Give the North the funds it needs for fair transport

As published in the Yorkshire Post on 11/02/19

TODAY, leaders from across the North will come together in Sheffield to launch Transport for the North’s Strategic Transport Plan. Although many people will not have heard of the plan, it is an important step towards improving the North’s transport infrastructure and transforming our economy for generations to come.

Transport for the North’s plan is timely. It sets out an ambitious programme of investment with the aim of fully connecting all our communities across the North. But it needs to be matched with investment. At present, the gap between London and the South-East and the North is particularly stark when it comes to spending on transport.

The Government’s own figures show that for every £1 spent on transport in Yorkshire and the Humber in 2017-18, £3.20 was spent on London’s transport networks. And since the Northern Powerhouse was introduced by Government in 2014, transport spending has gone up twice as much in London as in the North.

This systemic unfairness has real-life consequences for residents across the North, who often board overcrowded and delayed trains. As a regular commuter between Barnsley, Sheffield and London, I share the concerns of many commuters. They are often left frustrated that they not able to get to work on time; anxious that they are going to miss connecting trains; and understandably angry that they are regularly let down by a transport system not fit for the 21st century.

Poor connectivity across the North has real implications for our businesses and our communities. It impacts on our residents that live in semi-rural communities, who struggle to access sites of employment; it constrains the reach of our businesses and stifles productivity; and it feeds into the very real sense that our Northern communities are cut off from major centres of growth.

Many communities are still suffering the historic legacies of de-industrialisation, and our ability to generate growth has been hampered by a persistent failure to invest in infrastructure. But this needs to change, because we are not starting from the strongest base. It is for this reason that I have long argued that we need a greater and fairer share of national infrastructure investment in our transport networks.

We face significant challenges, but we should not shy away from them. And in rising to those challenges, we should be guided by what I believe is a simple but effective vision: that we connect our people to the places that they want to go – for work; for leisure; and for business.

The North has so much potential, which is why I welcome Transport for the North’s plan. Because, if implemented, it will see £70bn worth of investment ploughed into our transport networks across the North, the returns on which would be unprecedented.

It will help rebalance decades of systemic under-investment in our communities; it could potentially unlock £100bn in economic growth for the North’s economy; and it could create 850,000 additional jobs in the process.

Transport for the North’s plan also comes at a time when, here in the Sheffield City Region, we’re making real progress towards achieving our own transport ambitions. Council leaders recently agreed my Transport Strategy, which gives us a clear plan and will work alongside a wider pan-northern plan.

In the coming weeks, I will be launching a major review of how our bus services operate. And I am currently in the process of appointing an Active Travel Commissioner, who will take the lead in encouraging our residents to use healthier, more active means of transport.

Our plans locally feed into the wider strategy being launched today – and it gives us an opportunity to have a more joined-up approach to the way that we do things. We are already making significant progress.

Just last week, Transport for the North signed off the plans for Northern Powerhouse Rail, which proposes to connect Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Sheffield, Hull and Newcastle, and which feeds into the Transport for the North’s wider agenda. It is the start of a process in which the North takes control of its own destiny, and which gives us a greater say over the transport investments that will shape our future. It reminds us that, if we can say with one voice where we want to be, and if we can show how we can get there, we can unlock our full potential.

If we get this right, we can create a transport network that fully integrates all parts of the North; that connects our people and our businesses with opportunities both within and beyond our great towns and cities; and that transforms our economy so that it works better for the 15 million residents of the North. Our message to Government is clear – work with us. Give us the powers; give us the funding; and together, we will get the job done.