THOUSANDS of leading businesses have today urged the Government to transform the North of England’s beleaguered rail network to help unleash their full economic potential by attracting new investment and expanding enterprises.
A survey conducted across 5,000 businesses of all sizes showed overwhelming backing for Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR), the £39bn plan to transform east-west links across the North of England to connect major towns and cities via high speed services.
Published in a joint document from legal giant Addleshaw Goddard and the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, the findings from Northern business leaders showed:
- 99 per cent believe NPR would raise productivity in the Northern Powerhouse;
- 85 per cent believe NPR would increase inward investment;
- 62 per cent would recruit from a wider geographic area; and
- 43 per cent would look to expand or relocate to encourage growth.
What NPR would mean for the North
If implemented NPR would take the number of people able to reach four or more Northern cities within an hour from 10,000 today to 1.3m.
Meanwhile, HS2 and NPR together would mean that the population of the North able to access the North’s international gateway Manchester Airport within an hour increases from 2 million today to 4.7 million, and within 90 minutes by 4 million to 8.7 million - over half of the North’s population.
The report is published as the Conservative Party prepares to elect a new Prime Minister and northern business leaders are keen that the new Government lends its full backing to plans to bolster the North’s out-of-date infrastructure.
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Plea not to get distracted by ‘scrap HS2’ calls
The findings received a warm welcome from political and business leaders, who urged Whitehall not to be distracted by the message that the HS2 scheme would be better off being scrapped in favour of increased spending on northern projects.
Rail Minister and Harrogate and Knaresborough MP Andrew Jones said: “It’s brilliant to see widespread business support for NPR, and a recognition of the importance of linking it to HS2.
“When it comes to NPR and HS2, it isn’t an either/or situation – the North needs both to increase capacity, transform connectivity and unlock economic potential.”
The CBI’s Yorkshire and Humber regional director Beckie Hart said: “If we are to regenerate our local economies the Government must move forward with both HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail – implying there is a choice between the two is misleading.
“Better connections between towns, cities and international gateways will assist the North’s long-term growth, creating hundreds of thousands of jobs and bringing new opportunities to our communities.
“This survey shows businesses are crying out for these improvements so it’s vital politicians keep up the momentum to deliver these plans.”
The call comes just over one year on from the fiasco on the North’s railways following the rollout of a new time table which saw thousands of services delayed or cancelled, costing the economy millions of pounds in the process.
The strategic outline business case for NPR is currently being considered by government, after Transport for the North set out a £39bn proposal to revolutionise east-west connectivity in the North.
Paul Hirst, head of transport at Addleshaw Goddard, said: “NPR is critical for a future thriving Northern economy, and this report demonstrates how strongly this sentiment is held across the business community.
“Businesses are motivated by the opportunities NPR will bring, and certainty of investment in NPR by the government will allow them to make key decisions now which will allow their organisations to grow and prosper in the future.”
Northern Powerhouse Partnership director Henri Murison added: “This report, by Northern Powerhouse Partnership Board member Addleshaw Goddard, conclusively demonstrates the level of business support for Northern Powerhouse Rail as a key part of realising the Northern Powerhouse vision a reality.
“Linking up the cities of the North with fast, frequent rail connections can deliver a major boost to productivity, creating a Northern Powerhouse as prosperous and successful as the South and opportunities for young people to access skilled jobs right across the North.”