Regional leaders have spoken out following the government’s plans to reduce funding for a number of transport initiatives across Northern England, with many describing the cuts as ‘levelling down.’
The news of reduced funding for the region comes following the recommendations of the National Infrastructure Commission, the findings of which have been criticised for failing to deliver the investment needed to close the North-South divide in infrastructure and productivity.
The region’s statutory transport body, TfN, will see its budget reduced from £10 million to £6 million per year, and will now receive no funding towards its planned roll out of contactless payment on rail, bus and tram networks across Northern England.
The loss of the £33 million in funding this year (£100 million including future funding earmarked for the scheme) would see installations delayed, including in Greater Manchester where bankcard pay-as-you-go and electronic ticketing has yet to be delivered by all operators. The loss of funding will also lead to the winding down of the Integrated and Smart Travel programme and its plans for smart ticketing to make it easier for passengers to change between modes of transport and operators in making their journeys.
The budget for Northern Powerhouse Rail, the proposed High-speed rail service running East-West across the region, has also been frozen, with £8 million diverted to the London to Manchester HS2 project, with the eastern leg to Leeds already delayed.
Iain Craven, Finance Director at Transport for the North, said:
Transport for the North’s Board has clearly indicated it’s disappointment and concern that, a time when the Government’s levelling up agenda is needed most, funding is being cut, putting northern investment and jobs at risk. It falls substantially short of what we outlined the North would need to level-up infrastructure and accelerate benefits to the region.
“There is a real worry that this signals a diminishing ambition for the North, rather than pump-priming the region’s economic recovery.
Transport for the North and regional leaders are now seeking to meet with Transport Secretary Grant Shapps to address concerns over how decisions were made. Lord Jim O’Neill, vice-chair of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, said:
It’s extremely disappointing to see the contactless ticketing – one of the North’s flagship transport projects – scrapped. The idea of a modern, contactless, Northern updated version of the oyster card, a n’oyster, was central to the transport element of the Northern Powerhouse concept. This decision should be reversed.
“The Department for Transport need to give northern leaders more funding powers over areas such as road and rail budgets for investment, so they can take more of the tough decisions.
“Since the publication of its Strategic Transport Plan, Transport for the North has been limited to acting simply as a lobby group for projects – instead of a body with actual decision-making abilities – because the real power has been kept in Whitehall.”
Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham also expressed concerns that the Transport Secretary seeks to replace Transport for the North with the more informal Northern Transport Acceleration Council which was announced in July 2020. He commented:
My worry is that with recent developments, particularly around the budget, it would appear that TfN is being put on a path towards being disbanded or disintegration, and I want to make it absolutely plain today that I will defend TfN strongly, resolutely, as the only entity, that it is about Northern devolution and voices here say what’s right for us in terms of what we want for the future.
“This is a moment where we need to be clear about that, otherwise, the whole question of levelling up is going start to run into difficulties because it would appear that levelling up is being defined top down by the Department for Transport and the wider government, ie, we will decide what is good enough for the North, and I am not prepared to sign up to that.