What is Transport for the North

Iain Craven, Executive Director at EY Corporate Finance, is currently on secondment to Transport for the North (TfN) as interim finance director. He explains what the agency is looking to achieve

No single remedy will transform the Northern economy on its own, but a key element in unlocking the North’s potential will be a transport network that offers radically improved connectivity and supports the key growth areas identified in the Northern Powerhouse Independent Economic Review (NPIER).

The NPIER, commissioned by TfN on behalf of our Northern partners, was launched at the end of June 2016 and provides the evidence base for the developing Strategic Transport Plan.

The review identified four prime capabilities of the North: advanced manufacturing, energy, health innovation and digital, supported by three enabling capabilities: logistics, finance & professional services and education.

These capabilities account for around 2.1 million jobs and over £100bn in GVA, representing around 30% of all jobs in the North and just over 35% of GVA. The review identifies that investment in transport infrastructure can support these capabilities and could help create 1.5 million new jobs by 2050. This would add GVA of circa £97bn and create a step change in the North’s economic performance.

TfN has been created to help deliver this transformational economic growth in the North by focusing on transport investment that enables economic activity.

Empowered by a pan-Northern partnership representing political and business leaders from all corners of Northern England, TfN is an emergent organisation which next year will gain statutory status as England’s first subnational transport body. It has been tasked with developing and delivering a Strategic Transport Plan to prioritise investments to improve the capacity, frequency, speed and reliability of the region’s transport network.

Typically there has been a focus on North-South transport links and while these remain important, TfN is shifting this focus to improve East-West connectivity. Importantly, TfN is not about replacing or replicating the work of existing transport authorities. Our role is to add strategic value by ensuring that funding and strategy decisions about transport in the North are informed by local knowledge and requirements. This fits with the wider devolution agenda: TfN will draw powers down from central government rather than up from local government.

Better connections between the region’s economic assets will maximise its potential, forming the bedrock of the Northern Powerhouse. Despite initial speculation around the future of this ambitious project following the recent change in government, we’ve been reassured by Theresa May’s new Cabinet and its clear commitment to seeing this project through.

Working with the Department for Transport and Highways England, TfN is undertaking three strategic road studies. A Trans Pennine Tunnel study exploring the possibility of a road link under the Peak District between Greater Manchester and Sheffield; M60 North West Quadrant study looking at solutions to address congestion and poor air quality on and around the M60 (which serves as both the Manchester ring road and the main East-West corridor); and a Northern Trans Pennine Route study into the creation of a new strategic route either by upgrading the A66/A685 or the A69.

Northern Powerhouse Rail (often referred to as HS3) is an ambitious plan to improve the capacity, frequency, reliability and speed of train journeys between the North’s six major city regions and its largest airport. Currently, funding is provided for the development of detailed proposals that will be prioritised early next year. The project is being planned to work alongside existing infrastructure and that which is planned as part of HS2.

In recognition that transport links do not stop at our regional boundaries, and to help ensure joined up transport planning, TfN has signed Memoranda of Understanding with Transport Scotland and the Welsh government and has a strong working relationship with Midlands Connect, which is also expected to submit a proposal to government to become a subnational transport body in due course.

TfN is charged with setting the priorities for transport infrastructure investment to drive transformational growth across the whole of the North. Work is already well underway to develop the Strategic Transport Plan and we expect to have a draft by spring next year ahead of achieving statutory status in the summer of 2017. Following formal public consultation, TfN expects to publish its final Strategic Transport Plan by summer 2018.

This multi-modal Strategic Transport Plan will for the first time consider road, rail and freight as a coherent whole across the North and identify schemes of national, pan-Northern and local significance with a prioritised programme of proposed investments sequenced in delivery.

We’re currently working closely with the Department for Transport and the national agencies to determine and develop a system for assessing schemes in the context of boosting regional economic growth.

But it isn’t only about the longer term. TfN is already working to input and influence Highways England’s RIS2 and the Network Rail’s CP6 processes to ensure that they are underpinned by regional intelligence. In addition, TfN’s Smart North programme is looking at delivering smart and integrated ticketing across the whole of the North. This includes the delivery of smart season tickets and improved online information and journey planning within this Parliament.