A £15bn transport plan dubbed ‘the Crossrail of the North’ has been backed by Chancellor George Osborne.
The One North report compiled by the cities of Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield and Newcastle suggests a 15-year investment plan to improve transport links between the regions as a complement to the HS2 high-speed North-South rail project.
The plans include increased road capacity for both freight and personal travel through extended motorways, improving links to ports and airports and fast and frequent intercity rail links, all interconnected with HS2 as a means of helping northern cities lagging behind London and the South.
Cross-party support for the proposals was stressed today with the Tory Chancellor flanked by the Labour leaders of Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds for the launch of the report in Manchester yesterday.
Osborne said: "Of course £15bn is a lot of money – it's about the size of the Crossrail project in London. It's a project over a number of years, out to 2030. We have got a £100bn capital budget to the end of the decade. I think this kind of proposal is affordable."
If adopted, the 15-year investment plan could deliver benefits for the whole of the North of England including up to 150 per cent additional capacity on roads and as much as 55 per cent quicker journey times on a faster, more frequent interconnected rail network.
The Chancellor also said that this autumn there will be new proposals on transferring more power and a bigger say over how money is spent, from Whitehall, to the cities and regions in a "new model of city governance".
He added that if the Government and the cities could get the economic performance of the North to match the rest of the UK, it would add billions to the wealth of the nation and "rebalance" the economy from an over-reliance on the City, London and the South East.
Specific proposals included in the report include a new tunnelled trans-Pennine rail route that can travel at 125mph, similar to the HS3 route proposed by the Chancellor in June, a faster link to Newcastle and improved access to Manchester Airport.
The report also says new rolling stock is a major priority, as well as electrification of existing lines, higher service frequencies, addressing pinch-points on the rail network and improving east to west rail freight capability across the Pennines to link the North’s major ports to north/south rail routes.
The plans also support calls to build HS2 early while extending phase one to Crewe and bringing forwards the delivery of HS2 between Leeds and Sheffield, as suggested in HS2 chairman Sir David Higgins’s 'HS2 Plus report' released in March.
The IET’s Sahar Danesh welcomed the report’s suggestions, but said: “Currently, demand for engineers remains high in the UK but companies are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit the people they need. This is only going to get worse as major projects such as the One North plan move a step closer to reality. So attracting more engineers with the right skills is an absolute priority.
“Another factor crucial to the success of this plan is making sure that individual transport projects are not developed in isolation. The plan makes a strong case for an integrated transport system for the North, but when it comes to implementation of the individual projects, we must continue to look at our transport network as a whole – and on how it will impact both northern cities and the rest of the UK.”