Action on £15 billion transport plan needed now
The recently announced £15bn plan to rejuvenate the North of England’s transport system is to be welcomed. Business leaders from five major cities - Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle and Sheffield - got their heads together to announce a series of measures that could vastly improve road and rail connections between the North East of the country and the North West.
These include a 125mph trans-Pennine inter-city rail link and better access to ports and airports across the North of England. For the North East it would mean improvements to rail links between Newcastle and York, with capacity for 140mph trains that would speed up journey times and connectivity to the wider rail network.
The timeframe for carrying out the improvements is a realistic 15 years and the estimated cost is £15bn. Crucially, the plan - dubbed One North - has received the backing of Chancellor George Osborne as well as business groups including the CBI and Institute of Directors. Finally politicians in Westminster have realised that the whole country needs a slick, well-integrated transport system - and the North East is an important part of this.
The benefits will be wide-ranging and felt across the whole region. The improvements have the potential to create jobs, boost exports and make the North of England much more economically competitive. They will also boost inward investment and tempt more entrepreneurs to set up their companies in this part of the UK. In theory this will make it easier to attract UK and European investment that will help these businesses grow, create jobs and add more value to the local economy. These funds already exist - take the popular £125m Finance for Business North East programme, for example - but additional pots of money will be required to sustain business growth in the future.
Business leaders behind One North have recognised that a robust transport network is a key ingredient for economic growth. However, a note of caution. It is vital that improvements are made across the whole of the North East, not just the main routes into Newcastle. The South East Northumberland Rail Users Group has lobbied for better connectivity in Ashington and Blyth in the hope that this will create jobs and breathe new life into two towns which suffer from a high unemployment rate.
It’s also important that the North doesn’t simply attempt to replicate the economic model of London. That would be a mistake because we have different skills, strengths and capabilities that we must build upon. The manufacturing, exports and digital expertise in the North East will play a major role in building the Northern powerhouse so desired by the Chancellor.
On the whole, the ambitious One North proposals are good news for our region - but only if they are carried out within the 15-year timeframe. Plenty of grand plans have been made before, only to be kicked into the long grass by politicians, never to see the light of day.
The masterplan has been unveiled. Now it’s time to make it happen.
By Andrew Mitchell, chief executive of North East Finance
This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by Colin Garcia .
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