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Transport investment: a catalyst for growth across the North

Monday 3rd September 2018

It’s time to stop seeing transport investment as a nice-to-have. It’s a cut-through catalyst for growth in sectors across the North, argues Barry White. The Chief Executive of Transport for the North discusses how connectivity is the bedrock of the region’s future prosperity.

The power of the North is unrelenting. Its star status as a place to do business, invest and innovate is ever-rising. Critical to ensuring this continues at pace is a focus on essential infrastructure that connects the north, providing mobility and connectivity between our great towns and cities.

When we talk about transport, people’s minds often go straight to the detail. The train track, the station locations, the type of buses and major road routes, all understandable. Yet it’s often easy to lose sight of what binds those strands together and is fundamental to Transport for the North’s mission – journeys.

Journeys connect the North’s 16 million people. Journeys connect businesses across the region. Journeys move goods and products around the North. While for many businesses transport may not be a core part of their offer, you would be hard pushed to find an organisation for whom journeys do not have a significant imprint.

Whether it’s getting staff to work, exporting products or attracting customers, I’d argue that how people move around the North is the most important collective issue facing our future growth.

A framework for investment and growth

As England’s first Sub-national Transport Body, our role is to set the strategic trajectory of the North, establishing a framework for investment in the right infrastructure at the right time. Central to this is our Strategic Transport Plan. Consulted on earlier this year, the Plan sets out our ambitions to deliver a super-connected North across seven opportunity corridors.

We already know some of the flagship programmes that will help deliver this, for example Northern Powerhouse Rail proposes a network of new and improved rapid rail travel connecting our major city regions. A Strategic Outline Business Case for this will be submitted by the end of the year. Likewise the phased roll-out of Integrated and Smart Travel systems will make journeys more seamless across public transport – making travel easier and more efficient for passengers.

But again, this is not investment for investment’s sake. Every element of our Plan is designed to underpin economic growth to the tune of 850,000 additional jobs by 2050.

Let’s not allow our Northern ambition to cloud the reality. There has been and still is an economic divide. The North’s economic value per person is a quarter less than England’s average, while our income per person is £7,500 less. This is, frankly, unacceptable and we should be doing all we can to close that gap as soon as possible.

Bridging the divide

We’re ushering a new era of opportunity. Transport for the North’s statutory status means we can be the voice of northern leaders and businesses, and that Government is compelled to listen.

A goal of economic prosperity is one we can all buy into. Our economy is vibrant and diverse, as will be the contributing factors to achieving that goal. For instance, better connectivity will unlock more regeneration. Rapid travel between our cities will attract more global businesses. Increased links between road, rail freight and northern ports will propel international imports and exports. And suburban local authorities will see more people locating there and investing in their economies as once troublesome commutes are addressed.

At the heart of this is both partnership and stewardship. Our structure means we bring together local authorities, local enterprise partnerships, and the private sector in what is a cohesive and powerful partnership. But we also need stewardship. We need business leaders, innovators and investors across the North to join our voice and make that rallying cry for long-term investment.

This article originally appeared in Public Sector Executive