, it is only the start of a devolution journey. Many have jumped to comparisons of the role and powers that Transport for the North will have and that of Transport for London. One clear advantage that Transport for London has is time. For nearly 2 decades, it has been making the case for London and growing its remit and control through the superb Mayor’s Transport Strategies. It could be argued that TfN has to first prove itself, as Transport for London has done and continues to do. What is clear from TfN’s powers is its role; it should speak for the North with one voice, informing the government of the investment priorities that will be required to support sustainable economic growth in the North over the next 30 years.
Transport for the North is also unique in that all of the North’s local transport authorities are part of the partnership. Crucially, no powers are being taken away from these local authorities: they will still play the critical role of improving their road, light rail, bus, and cycling networks. Our organisation will support these authorities through new thinking and looking beyond administrative borders, as well as bringing new appraisal tools to strengthen the case for transport projects of all sizes. Approved by all 19 local transport authorities, TfN’s regulations ensure that the North can ask the government for additional powers at any time, if they believe it is right for the region.
There is nothing traditional about the Strategic Transport Plan. It is the first of its kind by design, not chance – it has been intentionally approached differently. Instead of looking at the outputs, we are firstly identifying the outcomes and economic growth we want to see and what this might look like in different parts of the North. The plan takes a corridor approach, identifying ‘Strategic Development Corridors’ where there are opportunities for growth and an increase in travel demand is anticipated. The approach also considers the future, looking at where housing and business developments are planned, the emerging technologies of the future, how investment in transport can sustainably support social benefits and making the North a healthier place to live and work.
Whilst substantial investment is still required, the North should seek to maximise the use of existing transport networks, as well as looking for new infrastructure. This includes a Major Roads Network for the North, Northern Powerhouse Rail, a Long Term Rail Strategy, and a programme of Integrated and Smart Travel (e.g. smart ticketing technologies).
The public doesn’t always see the collaboration and challenge that is going on behind the scenes. Most of TfN’s recommendations will likely be delivered by Network Rail and Highways England. Transport for the North has already established a positive working relationship with these agencies, prior to becoming a statutory body. This is bringing new analysis and thinking to the table, which is influencing the decisions made by these agencies about what schemes should be delivered in their future investment periods.
The publication of the draft Strategic Transport Plan is an exciting time for everyone. There is still a lot of work to be done by TfN and its partners and stakeholders, but 2018 has already been a momentous year, securing statutory status and publishing a Strategic Transport Plan with the potential to transform the North. There are exciting times ahead.
Transport for the North wants to hear as many views as possible through a public consultation. This and the draft Strategic Transport Plan can be found here. The consultation is open until 17th April 2018. Following this, all feedback will be analysed and considered before a final version of the Strategic Transport Plan is published and subsequently adopted as a statutory plan.