If the North of England were a country, it would be the 27th largest economy in the world. Not too shabby, you might say. It’s home to 1.1 million businesses, 7.7 million jobs and over 15 million people. However, the North’s economy of around £343 billion makes up only 19% of the UK total, and throughout the last 30 years the economic value per person has been 15% less than the UK average, recently widening to 18% less.
There’s little doubt that consistent underinvestment in Northern England is a significant factor, when compared to investment in the South and particularly London. The Strategic Transport Plan, produced in February 2019 by Transport for the North (TfN) aims to rebalance this, boosting the economy, and transforming the lives of those in the North.
There are three key points to this plan: connecting people (thus improving links to work opportunities, and for leisure and tourism), connecting businesses (increasing connectability to clients and other businesses) and transportation of goods (allowing goods to be moved efficiently).
Rail, of course, plays a vital role as the most reliable and fastest method of transport for large numbers of people into city centres. TfN cite strong east-west and north-south rail connections as the backbone of a strong economy for both the North and the UK.
Below are three of the individual rail programmes which should have significant impact on the North.
The second phase of HS2 is intended to link the Northern Cities of Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield, among others, to the first phase of the network connecting Birmingham and London. One underlying aim of the project is to ‘heal the north-south divide’, and a report by KPMG does predict a large boost for the North and Midlands due to the increased connectivity to the other cities on the route, and the reduced journey times.
The reason for the reduction in travel times is not only down to newly connected routes and more trains. This network of electric trains will also be far quicker and more efficient than the Victorian systems which make up the majority of the UK network.
Northern Powerhouse Rail
In order to gain the most benefit from HS2, vast improvement in connectivity is needed between many major northern cities, economic areas and its largest airport, Manchester. Northern Powerhouse Rail is a programme that will improve the speed and frequency of trains between them.
The projects include onward rail journeys from Leeds HS2 station, linking Newcastle, York, Darlington, Durham and Sheffield, so that they can too benefit from the HS2 network. A new hub station at Manchester Piccadilly will also be included, as well as numerous upgrades and improvements to existing lines, increased frequency of trains and decreased journey times. The aim is that by 2050, almost 10 million people in the North will be within 90 minutes of multiple economic centres.
Transpennine Route Upgrade
The Transpennine route is highly used, yet requires major improvement. Given that its use is predicted to double within 20 years, these improvements are certainly needed.
The planned upgrade of the route will result in quicker, more frequent and more reliable rail services from Newcastle, Hull and York towards Manchester and Liverpool via Leeds. The aim is to slash journey times to 40 minutes from Leeds to Manchester and just over an hour from York to Manchester.
In addition to those above, there are many more plans to improve transport links across the North, and the connection with the rest of the UK. As well as specific projects, there are planned overhauls across the region’s public transport in general – such as plans to introduce smart cards that can be used across all modes of transport, bringing the ease of payment in-line with that of London.
However it’s implemented, there’s no doubt that investment within the North’s transport networks will be welcomed, improving opportunities and the daily lives of those who live and work there. It’s also bound to boost the region economically – which won’t just benefit the North, but the whole of the UK.