John Jarvis, Transport director, the Northern Way, talks to Transport Business Commissioning Editor Sandra Heavenstone, about how the regions of the North of England plan to work together to improve the sustainable economic development of the North.
How did the Northern Way project develop and how is it financed?
The Northern Way is a unique initiative, bringing together the cities and regions of the North of England to work together to improve the sustainable economic development of the North towards the level of more prosperous regions. Formed in 2004 as a partnership between the three Regional Development Agencies (North West Development Agency, One North East and Yorkshire Forward), the Northern Way also works with local authorities, universities, the private sector and other partners to secure a strong coalition in support of this goal. The aim is to influence policy and delivery at a local, city regional, regional and national level, to join up thinking and encourage collaboration.
The Northern Way sets out how to bridge the output gap: The Northern Way Growth Strategy Moving Forward was published in 2004, the Growth Strategy was developed to build on the North’s three Regional Economic Strategies and Regional Spatial Strategies.
The Growth Strategy highlighted transport as a priority area for transformational change and identified three broad investment priorities – improving surface access to airports, improving surface access to ports and improving links within and between the North’s eight city regions.
The importance of transport to the North’s economic future was reaffirmed in a stock-take of the Northern Way’s activity undertaken in 2007, and along with private sector investment and business innovation transport is now one of three key areas that are a focus for forward Northern Way activity. It is funded from the resources available to the three Northern RDAs.
How has the Northern Way drawn on the Eddington Study to develop its transport strategy?
It is striking that the focus in Sir Rod Eddington’s Transport Study on connectivity within and between city regions and with key international (port and airport) gateways mirrored the Northern Way’s own assessments and priorities in the original Growth Strategy published in 2004 and in the Northern Way’s Transport Strategic Direction, which was produced to support the Northern Way’s September 2006 submission to the government’s Comprehensive Spending Review and also predated Eddington.
The Northern Way’s Transport Strategic Direction is an evidence-based assessment of the most appropriate policy mix of transport interventions that will promote productivity gain in the North, while at the same time seeking to protect and enhance the North’s natural and built environment, and contributing to meeting the nation’s commitments regarding climate change. Following publication of our Strategic Direction and also informed by the Eddington Study we moved on to develop short, medium and long term priorities which we published during 2007 as a further submission to the Comprehensive Spending Review.
What road projects have been initiated to encourage road productivity and is this part of an integrated plan to encourage economic growth and business within the region?
Our short, medium and long term priorities are focussed on encouraging economic and business growth in the North and look 20-30 years ahead. They identify improving access to the North’s ports, addressing locations where currently traffic congestion is significant and completing gaps in the strategic highway network as key priorities. Our proposals for port access include A63 Castle Street Hull, A5036 Port of Liverpool access, and upgrading the A160/A180 on the South Humber Bank.
On currently congested sections of the network, we’ve identified the need to develop interventions to help address congestion on the M1 and M62 in South and West Yorkshire, the A1 Newcastle Gateshead Western bypass, A19 New Tyne crossing, M60 junction 12 to 18 and the M6/M62 interchange; and our proposals to address key network gaps include connecting Newcastle directly into the national motorway network, the A556 between the M56 and M6, upgrading the A1 between Redhouse and Darrington to motorway and M6 Manchester to Birmingham improvements. We were very pleased when, at the end of March, Ruth Kelly announced that the schemes will go ahead to upgrade the A1 in North Yorkshire to motorway standard and which will link Newcastle to the motorway network, with work starting later this year.
Our evidence recognises the beneficial effects that various known management measures such as Active Traffic Management (as piloted by the Highways Agency on the M42 in the Midlands) can bring to the management of congestion in the short and medium term. We therefore welcome the government’s plans to investigate rolling out Active Traffic Management (ATM) over sections of the M1, M6 and M62 across the North. We have also identified the importance of encouraging smarter travel choices and behavioural change and with this in mind we have worked jointly with the Highways Agency to fund the first high occupancy vehicle lane on a motorway in the country at the M606/M62 junction, which was opened by Ruth Kelly in March.
In the longer term though, our evidence suggests that continuing traffic growth will erode the beneficial impacts of ATM and other interventions. Road user charging for the strategic road network with location and time variable charges may however be the only option that can offer the possibility of managing long term traffic growth to the benefit of economic growth and also produce tangible and worthwhile reductions in traffic generated carbon emissions. Obviously much more work will have to be done before decisions can be made and the ongoing work by the government to develop the technology that charging will need, as well as consideration of key issues such as privacy of data, is welcome.
How will local authorities work with you to develop the road infrastructure required?
The Northern Way’s role is to add value to what can be achieved by the North’s local authorities and regional bodies. While our priorities have considered pan-northern transport proposals from stakeholders across the North, we have especially focussed on proposals that seek to improve movements between the North’s city regions and between regions and movements to/from international gateways. In turn this has put a particular focus on influencing the DfT and the Highways Agency. This is not to say that road and other transport improvements within the North’s city regions are not important or that they do not offer the potential for productivity benefits – rather that it is for the city regions and the Regional Transport Boards to establish such priorities for their areas.