In My View with Barry White: An ambitious vision for the North

Passengers board trains at Leeds train station.
Passengers board trains at Leeds train station.
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FOR too long the North has been held back. Despite our vibrant and diverse economies, despite determination and pride, our productivity still trails the UK average by 15 per cent. Put simply, that means less opportunities.

If we want to change that, we need a commanding and cohesive vision. And we need more investment.

Last week, we unveiled just that. At a time when, nationally, there’s so much disagreement over our future, the North’s political and business leaders have collaborated to deliver a unified blueprint to grow the Northern economy.

This coming week, Yorkshire’s leaders will join other Transport for the North Board members to consider the final draft Strategic Transport Plan and accompanying Investment Programme.

The former is a detailed study of how up to £70bn investment in Pan-Northern transport up to 2050 could transform our future opportunities, the latter a pipeline of infrastructure interventions.

This is a Plan for the North, from the North. Is it ambitious? Yes. But is it realistic? Absolutely. The events of the past year, where passengers across Yorkshire’s towns and cities were badly let down by the rail industry, laid bare the sobering reality – that the decades-long trend of under-investment in the North cannot go on.

And so, in setting out the North’s collective vision, we have to be bold and daring, and we have to make the best, evidence-led case for investment we can.

This is not transport for transport’s sake, it’s a plan to draw on the collective clout of the North’s diverse economies which, at the moment, cannot work together efficiently due to poor connectivity.

Northern Powerhouse Rail – a bid to deliver transformation across a whole network in the North – quite rightly sits at the heart of our plan.

In Yorkshire, it will bring millions more businesses and people within easy and quick reach of our cities, and release more capacity to transport goods to and from the county.

Our preferred vison will see new lines link Leeds and Bradford with Manchester, Liverpool and beyond, while significant upgrades up will increase journey times between Sheffield, Leeds, Hull and the North East.

With £37m in further funding allocated for the year ahead, we’ll continue to build further evidence to support the case for investment at a rapid pace over the next 18 months, outlining what the network will look like and how it will be delivered.

There’s strength in Yorkshire’s diversity. From fashion to finance, energy to digital, the sectors that flourish here reflect the fabric of the UK’s economy.

Better linking our rural areas with our towns and cities will make it easier for these economies to integrate, becoming a force to be reckoned with beyond our borders.

Let’s be clear. This is a plan for the next 30 years, but it features investment for the short, medium and long term. There’s real and tangible changes we want to see in the here and now. That’s essential if we’re going to change the lives of people and the opportunities for businesses – our first and foremost objective.

We’ll see almost £1bn of investment in new trains on our rail network, with £2.9bn set to be spent on upgrading the railway line between Manchester, Leeds and York.

We’re also influencing and guiding investment in our major roads. We worked with our partners in York to support a robust case for the Outer Ring Road, securing £38m in funding with work already underway.

In November, rail passengers in Scarborough and Hull were among the first in the North to get their hands on season ticket smartcards as part of our Integrated and Smart Travel programme.

Over the coming years this will change the way people find out about, pay for and access public transport across the whole of the North, be it train, bus and light rail. Every local transport authority in the North has worked tirelessly to get to this point, where we have a shared vision that not only tells a compelling story as ‘one North’ – connecting the whole North – but also complements their essential work to deliver transformation at a local and regional level. The figures speak for themselves.

Together, we’ll play our part in unlocking £100bn in economic growth and 850,000 extra jobs by 2050. An ambitious target that tackles the gap head on.

Ultimately, we will be judged by the change in experience for the North and the legacy we leave for future generations.

The Government has asked. The North has responded as one. Now we need to work in partnership to deliver on promises over the coming decades.

It’s taken unprecedented collaboration and work to get to today.

Readers should be reassured that the political leaders and businesses that speak on their behalf are relentless and dedicated in championing radical change.

Barry White is Chief Executive of Transport for the North.