The North of England is a region of 14,414 square miles, with nearly 16 million people. If it were a single entity, the North of England’s economy (worth over £300bn) would rank as Europe’s 10th-largest. Yet for at least the last three decades the North’s economy has consistently lagged behind the rest of England, with a GVA gap per capita of nearly £5,000 between the North and the UK average and a £22,500 per person difference between the North and London.
If we continue with ‘business as usual’ this gap will not change, in fact it will gradually widen even further. This would be bad news, not just for the North but for the whole of the UK. It is simply not sustainable to have an economy that is so imbalanced, particularly as we approach the challenges and opportunities of Brexit.
However, as the Northern Powerhouse Independent Economic Review, which was published last year demonstrated, there is a strong opportunity to boost economic growth and productivity in the North, transforming the region and helping to rebalance and grow the entire UK economy. The North of England has four prime highly-productive capabilities: Advanced Manufacturing, Digital, Energy and Health Innovation. These capabilities are present across the North but poor connectivity inhibits them acting as unified industries.
That’s where Transport for the North comes in. Working closely with our civic and business partners from across the whole of the region, we have been identifying the strategic corridors where infrastructure investment is needed to connect different areas, enabling people and goods to move rapidly and reliably around the North. Our Strategic Transport Plan will include prioritised proposals to improve connectivity of these strategic corridors.
The prize is large: with the right support, the North’s economy could be transformed by 2050, creating 850,000 new jobs and adding £97 billion to the region’s GVA. This isn’t just about transport – skills development, support for innovation, attracting inwards investment and housing provision will also play very important roles – but connecting the North so that people and goods can move more freely around the region will play a vital role.
Our vision is a North of England that has a vibrant and interlinked economy: a place with excellent quality of life, where young people educated in the region can develop their skills and careers within the North, where innovation is celebrated and businesses can begin and grow. We want a North that is an attractive place to live, work and do business and that acts as a magnet for inward investment.
The plans we are developing are multi-modal – rather than focusing just on new roads or improved railways we will be identifying the economic centres which need improved transport connections and then identifying the infrastructure improvements which will provide those links.
We are working towards releasing our draft Strategic Transport Plan later this year and are delighted to announce that we are running a one day conference in Harrogate on 21 June in association with Highways UK. The programme is designed to update our partners and stakeholders on Transport for the North’s progress and capture feedback on the Major Roads and Integrated Rail reports that we are publishing next month.
We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to transform the North, make the vision of a Northern Powerhouse a reality and rebalance the economy of the whole of the UK. We look forward to working with you in pursuit of these aims. The Harrogate event is by invitation but if you would like to attend hold the date in your diary and do please indicate your interest by sending an email using this link.
David Brown – Chief Executive, Transport for the North