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NORTHERN POWERHOUSE BY GARY NOAKES


million people live, mainly in five large cities, including Dusseldorf


and Dortmund, plus ten others, all well connected by air, autobahn and fast trains. Osborne is convinced transport is the most crucial element to his plan. He points out the irony that, in the area which virtually invented modern transport, it still takes longer to get from Liverpool to Hull by train than from London to Paris. He plans to remedy this and ensure that “travelling between cities feels like travel- ling within one big city”. To this end, the government has set up


Transport for the North (TFN). A crucial element of its ‘One Voice for the North’ masterplan is High Speed 2 (HS2), which will connect eight of the ten largest UK cities, including Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield. The biggest beneficiary will be Manchester, whose fastest journey time to the capital will fall by 60 minutes to 1 hour 8 minutes. Controversy rages over HS2 in the Home Counties, but there may also be difficulties to overcome in the North: ending the line in Manchester means building a 7.5-mile tunnel; while stops in Sheffield and East Midlands will be at parkway stations, not city centres. Moreover, all this will take at least the next decade, but meanwhile, Osborne wants stakeholders to “start thinking” about a Manchester-Leeds HS rail link using existing infrastructure. The problem with east-west road and rail links is that the Pennines get in the way, and the gov- ernment has only pledged to “explore” the feasibility of tunnelling under them. Civic leaders last year lobbied for a


Eurostar-style service on the Trans Pennine railway, with tunnelling raising the average speed on the Manchester-Leeds-Sheffield link from the current 44mph to well over 100mph. The price tag, including electri- fication, is put at more than £5 billion, a huge sum, but as any northern politician will readily point out, a third of what London’s Crossrail is costing. All this is still up in the air, but firm


proposals are being worked on at TFN, which becomes a statutory body in 2017. Its chief executive, David Brown, will oversee a strategy document to be pub- lished in March. “Our job is to explain what infrastructure and investment is required,” he explains. He admits that in the past “we have moved from one scheme to another”, but insists the chancellor is earnest in his intentions, citing the £15 billion proposed budget. “He’s given us a budget, appointed me and turned us into a statutory body. It


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Osborne is convinced transport is the most most crucial element to his plan


seems a firm commitment considering we were only announced in July.” HS2 might be Osborne’s flagship, but TFN must also convince of the need for more mundane projects. Brown admits key motorway and rail links are operating “almost at their limit”. A quick fix for the railways will be to have more and newer trains, and longer platforms to enable more carriages, but Brown says: “You can’t keep running more trains on existing Victorian infrastructure.” He is clearly thinking big and, providing another spending review doesn’t scupper his ideas, something impressive might just materialise.


ACCESS ISSUES The region may be lacking when it comes to good rail links, but One North – a strategic proposition for transport in the North, launched by the chancellor in 2014, whose work TFN is building on – recognises its strengths when it comes to airports, saying it is “well provided”. It adds, however, that there are issues with access to some, noting that a rail or light rail connection to Leeds/Bradford “needs to be turned into a fully realised project”. Manchester airport, which attracts 23 million passengers, is building its network of flights to key business destinations, but One North says access needs to be easier from outside the North West. It adds: “The reason...is to help create the demand for more direct flights and drive Manchester airport up the international league table so that it increasingly meets the needs of northern businesses without the need to interchange at another European hub.” Ken O’Toole, the airport’s managing


director, naturally agrees, adding: “I believe there are around a further 25 long-haul routes which could be commercially viable from Manchester. These include more American destinations, India and other parts of the Far East, such as Bangkok.” Despite Newcastle airport’s success in securing links to the US and Dubai,


PLANES


The government’s plan is to attract more airlines to existing airports by facilitating better surface access and so widening the market for additional flights. Newcastle airport has been praised as a key connector for the North East, but Manchester will remain the main hub.


TRAINS


There is much improvement to be had, according to the government’s journey time estimates. The current journey time between Liverpool and Manchester airports by train is 65 minutes, while the target is 30 minutes; and between Sheffield and Manchester airports it’s 73 minutes, with a target time of 30 minutes. There are only two fast trains an hour between Sheffield and Manchester.


AUTOMOBILES


The government’s hope is for a “mile a minute” network of trunk roads, requiring major investment. The plans include a four-lane “smart motorway” to be introduced on the east-west M62’s entire length; the M6 will also become a smart motorway in parts and the A1 will be upgraded “to continuous motorway standard” between London and Newcastle. Plans also include “exploring” a road link under the Pennines between Sheffield and Manchester.


Manchester is the government’s chosen Northern hub airport. The problem, however, with growing Manchester is that the M56 is close to capacity and rail links to the airport are relatively poor, with even Liverpool being more than an hour away. If the airport wishes to grow, its access will have to improve.


LOFTY AMBITIONS


Something will need to be done, as Manchester has ambitions to grow to 55 million passengers a year via £1 billion of investment that will see Terminal 2 taking over from Terminal, 1 which will be demolished. One key part of this plan is Airport City, an £800 million enterprise zone, part-funded by the Beijing Con- struction Engineering Group. Underlining


BBT JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2016 111


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