Transport and Infrastructure Lunch Review

Friday, 14th December 2018

Blog by Sector Group Manager, Ilona Alcock

Manchester’s top business people gathered in The Tunnel Club, Etihad Stadium, to discuss what is possibly our region’s biggest issue: transport.

Sam Booth, chief executive of pro-manchester, welcomed guests and thanked Fabulous Fanfayre for hosting. She introduced Adam Richmond, Project Director at CPC Project Services and Chair of pro-manchester’s Transport & Infrastructure sector committee, to the stage to host the panel discussion.

Adam set the challenging scene: transport is never far from the headlines; commuters are unhappy with all forms; Manchester has the highest rate of asthma related admissions; and it is top of Mayor Andy Burnham’s agenda. To consider the options to improve travel and air quality, Adam introduced Nicola Kane – Head of Strategic Planning and Research, TfGM, Cllr James Lewis – Deputy Leader, Leeds City Council and Gary Nolan – Chief Executive, OneBus.

Nicola reminded delegates that congestion is a result of the large scale growth seen in the region. In 2011 there were 140,000 jobs in core city centre, by 2017 there were over 200,000 jobs. Some of this growth was planned for, with invested £3bn investment in last ten years. Indeed, some of the specific challenges are caused by the improvement works. She reiterated that we all – businesses, individual and public sector – have to work together to improve travel.

Gary added that the number of cars licensed in the region has increased to 1.4m cars – up 75,400 since 2012. To get people out of cars, he argues we need to make buses a more attractive option and prevent them from being stuck in the same congestion as cars. He notes that the level of congestion at present is having a direct impact on Manchester’s economy, with the Regent Road works leading to a 12% decline in city centre footfall.

The issues seen in Manchester are very familiar across the North, according to James. The growth of regional cities has been on a huge scale, but investment is still significantly higher in London and the South East. The infrastructure is already stretched so when part of the system fails (for example, when the new rail timetable was introduced) there is no extra capacity to cope.

TfGM has a history of delivering some interesting and innovative schemes to address modal shift towards passenger transport and out of the car and that is continuing with development of new walking and cycling infrastructure. Lead by Chris Boardman, the project has resonated with the public with over 4,000 comments received on the initial consultation. Nicola added that integrated transport is absolutely the focus, and any investment in public transport needs to consider how it connects to the overall infrastructure.

Air quality in Manchester is a serious concern at present. South Manchester has the highest reported rates of asthma related A&E admissions, and North Manchester has the second highest. Leeds are going to be amongst the first in the UK outside of London to introduce an emissions charge. James noted that unlike many schemes, the aim of the Clean Air Zone, which charges £50 a day to highest polluting vehicles, is to make as little money as possible! Setting the fee was a fine balance between having a detrimental effect without killing businesses. It is supported by a package of grant support for retrofitting or purchasing new vehicles.

Gary, and the OneBus consortium, is very worried about the impact such schemes will have on bus operators. He argues the total load should be compared to HGVs. Otherwise we are pushing people to cars. Nicola confirmed TfGM are taking a holistic view of the region as part of the citizens transport strategy, and recognise the need for buses, active modes of transport and ease of access. She also believes these schemes cannot work in isolation, and that we need a joined up, national strategy.

There is a certain amount of irony that ten years ago tomorrow, Manchester overwhelmingly voted against a congestion charge and now we see congestion as probably the largest issue facing the city. Nicola noted that TfGM are still working through options – whilst they have to benchmark every solution against a charging structure it is only being considered as part of a wider package. It is not about raising revenue but improving air quality. It is a critical health issue causing 40,000 premature deaths per year in the UK.

Bus devolution is another tricky topic and TfGM are again considering a wide range of options including franchising and partnerships. Over 75% of public transport journeys in Manchester are made by bus and they are a very efficient way of using roads. Nicola noted that it is essential to properly integrate the service through fares, regional planning etc. Gary, unsurprisingly, is not in favour of franchising and, with passenger satisfaction at 86%, does not believe it has reached the last resort stage required.

Opening questions out to the audience, discussion turned to the need to plan for increased freight, ecommerce, manufacturing and logistics. Nicola reiterated that TfGM is keen to engage with businesses from all sectors and appreciates the need to support economic growth. Trials have been run along the Oxford Road corridor to improve last mile delivery and encourage the use of electric vehicles.

Mike Wilton, Arup, asked the panel if we can do the radical work needed to become a zero carbon region by 2038. Can we do the radical work needed. Nicola noted this is a key component of the 2040 strategy and that GM Spatial Framework will give more clarity on transport. The aim is to contribute to sustainable development and to allow for the ambitious scale of growth without breaking the travel system.

After lunch, Adam welcomed our keynote speaker, Barry White, CEO – Transport for the North, to the stage.

Barry opened by stating that TfN is very pro-manchester … and also pro Leeds, pro Liverpool, pro Cumbria. His remit is to improve the North and ensure it gets the right support. TfN is the first sub-national transport body, with the board made up of the leaders of the 20 constituent authorities and LEPs. Business and politics are working together to build strategic plan and raising investment from £1.5bn to £2.3bn. It is an ambitious but deliverable plan which is expected to lead to 850,000 additional jobs.

Major schemes across the north include the NW quadrant of M60, redeveloping the A66 to create a viable alternative to the M62 and a Transpennine tunnel connecting Manchester and Sheffield. There have been decades of under investment in rail in northern England and it is creaking at the wheels. Barry compared it to a ladder with a person on every rung: one small error has huge knock on effect as there no space for resilience.

Northern Powerhouse Rail is transformational project the like of which has not been seen in many lifetimes. It would, for example, reduce travel time between Bradford – Manchester to under 20 minutes (currently over an hour). Manchester Airport could be accessed from Manchester city in 8 minutes, from Liverpool 20 minutes and Newcastle in 90 minutes (currently over 2 hours 30). Creating this speed of connectivity places millions more within a 90-minute radius and will enable Manchester to become the UK’s second major hub. The liquidity of employment seen in London could be enjoyed in the North with a much wider range of opportunities in a commutable distance. want the same option – stay in same community and access jobs in a wider area.

Whilst these are long term schemes, benefits will be seen from next year. For example, there are currently 800 seats per hour between Manchester and Leeds. This will increase to 2,000, then to 3,000 by mid 2020s (following Transpennine route investment) and at least 6,000 once NPR is completed.

Adam asked what TfN are doing to support passengers, particularly in relation to the Northern Rail strikes which have meant no Saturday service since mid-August. Barry reassured delegates they are working hard to help move the dispute forward and have, for example, stated they will not remove the second person from trains in the North.

Taking questions from the floor, Barry stated has no preference over public or private sector responsibility. It simply comes down the best provision of services and management. Alex Roy, Manchester Airport Group, asked if confidence in large scale infrastructure has been dented and if so, what impact that has on planning. Barry agreed confidence needs to be improved and as such all plans submitted by TfN are clearly evidence-based. He also noted that London based schemes still have a positive impact on the Northern economy. For example, Crossrail is important for connectivity into the city.

Closing the event, Sam thanked all the speakers and reflected on the importance of bringing delegates together from such a wide range of Northern towns and cities.