The North rejects hefty rail schemes And calls for better local transport infrastructure and internet connectivity

Northern-based building consultants say HS2 and HS3 is not the answer to boosting the North’s transport infrastructure.

Sharing their ‘wishlist’ for the upcoming autumn budget, three directors from Trident Building Consultancy’s Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds offices, say where investment should be made to better connect the North.

Keith Richards, director in Trident’s Leeds office, said: “While a faster line between Leeds and Manchester would be beneficial, this line already exists. I believe a better use of HS3’s £39bn cost would be links from York to Sheffield and from Birmingham to Newcastle – perhaps complementing existing lines to form a ‘northern crucifix’.”

Danny McEvoy, associate director in Trident’s Liverpool office, feels HS2 is of little benefit as it reduces the journey time from Manchester to London by only 15 minutes. Instead, a rail link between Scotland and Manchester would be of much greater value as the journey currently takes over four hours – no quicker than making the journey by road.

In August, after the government pledged to invest more in the region, political leaders in the north of England demanded a ‘Northern Budget’, including £7bn for transport infrastructure. But Keith Richards urges that the investment addresses the needs of northern towns above the needs of the northern cities:

“The old industrial bases – Darlington, Doncaster, Wakefield, Wigan, Bolton, Barnsley, Rotherham and others – still house a large proportion of the population of the north, and yet they could be left out as a result of HS3. In fact, they may suffer as a result of investment into rival conurbations. These are the towns that have had their heart ripped out in the last 40 years but there’s not enough investment to get them back on their feet. Relative to these towns, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds and Sheffield are prosperous.”

Keith also recognises the need for better public transport: “Some city centres desperately need better transport systems. For example, Leeds needs a tram or a better bus system to enable people to get to their place of work. This is also true of new developments outside Leeds.  Knaresborough has grown by approximately 5,000 new homes in five years and the vast majority of new residents commute to Harrogate, York and Leeds, mostly driving.  The towns to the north and west of Leeds need better, more localised, rail links.”

Danny McEvoy adds: “In Liverpool there’s lots of work going on but not a lot of collaboration between the public transport providers.” 

Connectivity goes beyond transport

Furthermore, to attract large companies to northern town and cities, high speed fibre optic broadband is required. 

Keith Richards explains: “It’s the higher end commerce that has helped Leeds.  Sky Betting and Gaming, Channel 4, the new Government Hub and the legal and financial sectors would not have located themselves in Leeds were it not for the ability to access broadband. But there is a reliance on BT to provide fibre optic broadband.  This should be something that the government is investing in.”

From a Liverpool perspective, Danny McEvoy agrees: “There is a real lack of investment in broadband.  We’re currently working on an office building on Castle Street in Liverpool’s business district where there’s no fibre optic broadband. The client is having to put their own line in at an astronomical cost. For the majority of new office builds, it’s included as part of the development, but refurbs aren’t getting the upgrade and so many office buildings are missing out on what is a necessity. In most cases, broadband is better at home than it is at work.”

Pete Ewbank?, senior associate director in Trident’s Manchester office, said: “Even in Deansgate in Manchester there’s no dedicated line. Having to put in your own line can push costs up from £50 a month to £500.”

Pete also made the link between better connectivity and achieving greater sustainability in their work: “Better internet connectivity would enable us to reduce the number of meetings and removes the need to travel at all in some cases. And when we do need a face to face meeting, if we had better transport infrastructure, we would opt for public transport to get there.

Currently the North East, the North West, and Yorkshire and Humber receive €380m from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the European Social Fund (ESF). The regions also receive matched funding from the UK for projects that boost the economy or employment opportunities through training. The government has said it will replace the ERDF and ESF post-Brexit with a Shared Prosperity Fund which is likely to be split equally across England.

Pete Ewbank concluded: “With the absence of this fund, we need the autumn budget to come through for the North. We need it to bring the right transport infrastructure, and we need connectivity – both digitally and physically. The North is very much alive, but it needs government investment and commitment to fulfil its true potential.”

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