Tuesday, June 24, 2014

News: Osborne: Join cities together to create a Northern Powerhouse

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Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne MP, has indicated the government's support to improving transport infrastructure across the North of England to bring together cities and enable them to compete on a global scale.

Speaking in the Power Hall of Manchester's Museum of Science and Industry, the Chancellor pointed to evidence that the government's long-term economic plan is delivering a recovery everywhere. But while the cities of the North are individually strong, they are not collectively strong enough.

He said: "We need a Northern Powerhouse, Not to rival the South, but to be its brother in arms as we fight for Britain's share of the global economy. Let's bring our Northern cities together, so they're bigger and better than anyone can be alone. It won't happen overnight – it's a long-term plan for a country serious about its long-term economic future.

"If you make a circle of the same distance, and centre it here on Manchester, you'd have a catchment area that takes in Leeds, Sheffield and Liverpool, Lancashire, Cheshire and Yorkshire, and contains ten million people – more than Tokyo, New York or London. An area containing nearly two million graduates. A huge pool of talent."

The headline grabber was the mention of a new high speed rail connection east-west from Manchester to Leeds. Based on the existing rail route, but speeded up with new tunnels and infrastructure. The issue of better connections between the cities of the North was highlighted by David Higgins, chairman of HS2, in a recent report. HS2 being the proposed high speed rail link from South to North.

Echoing John Prescott's "Northern Way" of 2004, transport organisation across the North are pushing the issue as they prepare for future passenger rail franchising in the North should responsibility be devolved from central Government for the Northern and Transpennine rail franchises. Rail North's vision suggests that improving services between key towns and cities in the North (including Rotherham) will make a significant contribution to economic growth by improving connectivity between businesses. The hope is that the rail network will provide in-vehicle rail journey times for services between these centres that are quicker than the off-peak car journey time. The minimum frequency journey should be two trains per hour.

In response to the Chancellor's speech, James Newman, chairman of the Sheffield City Region Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), said: "Sheffield City Region LEP welcomes news that Government is planning to invest further in high speed rail to better connect key northern cities in the east and west of the UK.

"It is however, disappointing that east-west linkages between Greater Manchester [and Leeds], Sheffield City Region and Hull do not form part of these headline proposals, and we will be seeking to explore this further with Government, including accelerating the delivery of HS2 and reducing journey times from Manchester to Sheffield on the southern transpennine route."

Andrew Denniff, chief executive at Barnsley & Rotherham Chamber of Commerce, added: "The ambitions for a "Northern HS3" is positive, we must surely focus on getting HS2 into construction first and agreeing within our own region that the new station should be at Meadowhall.

"We must also continue to look at how we improve on vital road and rail routes across the southern Pennines. South Yorkshire's links to Manchester and beyond are woeful, with only the current Hope Valley rail-link and inadequate cross Pennine roads often at the mercy of bad weather and congestion."

The Department of Transport (DfT) and stakeholders on both sides of the Pennines are looking at the issue, seen as key to the economic fortunes of the North, with the DfT procuring of a feasibility study to look at trans-Pennine connectivity.

Committed projects include the Northern Hub, the massive upgrading of the rail network of the North which includes £45m for doubling Dore junction and Calder Valley journey time improvement.

However, the region, and especially Rotherham, still relies on outdated 30-year old diesel "Pacer" trains and electrification is unlikely to happen before 2020.

Transport was the major talking point, but the chancellor also discussed turning science and innovation into jobs and name-checked the the High Value Manufacturing centre in Rotherham - The University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre with Boeing.

Also discussed was the issue of building creative clusters and giving economic areas the local power and control that a powerhouse economy needs. The Sheffield City Region LEP is due to find out in two weeks time what funding will be forthcoming from the Government's £2 billion a year Single Local Growth Fund.

Images: HM Treasury

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