Chancellor George Osborne is set to unveil his Northern Transport Strategy, which is to include a new "TransNorth" rail system and new road investments.
Osborne's "revolutionary" plans and the newly established Transport for the North (TfN) have been launched to "connect up the great cities of the north to build a northern powerhouse", which will include rail, road, freight, airports and smart ticketing. The aim is to emulate Transport for London (TfL).
The Chancellor's equivocal approach to UK transport links will create a "single economy" by allowing northern towns and cities to pool their strengths. The plans also include:
- slashing journey times between major northern cities with investment in high speed rail
- developing new east-west road connections including a road tunnel under the Peak District
- introducing Oyster-style smart travel cards and simpler fares across the north
Journey times between the North's cities will be:
- Liverpool and Manchester could be as low as 20 minutes
- Manchester to Sheffield and Leeds could both be 30 minutes
- Leeds to Hull could be just 45
- Sheffield to Hull 50 minutes
Sir Richard Leese, chair of the TfN Partnership Board, and leader of Manchester City Council, said: "The cities of the north are individually strong, and increasingly have the tools to grow, but by working together they can be stronger than the sum of their parts. This new report sets out how that can be delivered through a long-term investment plan in rail, the important relationship between HS2 and regional rail services as well as roads, ports, and airports - covering both passengers and freight."
However, RMT Union was not as optimistic about the plans. The 80,000 member strong body released a statement saying: "This is yet more 'pie in the sky' nonsense from the government on the so called 'Northern Powerhouse' when in reality transport services across the region in the real world are lumped with clapped-out, overcrowded trains with any replacement or upgrade programme light years off in the future.
"No one is going to be fooled by this un-funded, pre-election stunt."
The Department of Transport attached a number of "options" for new routes and upgrades to existing routes connecting places like Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield with a range of possible costs. Totting up the costs of new routes which may (or may not) be built comes to between £40bn and £60bn, give or take a billion; the potential costs of upgrades adds up to somewhere between £12.5bn and £23bn.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Transport told IBTimes: "This is an interim report. It puts forward a wide range of options. We are not saying all of them will be built. I wouldn't want to put an overarching figure on this."
She said that some £12.5m had been committed to TfN as it continues with its deliberations.
Other measures set out today include:
- the government will deliver HS2 - Britain's new north-south high speed railway - in the north sooner by preparing a dedicated hybrid Bill to lay during the next Parliament. This is with a view to bringing HS2 to Crewe sooner than planned. It will also look at the case for accelerating the construction of the route between Leeds and Sheffield, and allowing it to be used by for fast regional train services
- the government will take immediate action to simplify rail fares across the north, by streamlining the system of regulated fares. Regulated fares include most commuter fares and some off-peak fares and season tickets. Work will also begin on developing contactless travel cards that can be used across northern cities.
- major improvements to the north's road network will continue to:
- expand the M62 to 4 lanes between Leeds and Manchester
- upgrade the M6 to 4 lanes
- improve the A1 to provide continuous motorway standard between London and Newcastle
- widen the M1 to 4 lane running in Yorkshire and Humber
- as part of 'TransNorth', work will begin on better connecting Manchester airport to neighbouring cities in order to boost international links and make the north more globally competitive. There will also be a review for regional airports affected by the recent devolution of air passenger duty
- the government and TfN will work together to produce multi-modal freight and logistics strategy for the north, to help the private sector invest with confidence in ports and other freight centres
- TfN will expand its role to become a representative body for the whole of the north of England and will be led by an independent chair. Government is making available up to £6.4m to support TfN's strategic work and rail option development and will in addition ensure Highways England is able to take forward its studies identified in the report. This will mean that in total up to £12.5m will be available to take forward development work