Coffee, croissants and connectivity. They were all on the menu for Copper Account Director Laura Nelson and Senior Account Manager Ella Sanders as they attended The Northern Transport Summit 2024 last week in Manchester.

Representatives from the worlds of road, rail, and local transport gathered to hear from key industry figures and Northern leaders.  The event set about answering the day’s big question:

“What does the North need to boost connectivity, growth and build prosperity for all?”

 

 

Here are our key takeaways and considerations from the event:

 

There’s a plan – and we need to stick to it.

There is no lack of ambition from central government, but change can cause uncertainty and certainty has real value. When it comes to large scale infrastructure planning, the North is committed to a long-term vision, and long-term consistency allows businesses to invest. The success of the Bee Network in Manchester is largely down to there being a commitment to a clear long-term vision for the city. Politics, processes and people may change but the ultimate goal shouldn’t. The Leader of Manchester City Council, Cllr Bev Craig made a clear statement that ‘A long term plan cannot be politicised for the short-term of now’.

Northern leaders agree that they need to work together towards an aligned vision, breaking out of a ‘party first’ way of thinking. However, the challenge now comes from bringing Whitehall on that journey, and aligning central government to the ambitions of the North.

 

Transport schemes shouldn’t be built for transport reasons.

Mayor of South Yorkshire, Oliver Coppard and Mayor of Greater Manchester, Rt Hon Andy Burnham agreed that ‘investment in transportation is a tool for economic growth’, whilst suggesting that a shift in how infrastructure spend is perceived, is also needed. As a region, the North has set out a strong economic case for investment in transport as a gateway to improved skills and employment. Interconnectivity changes lives. This was a core theme for all speakers throughout the day who support the need to create a seamless integrated transport network that consumers can have confidence in.

 

Investing in the North is investing in England.

The role of Subnational Transport Bodies is key to working collaboratively and practically to enable the sharing of lessons learned and best practice. Cllr Bev Craig suggested challenges throughout the country have synergies and the realised benefits through devolution within our Northern regions can be used to support others. Mayor of West Yorkshire, Tracy Brabin stated: ‘Deeper the devolution and the more porous the borders become’.

 

Stakeholder engagement is key.

Building advocacy through engagement with a wide range of stakeholders is crucial to delivering investment effectively. That was the message from Caroline Tong, Head of Discipline for Highways at WSP. Engagement needs to be broad ranging and start ‘right at the beginning’. We need to understand the challenges, and engage appropriately and effectively to deliver projects.  We have to put the community at the heart of our decision-making and prioritise clarity of outcomes throughout delivery.

 

The desire for people to be with people has not changed.

Four years (almost to the day) from our first Covid-19 lockdown, we’re back to similar levels of journeys as before. During that time, the world forgot about the need for transport infrastructure. For a while we thought it would never go back to how it was. Yes, patterns have changed – more people use the railway at weekends, for example – but the need for people to be with people has stayed the same.

 

We lost sight that HS2 was about capacity, connectivity and carbon, not speed.

HS2 may be a profound disappointment to some, but the project represented the North’s future with its growth aspirations inextricably linked through the likes of Northern Powerhouse Rail. So, what now? In a report published on 20th March by Mayor of West Midlands Andy Street and Andy Burnham, a new railway line has been proposed between Handsacre and High Legh. Using a ‘sensible funding model that delivers maximum benefits’, taking learnings from France, the new line could transform the way we approach infrastructure in the UK. The approach would consider infrastructure as an investment, not a cost, and therefore encouraging private investment.

 

And finally…
‘This is the ‘Golden Era’ for public transport in the North’.

Those were the words of Andy Burnham as he talked about the North being in ‘a major change moment’. A notion echoed by all three mayors accompanying him on stage, representing South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire and Liverpool City Region. Together, the leaders agree that devolution is giving them the power to do what’s best for their regions. Mayor Tracy Brabin went as far as calling it ‘the engine for growth’.

Sir John Armitt, Chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, summed it up in his keynote speech, with these final words…

‘The north knows best what the north needs now.’

Indeed it does.

 

If you have any questions, get in touch with Laura Nelson and Ella Sanders.

You can find out more about the event here.