Transport for the North's strategy, launched in February, sets out a bold vision for connecting the north. Has it got the right priorities to deliver inclusive growth without destroying the region's environment?
The long awaited Transport for the North (TfN) strategic transport plan was launched last month. Campaign for Better Transport was part of the process, engaging environmental and local transport groups in the consultation on the emerging plan and contributing our own evidence in the process.
TfN was set up to deliver transformational economic growth for the North. That's something we support, provided this is achieved sustainably. Economic growth should come with sustainable transport. And if it is to be truly inclusive, then improvements to transport connectivity must be made within cities as well as between them, integrated with city-region local public transport.
From the start, we strongly supported the proposed major investment in rail infrastructure and the commitment to roll out pan-Northern smart ticketing. We also believed the plan should have an explicit carbon reduction objective and commit to protect the natural environment from damaging infrastructure development.
So how does the final TfN strategy shape up?
Local sustainable transport is an important strand that we strongly welcome. The plan proposes support for the "whole journey" including local sustainable transport and promoting shift from road to rail, bus, and active travel.
Integrated and smart travel is also a key plank of the strategy. TfN proposes a rolling programme, starting with introducing contactless payment for travel on public transport across the North, initially focused on rail journeys, and ending up with some kind of account-based travel or Mobility as a Service offer.
Rail investment features strongly. TfN has a long term rail strategy, harnessing the investment from HS2 to deliver the £39 billion Northern Powerhouse Rail programme, with trans-Pennine and inter-city rail upgrades, and new urban rail hubs.
The threat of major road building has long hung over precious landscapes like the Peak District National Park. It's good to see that TfN is distinctly cool on the overblown idea for a Trans Pennine road tunnel, saying "the cost would be prohibitive and offer poor value for money".
The TfN plan focuses on making the existing road network seamless and resilient rather than necessarily expanding capacity. There's also positive mention of investment in electric vehicle charging points, and options for shifting more freight from road onto rail.
The clear message from our work with regional stakeholders was that TfN should connect and protect the North – not destroy the natural environment in the process.
Rather than propose new roads in isolation, the plan identifies seven "strategic development corridors" where TfN proposes packages of investment, which will be multi-modal and bring together transport and spatial planning. We support the corridor planning approach to transport investment, but will still have concerns if it means major new road infrastructure.
Importantly, the strategy commits to delivering a zero carbon public transport network by 2050, with decarbonisation of rail by 2040 and a 'Pathway to 2050' action plan.
The estimated cost of the trans-regional infrastructure is £70 billion during the period to 2050. To deliver the local transport improvements as well – and without which the strategy will fail to deliver inclusive growth - will require £100-120 billion over the same period.
TfN has set out a bold vision for the North's transport future. The strong emphasis on rail-led regeneration, backed up with smart ticketing and high quality local transport is one we welcome. Relying on road building to boost the economy is a failed and outdated idea and a trap we are glad to see TfN has avoided.
The challenge now is for TfN to deliver on their commitments to connect communities while protecting the natural environment and cutting carbon emissions. We look to the Government to allocate the funding needed to make this happen.
Photo: Marketing Manchester