'˜Critical' Government legal decision imminent on Northern Powerhouse transport masterplan

The body set up to oversee transport funding and decision-making across Yorkshire and the North is set to take a significant and 'critical' step forward in attaining genuine devolved powers to transform connectivity in the region.

A British Rail Class 155 diesel multiple unit (DMU) at Leeds station. Picture: Danny Lawson/PA Wire

Transport for the North (TfN) - a quango which consults with 19 councils and combined authorities across the North of England - was set up in 2014 to develop a pan-Northern transport strategy to drive economic growth as part of the Northern Powerhouse vision.

Up to now, TfN has had no statutory powers. But a Government decision is now imminent on incorporating Tfn as a “sub national transport body” - the first organisation of its kind in England - and conferring on it a list of 13 devolved powers on transport drawn up in collaboration with civic leaders across the North.

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The Yorkshire Post understands all 19 authorities have been given an unexpectedly tight deadline to submit their individual consents.

Slow-moving traffic on the northbound M6

Several authorities, including in West Yorkshire, South Yorkshire and Manchester, are considering the terms of the new legal agreement at meetings this week.

A report being presented to Leeds Council’s cabinet tomorrow (Wed) explains that new regulations have now been drafted by Ministers, which - once they are passed - will “confer on TfN the majority of the functions and powers” asked for.

The new abilities would allow TfN to make key decisions in both road and rail investment processes, and would include everything from “co-managing” rail franchises to building roads to implementing smart ticketing, the cabinet report says.

It adds: “The North has had no way of agreeing strategic priorities, with the responsibility for transport divided over many organisations at different geographical levels. “This has made it hard to properly consider and prioritise the right strategic transport interventions to transform economic growth at the regional scale.

Slow-moving traffic on the northbound M6

“As a result, the North has been unable to speak with one clearly evidenced voice to Government on its transport priorities in Spending Rounds or rail and road investment plans.”

It adds that: “The purpose of TfN is to transform the transport system of the North of England and the aim of TfN is to plan and deliver the improvements needed to truly connect the region with fast, frequent and reliable transport links, driving economic growth and creating a Northern Powerhouse.”

The report stresses that “getting transport right is central to achieving the Northern Powerhouse ambition which is itself central to a successful UK industrial strategy”.

“There has been long term underperformance of the Northern economy when compared with other parts of the UK.

“Poor connectivity is central to understanding the economic challenges of the North.”

A report to Doncaster Borough Council says the move will help in “addressing historic chronic underinvestment in transport infrastructure in the north”.

It will “take devolved responsibilities from the Secretary of State”, it adds, stressing that: “Not providing consent to the establishment of Transport for the North as a Sub-National Transport Body...and giving TfN concurrent highway powers, could critically delay the establishment of the body and risk delivery of the key investment on transport across the north”.
The report says the latest move will “significantly help the re-distribution of transport infrastructure investment from the south to the northern authorities, stimulating economic growth and employment creation”.

TfN’s chair John Cridland said earlier that the organisation was “soon to make history as the first Sub-national Transport Body in England” and this was “good news for the North of England”.

“Once we become England’s first Sub-national Transport Body, we will be a statutory partner in both road and rail investment processes in the North of England,” he said.

“This means that the long-term plans we are currently developing to link the economy of the North will form the priorities for Highways England and Network Rail’s future investment programmes.

“Possibly most importantly, becoming a Sub-national Transport Body will make us a formal, legal entity and a formal partner of the Government of the day.

“For the first time, a united North of England will have a say in the transport priorities which can transform the fortunes of the whole region for the long term.”