Things have moved on since our last article, The National Infrastructure Commission and the Northern Powerhouse.  Transport for the North (TfN) has published its Spring 2016 Report on the Northern Transport Strategy, the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) has published its report on Northern connectivity: High Speed North, and the Budget allocated significant sums of money to take forward the recommendations. The three documents need to be read in tandem as they were developed in collaboration.

What comes out of the NIC report in particular is the need to integrate shorter­term investment programmes with a more ambitious longer­term vision, not just focussing on the 'quick wins' nor getting bogged down with long­term plans at the expense of making improvements now. This is an eminently sensible approach and means that there can be improvements that benefit transport in the near future, yet still a move towards co­ordinated long­term transport improvements across the North.

Rail: HS3, HS2 and Manchester Piccadilly

The NIC's report found that the North's transport links are holding back economic development. Levels of commuting between northern cities are below what may be expected given their size and relative proximity. Agglomeration brings economic benefits. The two city regions of Leeds and Manchester together account for more than 46% of the Northern Powerhouse population and 50% of its GVA, so improving connectivity between the two cities offers the most potential for agglomeration.

The NIC therefore recommends that 'HS3' (a high capacity rail network between Liverpool and Hull) should be kick­started, initially between Manchester and Leeds for the reasons mentioned above. This would be in two phases. Phase one is a shorter­term plan to be developed and implemented by TfN and Network Rail, building on the Trans­Pennine Upgrade already taking place, that should reduce journey times from 49 to 40 minutes and increase capacity by 2022. Phase two is a longer­term strategy to reduce journey times to 30 minutes, which might involve building new track.

The route of the Northern phase of HS2 is due to be finalised later this year. The  NIC recommends that HS2 Ltd works closely with TfN to ensure that HS2 facilitates the development of the HS3 network.

Like Leeds on the eastern leg of HS2, Manchester Piccadilly will integrate the western leg of HS2 with the wider national rail network. The NIC recommends that TfN, Transport for Greater Manchester, Manchester City Council, Network Rail, DfT and HS2 Ltd work together to prepare joint proposals for the station's redevelopment, starting with new east­west platforms early in Control Period 6.

Overall, the NIC wants TfN, DfT, Network Rail, HS2 Ltd and other stakeholders to prepare by the end of 2017 a single integrated strategy, combining short­term action with ambitious long­term vision, that brings together these three elements (upgrade of Manchester­Leeds line, design of HS2 and redevelopment of Manchester Piccadilly).

In terms of developing proposals for other major inter­city rail links through its Northern Powerhouse Rail strategy, the NIC endorses TfN's approach but stresses it should maximise the benefits of current and planned investments and integrate them with an ambitious long­term plan. This again repeats the message that 'quick wins' should form part of a longer­term strategy.

The Budget accepted these recommendations and endorsed TfN's vision.  It gave the green light to HS3 between Leeds and Manchester and provided £60 million of funding to develop plans for both the Leeds­Manchester route by 2017 and to improve transport connections between cities of the North. The government allocated in the Budget a further £4 million to support the development of High Speed 2 Growth Strategies for Manchester Piccadilly, Manchester Airport and Leeds stations.

There is a question mark however over whether the focus is too much on the Leeds­Manchester link at the expense of the need for a wider and more integrated network. The most significant benefits modelled by the NIC were generated by the delivery of the overall network strategy. The total aggregate earnings increase is estimated at £189 million per year ­ three times that delivered by improving Leeds ­ Manchester in isolation. This is an important strategic finding which should not be overlooked.

Road: M62 and other east­west road connections

The M62, running from Liverpool to Hull, is the only east­west dual carriageway route in the 200­ mile gap between Stoke on Trent and Edinburgh. It is not surprising that it carries half of all trans­Pennine road traffic and two­thirds of all freight, meaning that the ability of Yorkshire and the North West to work together is heavily dependent on one road. Whilst there are capacity enhancements already planned, the NIC recommends that these are accelerated. The government accepted this recommendation in the Budget and promised to provide an extra £161 million on top of the existing road programme to bring forward by 2 years the upgrade between junction 10­12 Warrington to Eccles, and to accelerate work on junction 20­25 Rochdale to Brighouse.

