North of England roads
Three big schemes planned
The road network in the north of England could be boosted with £25 billion of extra expenditure following the creation last month of Transport for the North.
At least three major road improvements are top of the list in a new 30-year Strategic Roads Plan being created by TFN. Part of the Northern Powerhouse initiative, TFN is aimed at boosting the north of England by adding £100bn to the region’s economy and creating 850,000 jobs.
“We are looking at the major road network for the north, and we have several major roads studies at the option stage,” said TFN roads director Peter Molyneux. “TFN is in its infancy, but we are looking to add value.”
There are three major road schemes under development: first, to make the A66 between Scotch Corner and Penrith a dual carriageway and link the M1 to the M6 and second, to improve roads around the M60/M62 ‘Quadrant’, north-west of Manchester. The third, and most ambitious, is a tunnel under the Peak District National Park from Manchester to Sheffield. There are also multiple ‘corridor schemes’ with junction improvements to streamline traffic flows.
Several programmes have been mooted for a while, but the creation of TFN, established as a legal body in April, is giving them extra impetus. For example, the contentious Trans-pennine tunnel has been written off by some, but Molyneux insists it remains viable. “Let’s build the business case,” he said.
TFN doesn’t currently have a roads budget, the country’s road spending being shared between local authorities and Highways England. For the next few years, TFN will therefore act as an advisor to co-ordinate road planning across the region, although the body’s 100-strong workforce has been granted devolved commissioning powers.
In the medium term, TFN will bid for money from the £1bna-year road fund set up last year, part of the annual £5.8bn raised by vehicle excise duty. Over 25 years, that will total £25bn – Molyneux’s target to boost northern road building.
How Tfn’s ambitions can be fulfilled while Highways England remains the country’s main roads co-ordinator, and works on its next five-year investment plan, RIS2, will have to be resolved.
“We have talked with them, of course,” said Highways England. “TFN looks after the interests of the North. Our responsibilities haven’t changed and we cast our net wide for investments in RIS2.”
Road users groups are more wary. “In principle, we would support having a body to oversee roads in the North,” said AA chairman Edmund King, “but we would also question how it fits in with Highways England priorities.
“And does this focus on the North now mean that schemes like the much-needed A303 to the south-west are in danger?”
Having a board of 41 members, mostly with regional allegiances, TFN must also find a common direction. Molyneux cheerily describes it as “a coalition of the willing”, but chairman John Cridland, formerly director-general of the CBI, will clearly have his work cut out building a consensus.
Progression now relies on TFN, Highways England and the Department for Transport finding common ground to make it work in practice, for the benefit of motorists.
Improvements to the M62 and neighbouring roads are proposed