Budget 2016: £300m funding to speed Northern transport plans

Plans will be developed for a new high-speed Leeds-Manchester route by 2017.

The north’s transport investment, widely trailed before the Budget, has been confirmed by the chancellor today.

The government says it supports the vision set out by Transport for the North (TfN) in their Northern Transport Strategy and has accepted the recommendations from the National Infrastructure Commission on northern connectivity. 

The government plans to take forward the NIC’s proposals with a total of £300m of funding to include:

  • Giving the green light to High Speed 3 between Leeds and Manchester, committing to reduce journey times to around 30 minutes, in line with the recommendation by the National Infrastructure Commission. £60m to be provided to develop plans for both the Leeds-Manchester route by 2017 and to improve transport connections between cities of the North.
  • Accelerating the upgrade of the M62 to a four-lane smart motorway. An extra £161m will be provided on top of the existing road programme to bring forward by two years the upgrade between junction 10-12 Warrington to Eccles, and to accelerate work on junction 20-25 Rochdale to Brighouse.
  • Developing the future transformation of east-west road connections, including a new Trans-Pennine tunnel under the Peak District between Sheffield and Manchester, as well as options to enhance the A66, A69 and the north-west quadrant of the M60. £75m is being allocated, to include developing a business case for these schemes by the end of the year.
  • Accelerating the development of other critical road projects in the North, including Lofthouse and Simister Island junctions, capacity enhancements to the M1 at junctions 35a-39 Rotherham to Wakefield, and delivering on the commitment to begin upgrades to the M56 at junctions 6-8 south of Manchester in this Parliament 
  • Improving the North’s major rail stations. To take forward the NIC’s recommendations, the government will allocate a further £4m to support the development of High Speed 2 Growth Strategies for Manchester Piccadilly, Manchester Airport and Leeds stations.

The Budget also announced funding to improve local roads in the North. £15m will be allocated from the Pothole Action Fund to repair around 277,000 potholes during 2016-17, and the government is giving the go ahead to £24 million from the Local Growth Fund to improve roads across North Yorkshire.

The measures were widely welcomed by the industry. 

Marc Davies, director and head of environment at WYG and the chair of ACE Northern Region, said: “The investments in infrastructure are welcome and needed. Cumbria and the Energy coast is an important pillar of the Northern Powerhouse and the A66 and A69 highway improvements will help connectivity, but there is much more to be done to help overcome the current imbalance with spend per capita on transport still massively weighted to London.”

John Hicks, director and head of government & public at AECOM, said: “Continued commitment to the Northern Powerhouse is welcome but funding will remain a challenge. Foreign direct investment will be needed to supplement the public purse. While commitment to HS3 is welcome, the risk is this will be tantamount to rhetoric unless the pace of delivery is accelerated. The ongoing silence around delivery is becoming deafening.”

Nick Roberts, Atkins’ chief executive officer for UK & Europe said: “The National Infrastructure Commission was set up to take a long term and objective view of our infrastructure needs. The Chancellor’s agreement to take forward key recommendations such as HS3, the Trans-Pennine tunnel and the expansion of capacity on the M62 shows that the system works. The creation of new and improved infrastructure is the means to the end, not the end itself, so the focus needs to be on delivering these schemes quickly in order to start generating the economic benefits we need now. Particularly in the case of the Northern Powerhouse, government spending on new and improved infrastructure will be vital in attracting much needed funding from other sources and delivering the productivity improvements that the government has set out.”

Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) director general, Nick Baveystock, said: “While the headlines are focussed on important large projects, the upkeep of our existing infrastructure – from flood defences to local roads – should not be forgotten. We await details on any local authority cuts and the impact on maintenance budgets, and will continue to encourage a shift from reactive patch-up work towards a ‘whole life’ approach to infrastructure investment.”

Mark Cleverly, head of commercial developers at Arcadis, said: “The Northern Powerhouse cities of Manchester and Leeds potentially appear set for a golden period of regeneration. These infrastructure investments could pave the way for a re-balancing of the country and a 20-year renaissance in property development across the Midlands and the North.”

James Hall, Leeds-based planning partner at Barton Willmore, said: “The chancellor’s confirmation that there will be a new high speed trans-Pennine railway (HS3) is fantastic news for northern cities and the wider region’s development. Vital rail infrastructure between Manchester and Leeds has long lagged behind the standard of that of the rest of the country and historically been woefully underfunded by the government, compared to London.” 

Manish Gupta, infrastructure partner at EY, said: “HS3 will be critical in maximising the economic potential of the Northern Powerhouse. We welcome the chancellor’s endorsement of the National Infrastructure Commission recommendations along with the funding for further development work. 

“Today’s Shaw review on Network Rail also recommends creation of a route for the North, in which Transport for the North will have a substantial say. The initiative now clearly sits with Transport for the North to bring the relevant players together and to create the detailed plans needed to make this a reality.”

Elsewhere in the north, the government has confirmed that its ‘Northern Powerhouse schools strategy’ will involve £20m of funding to improve northern schools. This new funding will ensure that rapid action is taken to tackle the divides that have seen educational attainment and progress in some parts of the North lag behind the rest of the country.

How this funding is allocated across the region is as yet unclear and it’s also unclear who within the local area will administer it, whether it will be done through councils, or the mayor, or directly to schools, or someone else? The government’s imminent education whitepaper might cast some light on this. 

What we do know is that Sir Nick Weller has been asked to lead an in-depth report into transforming education across the Northern Powerhouse.

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