Transports of delight

John Cridland, the first independent chair of Transport for the North (TfN) and former director general of the Confederation of British Industry, gives an overview of TfN and describes the vision for a Northern Powerhouse

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The north of England has a population of 16 million people – larger than that of London and almost on a par with the Netherlands. This region currently contributes £290bn to the UK economy and is home to countless successful businesses as well as world-renowned universities.

The north has enormous economic potential, which can be unlocked by bringing the large economies of the north closer together, through transformed networks of connectivity.

TfN’s role is to bring together local transport authorities across the north of England to allow the north to speak with a single voice to government on the big transport decisions that will benefit the whole region.

Our shared vision is to build on the existing strengths of the north to create a vibrant and growing economic region that retains and attracts the brightest talent; acts as a magnet for inward investment; and which becomes one of the world’s most competitive economies, playing host to innovative companies that succeed in the global marketplace.

In March 2015 TfN and the government produced a joint report on the Northern Transport Strategy. This report set out an ambitious vision for enhanced connectivity to drive economic growth. This is a long-term aspiration and our work towards it is gathering pace.

Over the past year, the focus has been on the development of the strategy, to identify future investment priorities and to start putting in place plans for the future of northern transport.

This work includes plans to transform rail connectivity, improve the north’s strategic roads network, ensure the efficient movement of freight, to consider priorities for improving local and regional connectivity and for smart ticketing across the north.

All of this work will inform the Northern Transport Strategy and we will be publishing an update in March 2016.

In his comprehensive Spending Review in November 2015, the Chancellor John Cridland, the first independent chair of Transport for the North (TfN) and former director general of the Confederation of British Industry, gives an overview of TfN and describes the vision for a Northern Powerhouse Transports of delight pledged £50m in funding for TfN over this parliament. These funds help to ensure the future certainty of the organisation and will allow TfN to drive forward its agenda, and in autumn 2015 we produced an interim report to update the Treasury on progress.

In addition, a further £150m has been allocated to allow TfN to accelerate our programme to deliver smart and integrated travel for the region.

In our March report, we will set out an implementation plan for the introduction of these improvements. We will focus on the opportunities for the whole of the region, working with our regional partners to link existing schemes and help to ensure enhanced connectivity for passengers.

We have also been working closely with the National Infrastructure Commission and recently submitted to the commission’s call for evidence to make recommendations on northern transport interventions.

The commission will be publishing its report this spring, which will put forward recommendations to central government on infrastructure priorities that will improve east-west connectivity in the north of England.

TfN has unique oversight of the bigger picture of transport connectivity, and by working with our regional partners, local business leaders and the national transport bodies through the TfN Partnership Board we are able to build a plan to optimise transport links.

The Northern Transport Strategy will underpin future investment in northern infrastructure and will act as the groundwork to ensure that funds are prioritised and that work takes place on the projects that will really benefit the north.

We are also increasing engagement with leading stakeholders: a crucial part of my work over the past few months has been to meet with politicians and business leaders to ensure that TfN is representing the interests of northern industry.

In conjunction with strategy work, Transport for the North has been growing towards statutory status in 2017. Previously a partnership organisation with each of the authorities lending resource to drive forward a shared agenda, TfN is now working to establish a core team to accelerate our ambitious programme.

Key to this core team is our chief executive, David Brown, who joined from his role as chief executive of Merseytravel in October 2015. With my appointment and interim office space in Manchester, TfN is growing quickly to enable the organisation to realise our vision.

Long term, our ambition is for TfN to become the commissioning authority for transport in the north and statutory status will grant TfN powers to co-ordinate and oversee the delivery of ambitious and transformational cross-northern transport investments, by developing plans and commissioning and co-ordinating their delivery. We don’t want to replicate the work under way at a local level, but through our unique position and strategic oversight, TfN will be well placed to advise on investment priorities.

Rail North, the organisation responsible for the northern rail franchises, will become the franchising arm of TfN and statutory status will grant TfN the opportunity to develop further the role and powers of Rail North, devolving greater responsibility from the government for oversight for the northern and trans-Pennine rail services.

It’s early days for the programme, but so far I have been impressed by the huge support and consensus for change.

On a cross-party, cross-industry, pannorthern level, people share our vision and want to drive forward our programme, making this an exciting time for transport and for the north.

For further information on TfN, visit: www.transportforthenorth.com