‘Don’t dither on new rail and roads for north’

George Osborne
George Osborne
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MAJOR UPGRADES to roads and rail in Yorkshire could be the victim of the same dithering seen over the location of new runways in the South-East unless a new Government body is given teeth, business leaders have warned.

The employers’ organisation, the CBI, is calling for the National Infrastructure Commission to be given stronger powers so it does not fall victim to changes of Government or Ministerial whim.

Chancellor George Osborne launched the Commission last year to consider which major infrastructure projects should be a priority for Government investment.

Improving connections across the North was one of the Commission’s initial lines of inquiry and it is expected to publish a report ahead of the Budget next month. A separate body, Transport for the North (TfN), is also due to make a series of recommendations in the coming weeks.

A £6bn tunnel through the Pennines to dramatically improve links between Sheffield and Manchester and transpennine high-speed rail are among the ambitious projects under consideration.

But the CBI today expresses concern that strengthening the North’s transport infrastructure could become mired in the protracted arguments seen over the prospect of a third runway at Heathrow.

Sarah Green, the CBI director for regions and nations, said: “The National Infrastructure Commission gives the UK the perfect opportunity to carefully and strategically plot the course of its long-term infrastructure needs.

“But it will need to have real teeth, alongside robust independence, to unlock the potential of significant infrastructure decisions, like building the Trans-Pennine tunnel, working alongside Transport for the North.

“Council chiefs and businesses alike will be keen to see detail such as timescales and business cases when TfN updates its strategy next week.

“It’s in everyone’s interests for politicians to take a long-term view and invest in truly transformational infrastructure across the North of England rather than providing quick, convenient fixes.”

The Government is under growing pressure to show there is substance behind its ‘northern powerhouse’ drive to grow the economy of the North. Mr Osborne has said better connecting the towns and cities of the North would allow them to compete with major global cities on the world economic stage.

Northern leaders are likely to argue the publication of the Infrastructure Commission and TfN reports should mark a shift from studying options to delivering schemes.

TfN chairman John Cridland, a former CBI director-general, told a conference last week that a trans-Pennine tunnel has to be taken seriously if the “Northern Powerhouse” is to become a reality.

Rail industry experts at the same UK Northern Powerhouse event spoke of the need to separate high-speed and local services to dramatically improve rail connections between Northern cities.

In a paper published today, the CBI sets out eight priorities for the National Infrastructure Commission.

Along with transport improvements, the CBI is calling for investment in energy supply and delivery, better connections to ports and airports, preparation for the rollout of 5G mobile technology and security of water supply.

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