Jonathan Spruce: The Strategic Transport Plan – A Blueprint for a prosperous North

The launch of Transport for the North’s Strategic Transport Plan is fast approaching.  The unveiling of the widely supported Plan early next year, spanning over 19 local authorities and 11 Local Enterprise Partnerships, will be a defining time for the North. For the first time, the region can speak with one voice, with Transport for the North delivering a solid consensus on what passengers and businesses need from their transport infrastructure.

Economic Sense

This plan will set out a pathway to deliver sustained economic growth for generations to come. By 2050, transport investment will contribute to the delivery of an impressive 850 000 new jobs above business as usual, complemented by a transformational economic boost of almost £100 billion.

For all too long, underinvestment has been holding the North back. A report released this year shows that on average, transport investment in the North is almost 2.6 times less per head than in London. This has resulted in missed economic opportunity, and an unsustainable 25% productivity gap between the North and other UK regions.

There has been a recognition for a long time that the North has untapped potential, but we are now revealing what that is, and how we can unleash it.

A Positive Plan

The Strategic Transport Plan offers an attractive alternative; investing in transport can reduce the North’s future annual deficit, or the difference between public spending and tax receipts, by up to £17 billion. This can realistically be achieved by providing reliable and resilient links between the North’s economic assets and clusters, fostering an agglomeration of economic benefits. Whilst not removing decision making abilities from local authorities who know their communities best, Transport for the North is keen to endorse walking, cycling and public transport improvements as part of the “whole journey” that somebody makes- a journey doesn’t finish at the end of the motorway, it finishes when you get to where you need to go.

Transport for the North has championed four prime capabilities, that will play a pivotal role in achieving economic prosperity. The locations of major Advanced Manufacturing, Energy and Digital Industries, combined with Health Innovation clusters have been pinpointed. The benefits of mapping these industries is twofold – Transport for the North can advise on how to better serve these existing economic hubs, but we can also anticipate and encourage future expansions of these industries between the geographic areas where they are currently concentrated. These corridors can act as an effective backbone for the Northern Powerhouse economy.

This line of thought led to the development of Strategic Development Corridors, which are a key component of the organisation’s future strategy.  These are not traditional transport corridors, but economic eco-systems, where the evidence to date suggests most progress towards the transformational economic growth scenario would be made by bringing forward strategic rail and road investment over the lifetime of the Strategic Transport Plan. Many of these corridors encourage improved East-West road and rail Links, which can currently be slow and overcrowded, but fundamentally, they look to better connect the North’s economic assets and clusters.

Integrated and Smart Travel

The introduction of Integrated and Smart Travel will completely change how people perceive public transport in the North. The contactless payment option is being rolled out to season ticket holders on rail this year, which will be followed by live data availability, before the roll out of bank card contactless technology across various modes. Ticket options can be confusing, so a promise of automatically paying the fairest price is a pull factor for motorists, who would otherwise be put off public transport by the hassle of payment, and one that will really drive modal shift.

Revolutionary Road and Rail

Northern Powerhouse Rail will increase the capacity and speed of rail journeys between major economic centres in the North, allowing commuters to happily live in a different town or city to where they work, and widening talent pools for growing businesses. Currently, only 10,000 people are within one hour of four or more of the North’s largest cities. With Northern Powerhouse Rail, this number will rise significantly to 1.3 million. There will be effective interchanges with the HS2 network, inevitably closing the £7500 gap in per capita income between the North and the rest of England.

Upgrading the congested nationally important motorways, along with heavily used local roads, is also a major priority. There is a focus on improving the ‘last mile’ of journeys which are often slowed due to smaller, locally managed roads not being fit for purpose. Transport for the North have outlined a Major Roads Network to address these concerns, along with major proposed projects such as a new trans-Pennine road tunnel.

The projects outlined in the Strategic Transport Plan will change the way we live, work and of course travel, in the North. The positive economic changes brought about by the power of connectivity will accelerate job creation and productivity in a region which is already bursting with potential.  From simple contactless payment, to high capacity trains, people will want to travel by public transport, ultimately resulting in a shift of perception and behaviours. With the construction of HS2 already underway, now is the time to maximise the benefits by linking this cross-regional track to all of the North’s major towns and cities. Upgrades will also cater for increasingly busy roads driven by population increases and an increase in freight transport, making the North an even more desirable place to live and do business.

Jonathan Spruce is the Interim Strategy Director at Transport for the North, and will be speaking on the vision needed to expand rail networks that can support growing urban economies, at the Public Sector Solutions Expo on 20 November. To register or find out more, please click here.