Neither Northern leaders nor their forefathers are known for being shy in telling it how it is – and Yorkshire, in that respect, remains at the front of the pack. Our local politicians have long recognised the need for an efficient, reliable and accessible transport system: one that also considers the impact that digital connectivity will have in shaping our future investment needs.
As my introduction to Transport for the North has made clear to me, this region has a clear vision of where it wants to get to – and, more importantly, how and what it needs to get there.
As someone who has been involved in strategic planning for more than 20 years, I have seldom seen a more determined and well-informed group of leaders absolutely resolute in their determination to secure a better future for the people and businesses they serve.
The North has collated a unique and powerful evidence base that provides the bedrock for our Strategic Transport Plan that can transform lives for generations to come with the appropriate investment. Our plan shapes the future and creates opportunities. Our vision sets out how we will connect communities and people as never before – in doing so it provides national, regional and local government with the framework on which we can together build a better, more productive North.
I am clear there will be challenges – but there will also be opportunities – and building a sustainable, multimodal, fully inclusive transport network to fully cater for the needs of future generations will require courage, commitment and vision.
The good news is, in Transport for the North, we have the framework and structure with which to do this. Our decision-making is evidence-based and inclusive. We ensure that rural connectivity receives the same level of focus as urban connectivity. And we take collective and meaningful decisions that fully reflect our environmental responsibilities.
In this way we can improve the North’s productivity, deliver planned growth and help level the region up with other areas of the UK. We can ensure transport decisions are made always with one person in mind – the user – and we can reduce the impact we have on the environment at the same time as increasing the UK’s global capability.
Just over the horizon we have the Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review: an opportunity to start building the momentum necessary to deliver our vision. We also have the imminent publication of the Integrated Rail Plan – a document which should confirm the way our major rail programmes, including Northern Powerhouse Rail and the Transpennine Route upgrade, knit together.
Now, more than ever, it is vital that the Government holds its nerve and supports our ambition, and in doing so, release our full potential at the heart of the UK economy. Northern Powerhouse Rail has the potential to transform connectivity across the North for our residents and communities. And as our report on the visitor economy shows, it has the potential to support our visitor economy, which contributes billions to the Exchequer.
I can already hear people thinking “hang on a minute – should we really be promoting growth on an already all-too fragile planet?” The vision set out in our Strategic Transport Plan is about doing things differently.
Very shortly we will publish our first ever Decarbonisation Strategy. It has an ambitious goal of near-zero emissions from surface transport by 2045 – sooner than national policy – and sets out a pioneering path that will address climate change, unleash green economic growth and transform connectivity. It can be done.
Before I close, let me just say a word about freight. This is another incredibly important part of our work. It plays a key part in our economy (as demonstrated throughout the pandemic) and is at the heart of our work as we look to realise the North’s economic potential. Our Freight and Logistics Strategy will go out for consultation soon and, once finalised, it will give us the framework to ensure we meet the needs of our business community moving forward.
I’m a passionate believer in the potential of transport to transform people and places. It’s not just about getting from A to B to work, for a day out, or to visit family – it’s about the new opportunities we can seek out when our towns and cities are better connected.
I’m looking forward to spending more time in Yorkshire with its “can do” and “straight talking” approach to life. It’s the spirit we need for the time we live in.
Martin Tugwell is the new chief executive of Transport for the North.
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