East-west transport ‘key to North’s economic growth’

Investment to improve east-west transport links is the key to unlocking the North’s economic growth, the UK Northern Powerhouse conference in Manchester was told.

The UK government’s Northern Powerhouse minister Andrew Percy told the conference: “It is intolerable that it takes commuters longer to get from Cheshire to Doncaster than it takes to get from London to Cheshire in the first place.

“That’s a check on investment in the North.”

Andy Brown, operations director at Carillion Civil Engineering, said: “If the Northern Powerhouse is going to meet its potential the transport infrastructure connecting northern cities is key.

“Few would doubt that current transport links between the northern cities and particularly trans-Pennine are not good.”

The conference heard that improved transport connections between the North East and North West were just as important as the proposed North-South high speed rail connection HS2.

Arriva Rail North managing director Andy Hynes said: “The investment that is going into the rail network during the first few years is only playing catch-up with historical under investment.

“We’ve got HS2 coming, but to have transport help this region work together we need journey times east west that are as fast as journey times north south and that’s about Northern Powerhouse rail (HS3), but that’s not funded, there is no plan, which is why we need to support Transport for the North develop a plan and get it funded.

“This compares with Transport for London which back projects before they find the money, so that when money is available they’ve got something ready to go – they are planning Crossrail 2 before they have finished building Crossrail 1.

“They are ambitious, they have strong vision, we need to match that, because of course we are competing for resources with other parts of the country and we need to be at the table making our case for even more.”

Paul Griffiths, HS2 Phase Two development director said HS2 was close to starting: “We are making some really good progress and moving close to spades in the ground and building a railway and we are consulting on the remaining areas of the route and working with Transport for the North to make sure that what our design aligns with Northern Powerhouse rail (HS3).”

Transport for the North CEO David Brown said it was making progress in its bid to become a statutory body, giving it a stronger voice.

Brown pointed to areas where progress was being made, including the dualling of the A66 — one of the main routes linking the North West and the North East.

He added: “The priority is better rail links west to east, improved journey times and capacity.”

The session also heard of the great need to “dramatically improve” links between the Sheffield city region and Manchester.