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Calls to tackle ‘national embarrassment’ transport links to build Northern Powerhouse

Investment in transport infrastructure within the north of England is the top priority for building the Northern powerhouse, according to a survey of northern business leaders.

The survey of 245 delegates at February’s Northern Powerhouse International conference found that 88% thought investment in transport infrastructure within the north was very important, and 11% thought it was fairly important.

The survey, included in the follow-up report ‘Building the Northern Powerhouse’, also showed that the highest priorities beyond transport were training the local workforce (rated as very important by 80%) and attracting foreign investment (62%). However, only 59% of those surveyed thought improving transport links between the north and London/the south was very important.

One respondent to the survey said: “The woeful condition of east-west rail links is a national embarrassment. International investors won’t take the north seriously until we have large scale nationally driven east-west rail investment on the scale of Crossrail.”

When asked what was very important to the area where they live, transport infrastructure within the north was the most popular, chosen by 58% of delegates, and transport infrastructure between north and south was the least popular, supported by 36%.

More plans for proposed east-west rail links in the north were unveiled in Transport for the North’s spring report.

Richard Green, director of design, planning and economics at global infrastructure firm Aecom, who sponsored the report, repeated his calls for foreign investment to ensure the Northern Powerhouse succeeds, saying: “Foreign direct investment will be key to realising the aims of the Northern Powerhouse, as public funding alone is unlikely to be sufficient. Investors don’t back regions – they invest in opportunities likely to earn a good return. The North must therefore compete on merit with projects in many other countries.

“To attract investment, the Northern Powerhouse must offer a clear, balanced vision that recognises the importance of its core cities and wider Trans-Pennine hinterland. This will be achieved with well-articulated development plans leading to long-term gains. A strong focus on protecting the unique quality of place and building the region’s skills will be vital to securing the desired outcomes for investors and for future generations in the North.”

Speakers at the conference expressed concern about the ability of Network Rail to implement the new railway links, given their shortage of skilled engineers, and suggested Transport for the North might be better.

They also said Network Rail should introduce the digital railway on the TransPennine corridor.

Alex Hynes, managing director of Arriva Rail North, who took over the Northern rail franchise at the start of this month, said the new service would lead to an increase in weekly services and a reduction in passenger journey times by 2019, but warned that it was impossible to have both faster journey times and increased access (meaning more stops) without upgrading the railway.

Graham Botham, strategy and planning director for the north at Network Rail, warned that the 4-5% increase in passengers was having a negative impact on freight rail times.

Keynote speaker David Brown, CEO of Transport for the North, said delivering transport changes in the north required both ambition and speed for short-term projects, and that Network Rail and Highways England should develop an integrated plan to achieve this.



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