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26/02/2016

Northern infrastructure: what next?

 

Ahead of publishing its first report, Transport for the North’s John
Cridland has said
that a ‘leap of faith’ should be taken with investment for road and railways
across the region. It’s a sentiment that is unlikely to have been welcomed in
Whitehall, which will be keen to portray money spent on Northern transport
infrastructure as offering a guaranteed return on the investment.

There have been criticisms of the investment plans, with
some arguing that spending on training and skills, along with inner-city
transport improvements, would be a much better way of investing any available
funding for the Northern Powerhouse. However, Mr Cridland has pointed out that investing
in infrastructure is as much about tackling the underinvestment seen over the
previous decades, rather than solely part of a grand plan to push the region
forward.

Anyone listening to Radio 4’s PM on Wednesday would have heard Lord Adonis, the head of the
National Infrastructure Commission, lamenting that while in London they have
moved on from Oyster cards to contactless credit-card payment, the TransPennine
Express train he was on remains two generations of technology behind, with a
conductor scribbling on printed orange tickets that commuters then have to wave
in the direction of fluorescent-jacketed inspectors or fumble to slot into a
ticket gate.

There is also no doubt that the major cities in the North are
crying out for better links across the region, with current Liverpool Mayor Joe
Anderson, along with Merseyside MPs Angela Eagle and Louise Ellman, pointing
out that connecting
Liverpool to HS2
would significantly boost the city. To demonstrate its
commitment, Liverpool has proposed £2bn of the expected £3bn cost of extending
the line to include the city, which would also link up with the proposed HS3.

With Transport for the North and the National Infrastructure
Commission
looking closely at where to spend available funding and, more
importantly, what difference it would make for economic growth, John Cridland
has summarised it as:

"Transport economics can't always prove this:
sometimes, like the Victorian engineers, you have to take a leap of faith."
Sign here please, Mr Osborne...

The danger is that we end up with a chicken-or-the-egg squabble:
on one side over whether we need evidence for the investment and, on the other,
whether we need investment in order to provide the evidence. Whatever happens,
the Chancellor will try to maintain the momentum of the Northern Powerhouse as
he decides which option to take, and where the funding will go, for what is
seen by many as the most important aspect of the plans.

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