Looking Towards the Future of Transport for the North

Transport for the North's Senior Policy and Strategy Officer, Robin Miller-Stott, discusses with the IG Central and Local Government Hub some of the key areas that the new regional body will be working on, as part of a collaborative effort to enhance infrastructure across the North.

It could be argued that transport investment in the North has never received as much attention and debate as we are witnessing at the moment, marked by passionate views surrounding the level and type of funding that has been provided, at a national, regional and local level.

In January 2018, Parliament approved the establishment of Transport for the North as a statutory Sub-National Transport Body. Transport for the North subsequently set out its strategic and economic rationale for increasing transport investment for people and businesses across the North, from the North East and Cumbria, through to Cheshire and the Humber.

Transport for the North and its Strategic Transport Plan represent a unique and unprecedented approach. For the first time ever, the North’s transport needs and its opportunities for economic growth are being considered at a regional level and by people who are living and working in the North. That matters. Developed and approved by the North’s 19 local transport authorities which comprise its Partnership Board, Transport for the North’s Strategic Transport Plan is a truly momentous demonstration of the North’s collaboration and ambition.

For Transport for the North it is only at the start of a devolution journey. Many have jumped to draw comparisons to the powers and role that Transport for the North will have and that of Transport for London.  One relatively simple advantage that Transport for London has is time. It has been making the case for London, through superb Mayor’s Transport Strategies, and growing its remit and control for almost 20 years. It could be argued that Transport for the North has to first prove itself, as Transport for London and its Mayors have and continue to do. What is clear from Transport for the North’s powers is its role to speak with one voice on behalf of the North to say to Government what investment priorities, over the next 30 years, will be required to support sustainable economic growth in the North.

Transport for the North is also different and unique to Transport for London in that all of the North’s local transport authorities are part of the partnership. Crucially, no powers are being taken away from these local authorities, they will still play the critical role of improving their road, light rail, bus, and cycling networks. Transport for the North will support them through new thinking and looking beyond administrative borders, as well as bringing new appraisal tools to strengthen the case for transport projects of all sizes. Crucially its regulations, which were approved by all 19 local transport authorities, Transport for the North can go back to Government at any time to ask for more powers if they believe this is right for the North.

There is nothing traditional about the Strategic Transport Plan, it is the first of its kind. This is by design not chance, we have intentionally approached it differently. Instead of looking at the outputs, we are firstly identifying the outcomes we want to see, transformational economic growth and what this might look like in different parts of the North.  The plan takes a corridor approach identifying ‘Strategic Development Corridors’, where there are opportunities for growth and an increase in future travel demand is anticipated.  The approach also considers where future housing and business developments are planned, the emerging technologies of the future, and how investment in transport can sustainably support social benefits, such as increasing labour markets, improving and enhancing the environment, and making the North a healthier place to live and work.

Although substantial investment is required, it is about maximising the most from the existing transport network, road and rail, as well as looking for new infrastructure. This includes a Major Roads Network for the North, Northern Powerhouse Rail, a Long Term Rail Strategy, and a programme of Integrated and Smart Travel.

What is not always seen is the collaboration and challenge that is going on behind the scenes. Most of Transport for the North’s recommendations will likely be delivered by Network Rail and Highways England. Transport for the North has already established a positive working relationship with these agencies, before becoming a statutory body. This is bringing new analysis and thinking to the table, which is influencing the decision making of these agencies about what schemes should be delivered in their future investment periods.

The publication of the draft Strategic Transport Plan is an exciting time for everyone. Transport for the North wants to hear as many views as possible through its public consultation. This and the plan can be found at www.transportforthenorth.com/stp. The consultation is open until 17th April 2018. Following this, all feedback will be analysed and considered before a final version of the Strategic Transport Plan is published and subsequently adopted as a statutory plan.

There is a lot of work still to be done by Transport for the North, its Partners, and stakeholders across the North, but 2018 has already been a momentous year, securing statutory status and publishing a Strategic Transport Plan with the potential to transform the North.  Exciting times ahead.