The NIC also recommended that other critical road enhancements, including upgrades to the M56 around Manchester Airport, redeveloping the Lofthouse Interchange and Simister Island junctions and capacity enhancements on the M1 between Rotherham and Leeds should be accelerated.  Again the Government accepted these recommendations in the Budget.

The NIC seems to have concentrated on the M62 and the motorway network, but TfN has commissioned Highways England to manage three strategic studies to plan the next generation of major enhancements for northern roads:

  • A trans­Pennine tunnel between Sheffield and Manchester. A final report outlining the initial business case for the five different options identified is due by the end of 2016.
  • Upgrading key east­west routes across the north Pennines: the A66/A685 and A69. The aim is to identify options for a new strategic corridor north of the M62 by upgrading one or both of these routes.
  • Improvements to the M60 Manchester North West Quadrant. This carries some of the highest flows of traffic on the national motorway network.

Initial reports on all these have been published and final reports are due in Autumn 2016, and in the Budget the government allocated £75 million to develop a business case for these schemes by the end of the year.

There are two other key areas which the NIC report does not deal with but the TfN Northern Transport Strategy Spring update does, and these update what we reported on in our article Northern Transport Strategy last year.

Smart North

Smart North is the name given to TfN's programme to deliver smart and integrated ticketing across the North. TfN has been developing a strategic outline business case and implementation plan, working with partners in the Combined and Local Transport Authorities and operators. The strategic outline business case will be presented to Government in Spring 2016 and, once approved, will give TfN access to the £150 million funding that it was allocated in the November 2015 Spending Review.

The implementation plan is outlined in the Spring 2016 update and is in three tranches. Only tranche 1 is planned to take place by 2020:

  • Tranche 1: Enhanced and new smart ticketing and core IT development – new ticketing schemes like smart season tickets will enable TfN to test the market in a small number of towns or cities and routes, building on existing schemes and starting to develop the technology infrastructure needed to develop the more advanced ticketing offers and integrated online information and journey planning.
  • Tranche 2: Transition and 'Pay As You Go North' – Transition of current smart ticketing schemes to using the new technology infrastructure, with the opportunity for passengers to move from a transport smart card to a contactless bank card or smart phone if they wish, plus a 'pay as you go' offer that works across all the North, rolled out place by place.
  • Tranche 3: Fare capping and a 'fair price promise' – passengers' daily (and in due course weekly) fares will be capped at a standard daily/weekly ticket rate. This will mean reaching agreements with the Combined and Local Transport Authorities and with commercial operators. Initially, it will probably work by each Local Transport Authority having its own scheme, with the hope that they will become more integrated over time.

TfN as the first sub­national statutory body

TfN has come a long way since its first report a year ago. Its membership now includes all parts of the North through an expanded membership of the TfN Partnership Board and its supporting official structures. All the Combined Authorities in the North are represented on the Board, along with the Local Transport Authorities and Local Enterprise Partnerships in areas outside the Combined Authorities. It has a Chief Executive, David Brown, and in November 2015 it appointed John Cridland CBE (the outgoing Director­General of the CBI) as independent Chair.

The Cities and Local Government Devolution Act allows for the creation of sub­national Transport Bodies and TfN is aiming to become the first of these by the end of 2016/17. One of the things it wants to do is develop the role and powers of Rail North, which at the moment is a company owned by the North transport authorities, that works with the DfT to deliver improvements in the Northern and Trans­Pennine Express franchises. There is a strong case to include Rail North within the new statutory arrangements for TfN, allowing rail services to be managed more directly from the North, on behalf of the North.

TfN have started to identify possible sources of funding to deliver their programme. In the short term, they say they need a contribution from central government, but this was not forthcoming in the Budget. However, the 2015 Autumn Statement committed a total of £50 million to fund the operation of TfN over the life of this Parliament, so there is some money there. The question will be whether TfN are able to package up their proposed investment programme in a way that attracts private sector funding. There are some exciting potential schemes and once TfN starts to build up a track record of delivering on its plans – and has already shown it has the backing of the NIC and DfT – then investors should start coming on board.

Business voice and business support remains crucial to ensuring the case is made and heard for the investment so badly needed in transport links. Bodies such as the newly formed Business North which we at Addleshaw Goddard support are looking to provide a collective voice for business and set out what businesses in the North need from the proposed investment to help shape the programme.