House of Lords backs Transport for the North new powers but funding warnings remain

Members in the House of Lords have approved regulations for Transport for the North (TfN) to become the first sub-national transport body in England, but its effectiveness has been cast in doubt if government funding does not match northern ambitions.

Peers gave the stamp of approval earlier this week meaning the body is another step closer to having a far greater say on how money is spent on transport in the future. It’s hoped that from next April the body will have new powers and produce a statutory transport strategy for the north which the government must formally consider when taking funding decisions. 

Becoming a sub-national transport body will make TfN a legal entity and a formal partner with government. Through the body, leaders from the north of England will be able to identify the infrastructure priorities that the region wants and needs, rather than ministers in Whitehall deciding for them. 

While the formation was welcomed in the House of Lords, some peers have pointed out concerns in relation to the level of central government funding that northern leaders will still have to rely on. Liberal Democrat peer Lord Shipley speaking to members highlighted a lack of investment in recent years. He added: “Do the government accept that there would be little point in Transport for the North doing a lot of work and raising expectations if the government do not meet the financial consequences of that work?”

Following Monday’s approval, a motion will now be considered in the House of Commons on 10 January 2018 which, if approved, will give the organisation the all-clear to enact statutory status for the new financial year. TfN is then due to launch its draft Strategic Transport Plan for consultation on 16 January 2018.

John Cridland, the independent chair of TfN, has previously described the formation of the body as the best opportunity in a long time to begin to turn around decades of underinvestment, and ensure the north speaks with a strong, unified voice on what it needs from its transport investment.

Commenting on the House of Lords approval, Cridland said: “Transport for the North is soon to make history as the first sub-national transport body in England. For the first time, a united north of England will have a say in the transport priorities which can transform the fortunes of the whole region in the long-term.” 

Dawn Madin, TfN’s mobilisation director, added: “We’re delighted that the motion has been supported by peers and look forward to the House of Commons debate early in the New Year. As a unique partnership, we’re bringing together civic and business leaders from all areas of the North to speak with one voice on the transport investment required to transform our economy.”

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