Transport for the North will be calling on the government to fund improvements to crucial freight routes and motorways in the region as part of its plans to further boost northern connectivity.
TfN chief executive David Brown told Construction News the next priority for the organisation would be to secure funding to improve freight lines to the North’s biggest ports, as well as developing more detailed improvement plans for the region’s motorways.
Mr Brown identified road and rail links to Humber Port, Teesport and Liverpool’s main freight port as areas in need of significant work.
He also indicated the organisation would be looking at new schemes to improve the North’s motorway network, in addition to the roads projects that have already secured funding from the Treasury.
Mr Brown said: “We have got funding for the big-ticket items but now we are looking at smaller schemes across the North that might be significant in sub-regional terms but not necessarily pan-northern, such as connections to freight ports.”
The comments come following the news that chancellor George Osborne would pledge more than £296m to the development of transport projects in the North in today’s Budget.
This includes £60m to kick-start HS3, £75m for the £6bn TransPennine tunnel linking Manchester to Sheffield and £161m to accelerate upgrades to the M62 outside Manchester.
Mr Brown said the money “would be enough to keep them going” but the organisation would continue to work to try to secure more funding for future projects throughout the year.
“It is a good step forward,” Mr Brown said. “But we are an ambitious organisation and we want to make sure we have a strong pipeline of schemes coming through.”
Mace chief operating officer for infrastructure Jason Millett agreed that the Budget commitment was a “good start”, but urged more spending from the government, particularly on transport outside the North’s biggest cities.
He told Construction News: “It’s not just about Leeds, Manchester and Sheffield; it’s about connections to ports and businesses in smaller towns and cities that sometimes get lost as a result of these big city announcements.”
He said the government’s backing of major projects helped give the supply chain greater visibility for the future.
Mr Millett, whose firm is currently working on the TransPennine tunnel’s feasibility study, said: “It is no secret that all contractors like visibility and announcements like this allow us to plan for the future in terms of graduate and staff numbers and our research and development spend.”
Richard Green, director of the Northern Powerhouse team at Aecom, welcomed the announcement from the chancellor but warned that the government could not deliver projects without foreign investment.
He said: “The combination of immediate incremental improvements with transformational projects such HS3 is the right approach, but the importance of access to the great city centres of the North must not be overlooked.
“But funding this scale of transformation requires looking beyond the UK public purse. Foreign direct investment will be vital to bringing these projects to fruition quickly.”
Richard Threlfall, who chairs the Institution of Civil Engineers’ Northern Powerhouse panel, said that while the news was encouraging, more ambition needed to be shown.
Mr Threlfall said: “The vision for the North as an economic powerhouse is gaining momentum and TfN has helpfully now set out a timetable for its initiatives, albeit in nearly all cases we won’t see any impact on the ground until after 2020.
“The collaborative development of the strategy – with the National Infrastructure Commission and others – is encouraging, and this ethos should continue.
“But we would like to see more ambition, embracing concepts such as an entirely new east-west road and rail corridors from Liverpool to Hull.
“Only through bold thinking, translated into bold investment, will we unlock the full potential of the Northern Powerhouse.”