Rail Industry Focus

31.10.19

Transforming Tees Valley transport

Source: RTM Oct/Nov 2019

 

Heather Scott OBE, Tees Valley Combined Authority cabinet lead for transport, explains how the combined authority and partners are looking to improve transport infrastructure in the Tees Valley.

An efficient, reliable and affordable transport network can easily be taken for granted by those who have it, but is of huge importance for those who do not.

Tees Valley is an area made up of five boroughs – Darlington, Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Redcar & Cleveland and Stockton-on-Tees – consisting of major urban areas giving way to dramatic coastlines and beautiful countryside. However, with these dramatic views come rural communities, villages and isolated residents.

Tees Valley Combined Authority aims to drive an additional £2.8bn into the region’s economy and support the creation of 25,000 jobs by 2026, transforming our region. Led by the Tees Valley mayor, we are doing just that, with powers over strategic investment, post-19 education, employment and skills and business support.

Within Redcar is the South Tees Development Corporation, the biggest investment opportunity in the UK today and first mayoral development corporation outside of Greater London. Here, there is huge potential for investment and growth in the advanced manufacturing sector and a raft of well-paid, good-quality careers.

It’s all well and good creating jobs and taking control of a £29.5m budget for post-19 education but it means nothing if our local people can’t access these opportunities. Businesses also need clear, effective freight links and connections to major centres.

Luckily, we have the powers to make sure that’s the case.

As part of our devolution deal with Government, we were given powers over transport in the region, so that money can be spent on local priorities.

In January, the Tees Valley mayor and Combined Authority Cabinet agreed a £588m, ten-year investment plan, including a massive £256m to transform our transport infrastructure. To deliver this, we developed a detailed 10-year Strategic Transport Plan which sets out our vision for transport in the Tees Valley.

This plan covers every aspect of getting around, and views transport as a means to an end, not an end in itself, with interconnectivity at its heart. It covers all forms of transport, from roads, rail and air to buses and sustainable travel. It examines major themes of national rail, major roads, connecting centres, unlocking key sites, and local journeys while delivering social equity and protecting and enhancing the environment.

As well as detailing upgrades to the transport network for local people, we’re supporting local businesses and global companies by considering their freight needs and those of their workforce.

Two major projects already under way are the redevelopment of railway stations in Darlington and Middlesbrough. The East Coast Main Line is the vital backbone of our growth ambitions for passengers and freight. Services are projected to grow; new, longer trains are set to be introduced and we need to be ready for potential future projects such as Northern Powerhouse Rail.

Darlington, in particular, is a pinch-point and plans for further platforms will unlock capacity for more local and national services and greatly improving services. Increased capacity at Middlesbrough and improved station services will also see considerable benefits. To this end, Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen pledged £45m to kick-start both projects, with business cases being developed and, in Darlington’s case, a group including Network Rail and Darlington Council established to help drive the work forward.

These are by no means the end for rail: while we aspire to improve local services and ensure a minimum of two trains per hour operate on all lines wholly within the Tees Valley, we are also improving our freight capacity and capability. The Combined Authority has contributed £250,000 to a study into a major upgrade of the Northallerton and Middlesbrough line. It explores how we can better serve Teesport, one of the deepest seaports in the UK, by providing access for bigger freight trains, creating direct and indirect jobs.

While rail supports international, national and local travel, there are plenty of plans to help those who are more isolated and are reliant on bus services. The mayor recently announced a three-year pilot for a new ‘Uber-style” demand-responsive bus service that will fill the gap unserved by traditional bus operators and, if successful, could be extended to cover the whole of the Tees Valley.

More support for greener, healthier local journeys is coming with our commitment to create good-quality, accessible and integrated cycling and walking networks, and with car travel making up almost 73% of all journeys to work (62% nationally), high-quality roads are at the forefront of our plans. We’ve identified our own Key Route Network which is most central to our future economic growth plans, covering 888 miles of our roads.

Finally, Teesside International Airport, brought back into public ownership earlier this year by the Tess Valley Mayor and Combined Authority and run as a joint venture with Stobart Group, is our air connection to the world. This has its own 10-year turnaround plan to increase passenger numbers more than tenfold to 1.4 million per year. To support its continued growth, we are investigating improved transport links to the airport with local bus providers and partners in the rail sector.

Following our public consultation, the plan will be published in early 2020. With this, we can deliver the world-class, joined-up transport network that our residents, businesses and visitors deserve, securing access to opportunity for decades to come.

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