Putting North on right track for bet­ter trans­port

Yorkshire Post - - OPINION -

THERE’S A huge and gen­eral con­sen­sus that York­shire in par­tic­u­lar, and the North in gen­eral, needs bet­ter trans­port, and that the kind of in­vest­ment that Lon­don and the South-East have had for many years needs to hap­pen here.

As the con­sul­ta­tion on Trans­port for the North’s strate­gic plan fin­ishes, it’s worth ask­ing how far the plan will help bring about a bet­ter trans­port sys­tem.

Cam­paign for Bet­ter Trans­port has wel­comed the cre­ation of Trans­port for the North and helped its work, in­clud­ing or­gan­is­ing dis­cus­sions with groups across the North on pri­or­i­ties. And there are many as­pects of the strat­egy that we strongly wel­come and which re­flect what user and com­mu­nity groups said.

First, the strat­egy is mul­ti­modal. It cov­ers road and rail, and looks at whole cor­ri­dors not just in­di­vid­ual projects. It is also fo­cused on giv­ing the North a much bet­ter rail ser­vice.

In fact the North’s rail net­work has suf­fered from strate­gies which tried to shut a lot of it down al­to­gether – it was only through the ef­forts of lo­cal au­thor­i­ties, in par­tic­u­lar the city-re­gion Pas­sen­ger Trans­port Ex­ec­u­tives like those in West and South York­shire, that much of the net­work sur­vived at all.

Old trains and limited in­vest­ment in sta­tions and ser­vices have put many peo­ple off trav­el­ling by train – yet where in­vest­ment has hap­pened, as on the Aire Val­ley lines, peo­ple use trains and re­duce their car use.

A cen­tre­piece of the strat­egy is a com­plete re­ver­sal of this ne­glect, and a long-term pro­gramme for a step change in qual­ity and rail­way con­nec­tions. Cer­tainly there is more that could be in­cluded – our West and North York­shire lo­cal group has sug­gested ad­di­tional ca­pac­ity around Leeds which would al­low much bet­ter and more fre­quent ser­vices across the city – but ar­tic­u­lat­ing the case for rail in the North is very wel­come.

It also en­ables a proper case for ad­dress­ing miss­ing links like Skip­ton-Colne, a strate­gic tran­sPen­nine link. Pro­mot­ing rail freight on such links, es­pe­cially to the north­ern ports, will also help give busi­nesses choices in how to move goods around and can cut lorry traf­fic, and help the de­vel­op­ment of those ports.

Sec­ond, the strat­egy in­cludes a roll-out of smart and in­te­grated tick­et­ing. There’s no doubt that Lon­don’s trans­port net­work has been trans­formed by the Oys­ter card and its de­vel­op­ment, with con­tact­less tick­et­ing, al­low­ing seam­less travel. The North needs and de­serves this too – smart tick­et­ing has the po­ten­tial to trans­form the way pub­lic trans­port works for pas­sen­gers, but also al­lows much bet­ter plan­ning and man­age­ment.

How­ever, there are some big chal­lenges for TfN and its strat­egy, based on what groups across the North told us.

One key is­sue is about the im­por­tance of im­prov­ing lo­cal as well as long-dis­tance trans­port. While links across the North are im­por­tant – the slow and poor ser­vice be­tween Leeds and Manch­ester is of­ten men­tioned – lo­cal trans­port is also crit­i­cal for com­mu­ni­ties, busi­nesses and users of all trans­port modes, and there’s a huge back­log of spend­ing here too, in­clud­ing York­shire’s coastal towns and re­sorts.

Some of this is down to Govern­ment fund­ing pri­or­i­ties and cuts in lo­cal coun­cil fund­ing – trunk roads like the A66 are get­ting fund­ing but there is limited money for ba­sic main­te­nance of lo­cal roads, and lo­cal bus ser­vices have been cut back, es­pe­cially in ru­ral ar­eas. There is limited fund­ing, too, for im­prov­ing lo­cal trans­port, yet there is a need for the same stepchange here, in or­der to tackle con­ges­tion and give peo­ple bet­ter lo­cal con­nec­tions.

Linked to this there is an is­sue of en­vi­ron­men­tal lead­er­ship. The strat­egy says some good things on en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion, but there’s an op­por­tu­nity for much stronger en­vi­ron­men­tal lead­er­ship. One of the strengths of the North that at­tracts peo­ple to live and work here is the land­scape – the Na­tional Parks and stun­ning coun­try­side. We need to see real steps in pro­tect­ing this land­scape from new roads and also in re­duc­ing car­bon emis­sions and air pol­lu­tion – the strat­egy at present seems to duck its re­spon­si­bil­i­ties here and in­cludes projects that will in­crease emis­sions.

Bet­ter links be­tween trans­port and de­vel­op­ment also need more at­ten­tion. Trans­port has a huge im­pact on where de­vel­op­ment hap­pens and what kind – pro­mot­ing de­vel­op­ment where there’s good ac­cess to pub­lic trans­port, around the North­ern Pow­er­house Rail net­work, will lead to less traf­fic and bet­ter so­cial in­clu­sion than if de­vel­op­ment is lo­cated next to mo­tor­way junc­tions.

Over­all, the strat­egy is an im­por­tant step for­ward, and sets out a vi­sion and pri­or­i­ties for in­vest­ing in trans­port in the North. The real ques­tion is will the Govern­ment, and the De­part­ment for Trans­port in par­tic­u­lar, re­spond to this strat­egy with the in­vest­ment that the North needs and de­serves?

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