Will £70bn transport plan for Lancashire and North come to fruition?
The government says it is a £70bn plan that will create an economic boom and hundreds of thousands of jobs.
But business chiefs in Lancashire have questioned whether the money will ever be made available for the Government’s Transport for the North agenda.
And they have outlined a growing feeling that the billions spent on high-speed rail links could be better spent on improving the North West’s existing rail structure.
Transport for the North’s Strategic Transport Plan and Investment Programme is designed to rebalance decades of under-investment in the North.
The STP outlines how up to £70 billion of investment until 2050 could contribute towards an additional £100 billion in economic growth for the North’s economy – creating 850,000 extra jobs.
The draft plan notes that under current proposals, the HS2 train link will only reach as far as the outskirts of Wigan.
But TfN has promised to ensure that Lancashire gets the benefit of the high-speed rail links.
Today Alan Welsh, policy manager of the North and Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce, said the Chamber welcomed the idea to set out a bold strategy for improving transport links between major towns and cities in the North over the next 30 years.
He said: “We also welcome the focus on creating strategic development corridors that will unlock growth potential and support jobs and investment in key sectors of the northern economy.
“It is not simply a plan to tackle congestion around major cities - and Lancashire will benefit from the proposals to improve East-West connectivity and join up the energy coasts.”
But he added: “The Chamber of Commerce will continue to make the business case for this investment as it is far from certain that the government will provide the £70 billion required to make this strategy deliverable rather than just aspirational.
“There are already noises about HS2 going way over budget and it could be a long time after the planned date of 2033 before HS2 gets as far as the North West, if it gets here at all.
“Indeed, an increasing number of Lancashire businesses are questioning the cost-benefit of HS2 and believe that the money would be better used on improving the existing rail network in the North.”
The North West has been plagued by rail disruption in the last 12 months, with electrification work, timetable changes and strikes affecting train services almost on a daily basis.
Campaigners have called for big investment in local services and better east-west coastal rail and road connections rather than the costly HS2 and HS3 projects.
TfN said in its report: “TfN will work with partners to ensure the benefits of HS2 continue to be realised where services continue North along the West Coast Main Line and East Coast Main Lines, including spurs of the mainline to destinations such as Chester, North Wales, and Stockport.
“This includes the delivery of comprehensive masterplans for stations at Carlisle, Preston, Durham, Newcastle, and Darlington,”
The STP and Investment Programme mark the first time the North’s civic and business leaders have spoken with one voice on behalf of the North’s 15 million people, laying out a new pipeline of transport interventions.
The £70 billion plan aims to transform connectivity for people and businesses, and make it easier to move goods to, from and within the North
The plan makes the case to increase spending on strategic transport by around £50 per person in the North each year to 2050
It includes flagship programmes such as Northern Powerhouse Rail; upgraded and new major roads; enhancements to the existing rail network; and the continued roll out of smart ticketing.
The draft plan will be considered by Transport for the North’s Board, who will meet on Thursday February 7 in Chester.
These proposals will become Transport for the North’s statutory advice to Government on what the ongoing priorities are for enhancing sustainable and inclusive connectivity across the North.
Barry White, Chief Executive at Transport for the North, said: “The Strategic Transport Plan is a hugely important document for the North. It is our vision for a prosperous pan-Northern future and outlines how investment in transport could transform our economy.
“Our Investment Programme outlines how an additional investment of around £50 per person in the North, per year, could play a part in unlocking a £100billion increase in economic activity and create 850,000 new jobs.
“For the people of the North, this will mean more choice over where they live and work, access to higher quality jobs and better connections to friends and families. It will mean our businesses have more opportunity to collaborate, trade and grow in a sustainable way.
“This final plan will be a statutory document written by the North, for the North, and will be our blueprint to deliver transformational change and leave a legacy for future generations.”
County Coun Michael Green, Lancashire County Council’s cabinet member for economic development, environment, and planning, said: “This plan makes a very convincing case for much greater investment in transport infrastructure in the north and the economic transformation this could achieve.
“We’re a founding member of Transport for the North, which leaves us well-placed to make Lancashire’s voice heard and influence future priorities for funding.
“The emphasis given in the strategy to improving east to west connections across the Central Pennines is very encouraging, and reflects the evidence we have presented about how transformative this could be for our key industries.
“The priorities outlined in the Strategic Transport Plan will shape future investment and we’ll be working hard to make the case for the part Lancashire can play in achieving this vision for a better-connected and more prosperous north.”