Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Transport for the North Strategic Plan Doubted by Some in the Road Haulage Freight Community

All Praise the Spirit but Concerns as to Whether it Can Achieve its Objectives by 2050
Shipping News Feature
UK – The Transport for the North (TfN) partnership, having today launched the Draft Strategic Transport Plan for the North, the scheme to redesign infrastructure throughout the North of England, is holding a series of consultations in the region to take on board the reactions and opinions of those living and working in the areas affected prior to release of the full plan later in the year. The consultation stretches over 13 weeks up to Tuesday April 17th, but already the plan has received a lukewarm reception from many in the freight transport and road haulage community.

The purpose of the strategic plan is to boost the North of England’s economy through a 30-year transport investment programme and, whilst the idea of investing in the future of the area has been welcomed as a bold vision, doubts as to its effectiveness in being able to deliver its aim of closing the economic gap between the North and the rest of England by 2050 are already being expressed. Richard Burnett, Road Haulage Association (RHA) CEO commented:

“Any announcement about plans to invest in transport infrastructure is good news, but as always, the devil is in the detail. Will the proposed funding model go far enough to stimulate the growth needed to bridge this historical gap? An extra £700-900 million a year investment might sound like a lot, but we still don’t know what the changes to the road network to accommodate future generations of vehicles is going to cost. So we need to understand how robust this plan will be against competing demands for funding.”

A full list of the consultation dates and venues are viewable here whilst a video explaining the scheme has also been released, and not everybody has sounded a note of scepticism about the forthcoming plan which encompasses multimodal transport options designed to make journeys throughout the region faster. The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has encouraged the partners in Transport for the North, which include the Department for Transport, Highways England, Network Rail and HS2 along with a variety of local elected leaders and Local Enterprise partnerships, and CBI Managing Director for Infrastructure and People, Neil Carberry, said:

“The publication of Transport for the North’s Strategic Transport Plan is a significant milestone in delivering the infrastructure that is needed to boost productivity across the whole of the north. Their plans for improved connections between the towns, cities and economic centres that will drive long-term growth, reflect many of the priorities highlighted by businesses in the north.

“Reaching this stage is a testament to the hard work and collaboration of elected and business leaders, who will be looking to see progress continue at pace. It is now for other areas and central government to work together to ensure that no region is left behind by the regional growth agenda.”

The CBI view was supported by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), whose National Chairman, Mike Cherry said:

“We welcome the publication of this forward looking plan outlining infrastructure projects across the north. Small businesses need a dense, reliable and well-maintained road network to be able to grow and become more productive, so investing in roads and rail is vital. This is an important next step for businesses and communities. Although this is a long term plan looking ahead 30 years, small businesses need work to begin without delay. It’s critical that small firms are given a chance to secure any procurement opportunities before work starts.”

The overall cost of the 30 year plan has been estimated, presumably by its supporters, at £2 - £2.3 billion per annum, something trumpeted at ‘only’ £150 per year for each person living in the region, and said to be only £50 a year more than current investment levels per capita. Having this week witnessed the collapse of Carillion, which incidentally had considerable responsibilities for sectors of the oft criticised HS2 scheme, it will be interesting to see where and how the money actually comes from.

Regional spend figures issued by the Infrastructure and Projects Authority for the four years from 2017 calculated that projected Government spend on strategic transport will be £1,039 per head for the three Northern regions (North West, North East, Yorkshire and Humber). In April TfN will look to be ratified by Parliament and, if approved, will become the country’s first sub-national transport body, legally obliging government to consult them on relevant decisions.