The entire national transport network is decades behind on investment - roads as well as rail. And this is not about holding investment back from the South it's about achieving parity for the benefit of the whole UK.
There’s a widely-held view, that there’s a disparity between public transport funding in the north and south of England, or to put it bluntly that London has a stranglehold on transport infrastructure funding.
This was felt most keenly as the nod of support for Crossrail 2 in the summer coincided with the decision to abandon or at least review the electrification of significant parts of the national rail network. On the face of it the south triumphed as passengers’ needs in the north were once again overlooked.
A common response from regional politicians has been to point a finger at the government accusing them of London favouritism. Over recent months, pressure has been building on the transport secretary, Chris Grayling, as the decision on the upgrade of Transpennine Rail looms and there are calls for him to be fair to the North.
Let's be clear though investment is happening in the north and elsewhere and those benefits are now beginning to be seen, but for many it still feels like too little too late. So the appalling way that this Summer's announcements from the Department for Transport (DfT) were timed left a lot to be desired.
"It’s not black and white and business leaders, politicians and industry decision-makers would do well to better promote the real impact of transport infrastructure on the national network."
Beyond funding decisions, there’s a more complex picture of interdependencies and mutual benefits to regional transport infrastructure projects. It’s not black and white and business leaders, politicians and industry decision-makers would do well to better promote the real impact of transport infrastructure on the national network.
In truth the whole national transport network is decades behind on investment - roads as well as rail. And this is not about holding investment back from the South it's about achieving parity for the benefit of the whole UK.
Take Crossrail 2. Businesses from all the regions stand to benefit from this proposed investment in London transport. Stations in the North and the Midlands help make up the 35% of the UK’s rail network that would have a direct service to a Crossrail 2 station. If we consider the national rail connectivity, London-centric investment such as Crossrail 2 does make a positive contribution that will benefit businesses in the North.
This and the original case for Crossrail make perfect sense. No-one is arguing against that but just imagine what the equivalent network could achieve if overlaid across the Pennines? At present the very best rail journey from Manchester to Leeds takes 55 minutes. The distance? Around 40 miles. Average speeds on the east-west trans-Pennine rail route are a little better than Victorian times and, in parts, are actually worse. Hence the frustration at successive governments for the time taken for action and the lack of determination and foresight to start to address these issues.
Maybe it shouldn’t be a government decision then? Should it be left to a local body with the statutory powers in place to make those decisions? One that once and for all will make the whole north vs south, London vs the rest arguments finally disappear when it comes to transport?
That is what is happening and in our next article we'll take a look at the next phase of transport evolution.