Poor transport connectivity choking investment in the north, says minister

Minister for the Northern Powerhouse Andrew Percy speaking in Manchester this week.

Northern Powerhouse minister Andrew Percy has admitted that there are massive challenges facing regional productivity in the north, mainly due to poor transport connectivity “choking investment”.

Speaking at the UK Northern Powerhouse conference in Manchester yesterday, Percy defended the government’s commitment to the concept of the Northern Powerhouse, which had been widely questioned following the departure from government of its chief backer George Osborne. “Government is stepping up, not stepping back,” Percy assured his audience in Manchester. “It is looking to address the long-running challenges in the economy that we know are holding us back in the North,” he said.

Turning to transport, Percy gave a strong indication that the government was keen to back improved east-west transport in the region, but he stopped short of voicing support for Northern Powerhouse rail or HS3. “I desperately and passionately want to see improved east-west connectivity, it’s simply not good enough after decades of underinvestment,” he said. 

Percy said that the disparity between the north and the south was a massive challenge and the government was looking at future allocations that has to be taken into account. “Transport connectivity is a choke on investment in the north, but big infrastructure investment isn’t going to happen overnight. It can’t be done just by government, it needs buy in from stakeholders in the North,” he said.

Transport and how to improve it has been a key topic of conversation amongst delegates at the conference. Transport for the North chief executive David Brown said that the case had been made for a new high speed rail route from east to west and it was now a question of getting the funding to make it a reality.

While the minister Andrew Percy admitted that the current state of transport in the north was “intolerable” and that improving the situation was a key priority for the government, he questioned the oft-quoted statistic that the north was lagging way behind on transport spend when compared with London. He said that the recent figures showing people in London got more than eight times more spent on transport than those in the North East were skewed by the massive Crossrail project.

Percy also said that there were “regional variations” that “needed to be taken into account in future allocation of funding from central government” but he gave a commitment that transport would be near the top of the list of priorities for investment. “We’re going to improve the transport networks that businesses and commuters rely on,” he said.

Business leaders in the north will be waiting with anticipation to see what next month’s Budget will bring and they will be hoping that the minister’s encouraging words will lead to concrete and specific announcements about improving transport in the north.

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