TfN best placed to run Northern Powerhouse, say engineers


Transport for the North (TfN) should become the central devolved decision-maker for the Northern Powerhouse, leading engineers have said, after criticising the Government’s appraisal system.

In a submission to the recently established National Infrastructure Commission, following its call for evidence on connecting northern cities, the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) outlined calls for a ‘whole network approach’ that focuses ‘asset-to-asset connectivity’.

Assets include the regions ports and airports, science parks, universities and population centres, whether urban or rural, and connectivity between them should be viewed in a wider economic context than current Whitehall appraisal systems allow, the ICE said.

From on high: TfN should be key regional 'client', ICE says

The ICE submission states: ‘The Department for Transport’s (DfT) current appraisal approach is based substantively on the aggregate time saving to users of a transport investment. This potentially ignores the wider economic benefits of transport schemes. The investment priorities of the North should be determined by appraisal techniques, which seek to value the real economic impact of transport networks.

‘By 2025 a significant proportion of transport capital spending should be devolved to TfN. TfN would then be able to undertake its own appraisal and decision-making processes and develop its own high-level output specification. This would also provide TfN with the opportunity to leverage its capital budget to gain further investment and utilise mechanisms such as tax increment finance schemes.’

It also adds that investments should balance small-scale interventions with transformational projects and that maintenance is often ignored in investment decisions suggesting another reason to reform the national appraisal approach.

Outlining the ICE’s recommendation for initial government structures, the organisation told Lord Adonis’ Commission that TfN and ministers should agree a connectivity programme and the investment required over a long-term period, such as a five year rolling programme basis, as with rail and road funding settlements.

‘This will enable TfN to become joint client (with the Government) for the delivery of this programme, as with Rail North. The client would commission delivery agencies, including Highways England, Network Rail, combined authorities and local authorities, to deliver the programme through a series of agreements that ensure efficiencies and promptness.

The benefits of transport connectivity in the North:

  • HM Treasury analysis suggests rebalancing the UK economy would be worth an additional £56bn in nominal terms to the northern economy, or £44bn in real terms, equal to £1,600 per individual in the North.
  • The Northern Way estimated that improved Trans Pennine connectivity between Sheffield-Leeds-Manchester could create £6.2bn increase in GVA.
  • The Highways England Delivery Plan demonstrates that if 112 individual schemes were delivered nationally between 2015 and 2020, this would generate £4 in long term economic benefits for every £1 invested, illustrating how relieving congestion aids productivity.

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