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John Cridland CBE, Independent Chair of Transport for the North, explains the importance of the organisation becoming a Sub-national Transport Body
Last week the Statutory Instrument that will enable Transport for the North to become a statutory body was laid before Parliament. This announcement is an important step in our journey to become England’s first Sub-national Transport Body, but it is also a step towards giving the North of England the voice and powers it needs to move forward.
Transport for the North is a unique partnership bringing together civic and business leaders from across the whole of the North of England. Collectively we have welcomed the powers which are broadly in line with those envisioned in 2015 when the organisation was formed. In order for today’s announcement to happen we have obtained formal support from 56 local authorities across the whole of the North, including all 19 of our constituent authorities. Achieving this support is a tremendous achievement and we are delighted that this vote of confidence from our partners shows both the importance of investment in transport infrastructure and the evidence based approach we have taken to assessing the North’s needs and opportunities.
Having been independent Chair of Transport for the North for two years, I’m impressed by the progress made. Through Transport for the North I have seen political leaders getting together and agreeing the best way forward for the North as a whole.
Transport for the North represents an historic opportunity. For the first time, civic and business leaders from every part of the North have come together to identify and agree upon the gaps in infrastructure that are holding the region back. The North is ready to speak with a united voice and believes it is essential that this opportunity is not missed.
We all know that the North of England has suffered from long-term under-investment in its transport infrastructure. We also all know that the economic gap between the North and the rest of England is persistent and cannot be solved through transport investment alone. Yet there is unanimous agreement from both political and business leaders that connecting the region with rapid and reliable road and rail links is vital if we want a prosperous future.
We all want a Northern Powerhouse, yet it currently takes longer to travel from Liverpool to Hull than it does to get the train from London to Paris. The Northern Powerhouse Independent Economic Review identified that the North has four prime strengths with which it could compete on the global stage. At present the North’s road and rail links are too slow and unreliable. This means that, instead of working together as one economy, the North operates as a collection of smaller, separate clusters which can never on their own be strong enough to compete with London. For example, the journey from Sheffield University’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre to the cluster of high-tech manufacturers around Preston would currently take over two hours whether your travelled by road or rail – long enough that students graduating with the skills needed would have to decide to move to Lancashire if they want to take up employment there.
The primary function of Transport for the North is to identify and develop the transport infrastructure improvements needed to transform the economy of the North of England. Vital to the delivery of this is the development and implementation of a long-term transport strategy for the North. For the past eighteen months, we have been working with our partners on our Strategic Transport Plan, which identifies the North’s priority areas for transport infrastructure investment up to 2050. The Strategic Transport Plan will shortly be published in draft for consultation.
Becoming a Sub-national Transport Body will make Transport for the North a legal entity and a formal partner with Government. Through Transport for the North, the leaders of the North of England (which if it was a country in its own right would be one of the ten biggest economies in Europe) will be able to identify the infrastructure priorities that the region wants and needs, not those that Whitehall thinks it needs. It will ensure plans we are developing in the Strategic Transport Plan can form the priorities for both Highways England’s and Network Rail’s future investment programmes. This is what Greater London has been doing for years through Transport for London.
Transport for the North was formed only three years ago and we have grown in a very short space of time. At this stage, it is vital that the Strategic Transport Plan is treated as a formal, statutory document and that is only possible if we are a Sub-national Transport Body.
This is the best opportunity we have to begin to turn around decades of underinvestment, and ensure the North speaks with a strong, unified voice on what it needs from its transport investment and we hope it will be supported by people from across the whole of the North of England.