The Merseyside, West Cheshire and Wigan region joined other FSB representatives at a forum with Transport Secretary Chris Grayling at Cloth Hall Court in Leeds today (Friday, 22 September).
The event, which was organised by Downtown in Business event and included an FSB contingent of Allan Creedy (FSB Newcastle and Northumberland), Rob Downes (Greater Manchester and North Cheshire), Chris Longley (West Yorkshire), Phil McCabe (Merseyside, West Cheshire and Wigan) and Barney Mynott (West Yorkshire), saw business leaders seek answers from the Government on under-investment in transport infrastructure in the north compared to London and the South East.
The Transport Secretary, who had earlier appeared in Manchester to announce the allocation of £5 million for digital signalling on the rail line between the city and York, defended the Government’s focus on transport spending. He listed several major road and rail projects under development and outlined future plans for the north. He said: “We are currently in the process of delivering the biggest transport infrastructure programme in the north for decades.”
The forum followed Downtown’s recent Transport Summit 2017, where the Metro Mayors of Liverpool City Region and Greater Manchester, Steve Rotheram and Andy Burnham, launched a campaign calling on the Government to prioritise rail investment in the north by committing to build high Speed rail for the north of England, also dubbed ‘Northern Powerhouse Rail’ and more recently ‘Crossrail North, a conceptual coast to coast, east-west rail line in northern England, connecting Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield and Hull – in addition to wider transport investment for the Northern Powerhouse initiative.
The Metro Mayors’ campaign is being backed by the ‘G12’ group of leading business bodies in Liverpool City Region, which features FSB alongside the IoD, CBI, Liverpool BID, Professional Liverpool, Social Enterprise Network, The Women’s Organisation and Downtown in Business.
In the 2016 Budget the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, endorsed the general proposals by the National Infrastructure Commission for a high speed line between only Manchester and Leeds, with an aim of reducing journey times to 30 minutes between the two destinations. £60 million of funding was provided to generate plans for a route by 2017.
However, more recently concerns have been aired that London’s Crossrail 2 will be prioritised more highly given the Government’s backing of the £33bn scheme, following the presentation of cost-benefit analysis from Transport for London and the London Mayor, at the same as cancelling or casting doubt on a number of rail electrification projects for the North. A the forum Mr Grayling insisted he had not made an announcement regarding one of these, the Trans-Pennine scheme.
HM Treasury data, highlighted by Statistica, shows the ‘extraordinary imbalance’ in transport spending between London and other English regions: London receives £2,595.68 per head of population on transport infrastructure, while the North West gets just £99.19.
Lord Andrew Adonis, the chairman of the independent National Infrastructure Commission, recently counted HS3 as one of the 12 infrastructure projects he believes are essential to the UK’s economic growth. He said the Government should publish a single integrated plan for the first phase of the project by the end of 2017.
FSB research in Greater Manchester has consistently shown significant business support for HS3, ahead of investment in North-South HS2. In all, 39% said investment in the Northern powerhouse should be focused on HS3, more than double the number who said HS2 (15%). At the same time, FSB recognises that HS2 will provide wider benefits to the economy and is also calling on the Government to prioritise local road networks and bus services.