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16.11.15

Devolved transport body will unlock major opportunities for city regions – Adonis

Lord Adonis, who is leading the new £100bn National Infrastructure Commission, said the work of the budding Transport for the North (TfN) body will bring about transformational change by making the sum of the northern city regions more than their parts.

At TransCity Rail North last week, hosted by PSE’s sister title RTM at Manchester’s Palace Hotel, the former Labour transport secretary, best known for initiating the work on HS2, kicked off his speech with a “very, very warm welcome” to the new transport body while David Brown, its new chief executive, watched from the audience.

Adonis linked the future work of TfN with the ongoing developments as part of the Northern Powerhouse, set to transform the connectivity between all northern regions.

This will partly come through work being done on new lines and either a “really serious upgrade” of existing lines east to west or a new high-speed line, already christened HS3.

He continued: “But it’s not just transformational change in the future. It’s by constant upgrading and improvement in the operation of common services, making them better, more elaborate, more frequent, and dealing with those bottlenecks which congest the system at the moment.

“All of these changes, incremental changes, will make a big difference and will help pave the way for the transformational change in the future.”

Adonis also noted that, as part of his leadership position on the independent infrastructure commission, he is working closely with TfN to develop a game plan for HS3.

Graham Botham, Network Rail’s strategy and planning director for the north, said that his team are also working very closely with TfN and HS2 – whose chief executive, Simon Kirby, sits on the TfN partnership board.

Rail leaders attending and speaking at the event echoed widespread support for the new group, set to be transformed into a statutory body later this year.

Amanda White, Transport for Greater Manchester’s (TfGM’s) head of rail, said a large part of the body’s success will be ensuring cities work together and set ambitious targets.

She said that given the devolution momentum in the north – with Manchester confirming a deal last year and Sheffield, the north east and the Tees Valley having agreed to other deals last month – all city regions “have to make it work together”.

But White believes that as a result of devolution currently working very well in the north, failure is not an option.

In relation to Greater Manchester specifically, she said showing progress on the ground is absolutely vital, and that models of phased delivery could be considered.

But perhaps the most outspoken TfN supporter was Northern Rail’s managing director, Alex Hynes.

Asked by debate panel chair Richard Westcott, the BBC’s transport correspondent, whether there is too much focus on big, one-off, “sexy” infrastructure schemes rather than smaller but necessary upgrades, Hynes insisted that both need to happen.

Indeed, he said, many such “little projects” have recently been completed, are being worked on now, or are coming up in the short term – such as the Todmorden Curve, Ordsall Chord and the electrification of lines in the north west – dubbing them essential elements of TfN’s work. But HS2 and HS3 will be the real game changers to solve the “capacity crunch” in the north, he said.

When asked what he believed was the most important thing that had to happen in rail over the next year, Hynes said it was essential to help the northern body make a case for more investment.

But this seems to be on the horizon already, with Kirby guaranteeing that TfN is about cities and the wider supply chain working together, while driven by sufficient political support to move forward.

The chancellor’s Summer Budget 2015 document stated that a chair must be appointed by the end of the 2015 to accelerate TfN’s work programme, with an update on the Northern Transport Strategy to be published by Budget 2016.

‘Infrastructure projects need to look at private funding’

During the event, Adonis also said that new major infrastructure projects like Crossrail 2 and HS3 should look at “wider sources of funding”, including private sector investment, rather than simply receiving money from the Treasury.

He told delegates that being “proactive rather than reactive” when it comes to major planning infrastructure investment is important.

Adonis added that part of the reason why Crossrail is going ahead is because of the “fairly substantial contributions” from the private sector and businesses through the supplementary business rate.

“In the case of London, large businesses pay the supplementary business rate which goes specifically to fund Crossrail,” the former Labour transport secretary said. “That is raising about £4bn of the £15bn costs.”

He specifically cited the investment made by Canary Wharf Group, Heathrow Airport and the City of London Corporation, as well as London’s council tax payers.

Adonis added that if these major projects are going to generate the growth anticipated then it is “much, much better to get the investment upfront and finding ways of recouping it for those who have embedded it”.

The principle that direct corporate and other ventures should make a contribution is going to be an important one, he added.

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