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Northerners handed new powers over transport, but lack London’s ability to raise capital

Leaders in the North of England[1] have heralded a new era for transport investment as ministers handed over new powers to bridge the economic divide with London[2]. Transport for the North has become England’s first sub-national transport body as officials hailed a “once in a generation opportunity” to shape the region’s transport infrastructure. The move, which comes amid an ongoing campaign for more transport cash by Northern leaders, means the region’s transport strategy will have to be formally considered by the Transport Secretary Chris Grayling[3].

The body will be able to fund organisations to deliver transport projects such as smart-ticketing, work with local authorities to fund and promote road schemes and be consulted on rail franchises.

Transport for the North now needs real power. TfN will always be very different to Transport for London, but like TfL it needs real power and its own capital budget. Only then will the full potential of the North’s many assets be realised.

Luke Raikes, IPPR North

But, as told by i in November, the partnership of 19 local authorities and business leaders will lack Transport for London’s ability to raise capital[4] – a key demand from Northern politicians. John Cridland, the TfN chairman who relaunched the beefed-up body at a meeting in Liverpool yesterday, said: “For the first time, recommendations on what and where transport investment is needed will be agreed by the people that live and work in the North, allowing us to speak with a united voice to central government. “It’s a watershed moment for devolution and a once in a generation opportunity to deliver significant improvements in the North’s transport network.”

‘Watershed moment’

Politicians and business leaders from across the North gathered in Leeds last year in a huge show of force that united regional rivals across the Pennines to call for more transport investment in the region.

In January this year, TfN unveiled its draft 30-year masterplan for delivering a GBP100bn boost to the North’s economy with proposals to improve road and rail links and create seven regional “corridors of opportunity” where movements of people and goods could be improved.

Read more: Five years after its launch, the Northern Powerhouse is still a work in progress[5]

The plan included proposals for Oyster-style smart-ticketing across the North as part of plans to create 850,000 extra jobs by 2050 and help close the North-South divide on transport spending. It also includes proposals for a new rail network, Northern Powerhouse Rail[6], which will dramatically speed up east-west connections and link up with HS2. But the unprecedented show of regional unity was marred by Lord Prescott, who stormed out of a launch event in Hull shouting: “It’s a bloody fraud.”

The former Hull East MP and Deputy Prime Minister said at the time: “We have already been told it as promised to have new statutory powers. Now we know, and it’s been confirmed in the Government, it will have no powers.”

‘This could be a game-changer for the North’

Henri Murison, the director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, which was created by the former chancellor George Osborne to secure his regional devolution legacy, said yesterday that TfN’s statutory powers marked a “step change in investment”. He said: “This could be a game-changer for the North to ensure the Northern Powerhouse delivers on its vast potential for the benefit of every one of its 15 million people.”

Luke Raikes, senior research fellow at the IPPR North think-tank, said: “Today marks a significant milestone on the path to realising Northern economic potential.” But he added: “Transport for the North now needs real power. TfN will always be very different to Transport for London, but like TfL it needs real power and its own capital budget.

Only then will the full potential of the North’s many assets be realised.” Transport Minister Jo Johnson[7] said the move signaled the Government’s “unwavering commitment” to giving the “great towns and cities of the North far greater influence over transport investment”. He said: “With significant new powers enabling Transport for the North to speak with one voice and drive forward crucial projects such as Northern Powerhouse Rail and smart ticketing, I’m confident that TfN will play a pivotal role in delivering the future of modern transport.”

Analysis: What Transport for the North’s new powers mean

Transport for the North’s new statutory footing means the region can speak with a unified voice on an issue which more than any other lays bare England’s North-South divide.

It is welcome news in a region where it still takes longer to travel from Liverpool to Hull by train than a journey by Eurostar from London to Paris. There was widespread anger last year after the Transport Secretary Chris Grayling backed another GBP31bn Crossrail link for London after announcing that rail electrification plans for the North of England and Wales were being scrapped. Steve Rotheram, the Mayor of Liverpool City Region, last year accused Chris Grayling, the Transport Secretary, of “abdicating responsibility” for the region after he said Northern transport links must be “designed and managed by the North itself”.

More than 87,000 people signed a petition calling on the Government to give the region GBP59bn in transport investment to catch up with London. Figures from IPPR North last year, disputed by Whitehall, said planned public and private transport expenditure will see Londoners get nearly GBP2,000 per person, compared with GBP400 per person in the North. TfN’s new status means it becomes a statutory partner to the Department for Transport and its recommendations must be formally considered by the Government when important transport decisions are being taken about the North.

The body will develop a strategic transport plan, co-ordinate smart-ticketing, have a voice in road and rail investment decisions, oversee franchised rail services with the DfT, construct new roads with Government agreement and decide on capital grants. But, crucially, it will not have the same revenue raising and borrowing powers as Transport for London – an outcome that led to Lord Prescott describing TfN’s statutory status as “a bloody fraud”. Theresa May said in February the two transport bodies were “two different sorts of organisation”.

“Transport for London actually runs some of the transport in London and that’s why it has got the revenue stream,” she said. “Transport for the North is about co-ordinating and bringing together things across the North in a strategic way, looking at what transport structures across the North should be. So it’s a slight different sort of focus.”

More from i:

Children in Northern England ‘left behind’ by pupils in the south[8]

Five years after its launch, the Northern Powerhouse is still a work in progress[9]

Disadvantaged teens in North of England score one GCSE grade lower than Southern pupils[10]

References

  1. ^ North of England (inews.co.uk)
  2. ^ London (inews.co.uk)
  3. ^ Chris Grayling (inews.co.uk)
  4. ^ Transport for London’s ability to raise capital (inews.co.uk)
  5. ^ Five years after its launch, the Northern Powerhouse is still a work in progress (inews.co.uk)
  6. ^ Northern Powerhouse Rail (inews.co.uk)
  7. ^ Jo Johnson (inews.co.uk)
  8. ^ Children in Northern England ‘left behind’ by pupils in the south (inews.co.uk)
  9. ^ Five years after its launch, the Northern Powerhouse is still a work in progress (inews.co.uk)
  10. ^ Disadvantaged teens in North of England score one GCSE grade lower than Southern pupils (inews.co.uk)



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