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Rail investment in the North

With the House of Lords report last week suggesting a re-think on HS2, we caught up with SNC Lavalin-Atkins Market Director (Atkins Infrastructure Division), Liam Harrison, to discuss where funding around rail for the North should go. While working on HS2 for the past four years and currently implementing the BIM strategy for the project, the firm is also master planning station development for cities such as Sheffield and Leeds.

Liam stated that connecting cities across the North is so important: 'when looking across the cities, there is so much history and legacy we can work with but we need shared objectives, and making the case for investment is key'.

The suggestion that more focus should be on improving rail in the North rather than improving the connection to London through HS2, is central to the House of Lords report. Why? Minutes saved on journey times from the North to London from HS2, some argue are negligible and more funding needs to go to improving rail around the big northern cities. Better connections to the local airports from cities such as Leeds and Bradford are also being called for.

What of the important improvement works around the stations themselves that drive housing and work space provision, boosting local economies?

Atkins is currently working towards improving connections between Newcastle Central Station and the Stephenson Quarter along with the Forth Yards development areas, to provide housing and promote economic growth. Liam said 'there needs to be an efficient interchange at this station and it needs to work harder to support the local economy. The north has a transport agenda about how you create connectivity... how we use key station nodes and develop them as gateways to investment is important.'

Awareness is increasing around the imbalance of funding over past decades for transport in the North and South of the country and the importance of both local investment in northern stations as well as national rail infrastructure. Yesterday, the BBC quoted Tomer Aboody, director of property lender MT finance saying 'growth in property prices in the Midlands and north of the country shows confidence in projects like HS2...The North South divide is narrowing with increased ability to travel between the regions for work and it means that it may be possible to live in cheaper parts of the country'.

As improvements to local stations continues in the North, Liam also stressed the importance of high quality infrastructure design which mirrors the thoughts of Professor Sadie Morgan in recently launching her new design team for the National Infrastructure Commission. 'We need Imaginative and talented people on these projects, efficiency in production and not too much construction in the city at once', Liam concluded. Watch him talking about Northern Rail above, and Newcastle Central below.

At Future Cities Forum this June, the Chief Executive of Sheffield City Council, John Mothersole will be speaking along with the Delivery Director of the Infrastructure Projects Authority, Stephen Dance and Head of Policy at the National Infrastructure Commission, Katie Black.

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