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As David Brown leaves us as Chief Executive to take over the reins at Arriva Rail North, we sat down with him to hear his reflections on the last two years and his hopes for the future at Transport for the North (TfN).
“The scale of TfN has changed beyond recognition over the last two years,” David told us, “When I started in Autumn 2015 there was just myself and [Independent Chair] John Cridland officially on-board. Now we are an organisation with over eighty staff and permanent offices in Manchester and Leeds and our capacity, capability and ambition has grown alongside that.
“We now have an organisation that has the resource and skills base to lead the development of a Strategic Transport Plan for the North. But the important thing to remember is that this Plan is being developed in a very collaborative way. We’ve been bringing together business leaders and local authorities in the North of England so, for the first time, the whole region has a clear agreement on our transport priorities. That collaboration underpins the way TfN works.
“I think it’s really important that the Strategic Transport Plan is based on what the North believes its priorities are, because we’re much closer to the issues that need addressing, but also that the Plan reflects the economic picture in the North, both now and in the future. So our Plan will be a collaborative one, but also one that is based on sound evidence about the North’s requirements for economic growth.”
We asked David where he saw Transport for the North and the development of infrastructure in the North two years from now:
“TfN will soon become England’s first Sub-national Transport Body. Over the next two years I think we’ve got a real opportunity to develop our working relationship with Network Rail, Highways England and HS2 so we are directly influencing those organisations’ programmes of work. TfN will be further developing its investment priorities, so we are influencing not just what is planned for the next five to ten years but so we have a pipeline and we’re developing business cases and plans for more long-term transformational programmes like Northern Powerhouse Rail and trans-Pennine road connections.
“It’s not all long-term though. There’s a cross-over between this job and my new role leading the delivery of the Northern Rail franchise as we’ll see a lot of the improvements in rail services that the North fought for so compellingly through our Rail North (which will merge with TfN to become our franchising arm once we have statutory status) come into fruition between now and 2020. We’ll be seeing new trains, more frequent services, better station facilities, on both Northern and TransPennine over the next few years.
“We’re already seeing the impact of the current round of road and rail investment – you look at the Smart Motorway programme that’s expanding across the North of England and improvements like the Ordsall Chord on the railways. And customers will see the first part of our Integrated and Smart Travel programme rolled out over the next year, with train season tickets going onto smart cards.”
There’s been a lot of talk about the Northern Powerhouse, and whether there is ongoing commitment to the concept. We questioned David on whether he thought the Northern Powerhouse was still a government priority.
“What is an absolutely clear priority is continued support for Northern economic growth, so that can continue to play a role in the UK’s economic growth. To do that we need to have a long-term programme of investment in the region’s infrastructure. Whether it’s called the Northern Powerhouse or not, investing in strategic transport links is essential in driving forward economic growth in the North and I think there’s broad recognition of that.”
As David leaves in just a month’s time, we asked him what he thought would be the most important priority for his successor:
“I think the most important priority will be maintaining the integrity of TfN as an independent statutory body and ensuring that the momentum that’s been achieved over the last two years is maintained and built upon. I think there’s a growing understanding of what we’re trying to achieve in the North at the moment and that can only be built upon.
“The new Chief Executive will join the organisation at an exciting time. We are now embarking on a new stage in TfN’s journey as we near statutory status as the first Sub-national Transport Body in England. This process will include the merge of Rail North with Transport for the North as it is incorporated into the organisation.
“For me, the greatest achievement of the last two years is that TfN as an organisation has grown into an entity that is delivering real outputs and a prioritised list of infrastructure improvements, backed by evidence that is respected and understood. We’re now seen as an authoritative voice that represents the North of England and as a vital partner to national agencies and central government.”
David Brown leaves Transport for the North on Friday 15th September. An announcement about his successor will be made shortly.