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Future Cities Forum's 'Infrastructure, energy and transport 2022' debate

Image from BDP: Concourse at the re-modelled Manchester Victoria Station, completed by BDP for Network Rail in 2018

At Future Cities Forum’s ‘Infrastructure, energy and transport 2022’ forum last week, the Infrastructure and Projects Authority’s Head of the Commercial Adviser Team, Stephen Dance, opened the discussion with a look at the value of the recent Levelling-up White Paper.

Stephen Dance said:

‘What we have in the Levelling-up paper is some massively impressive socio-economic research giving the biggest nuanced picture of wealth and social deprivation. It shows that it is not just a simple case of saying, this area is poor or this area is rich. That theory has been debunked. It is fascinating and welcome research. It points to a number of things. There is a very important job to be done in terms of joining up the planning of infrastructure and transport, around housing delivery and job creation as well as business development. Then there's the social infrastructure of hospitals, prisons and schools that comes front and centre of focus and we do need collaboration with the centre of government as well as local authorities to make this work. The last mile infrastructure, for instance with Crewe Station and HS2, is where you need to leverage private sector capital.

'Local authorities are better placed to deliver integrated planning – in Whitehall we tend to think and operate from within big departments. This is where the drivers of devolution come in, but there will need to be collaboration. With my Treasury hat on and as a non-executive director of the Thames Estuary Growth Board, I know that the role of private capital is really important and what we have to do in government is do more to create the right environment for private investment. There is the case for local authorities to tackle investment in their areas whether it be hydrogen, electric car production and so on, but we can do more together. Private investment is an absolute necessity and it helps produce development in place around infrastructure. An example of this might be what will be built around the West Midlands HS2 Interchange (at Solihull) and how private capital enables planning and driving new business, and investment in the incubator sector.'

Cllr Graeme Miller, Leader of Sunderland City Council and Chair of the North East Combined Authority reacted to what Stephen Dance was saying by stating:

' In Sunderland we understand Stephen's concept but it has been shown that it doesn't work for the North – it's not a model that has been productive. It's not a case of waiting for the private sector to dig you out. If the government plans won’t work for me I will find my own solutions. This idea of everyone coming together is generally not the case. We have wasted forty years waiting for the delivery of infrastructure, so I have decided we will fix our own gateways into the city because a key fix is around transport connectivity. Sunderland's central rail station was bombed in the second world war and it's currently a mess.

'We do have Legal & General making a £160 million investment in the city and that's an example of a very outward looking pension fund investor, but show me the money that has come from government to the North! It is dreadful for the North East to be told that you are not getting the investment around HS2 and follow on investment connecting East to West and it's not good enough to be trying to muddle us into a local authority deal, as there isn't going to be sufficient money in a Mayoral deal over the next five years.'

Architecture firm BDP's Head of Transport, Peter Jenkins, spoke of the experience that he has had over the last twenty years working to re-invigorate important stations in the North, such as Victoria Station in Manchester:

'We’ve had the privilege of working in last 20 years in Manchester – where the first railways began in Victorian times – and we have sadly seen the decline in the 20th century. It is important with these stations to tell the stories of this infrastructure when approaching a project and alongside high quality design. Not all areas of every station are developed at once so one is mindful of more stories to tell in the future.

'Stephen Dance made reference to the 'last mile' which is about reducing the amount of travelling that people have to do for example to go shopping or to the dentist. All these services can now be built into station design but there are always areas in stations that we refurbish, where we don’t have the money to go further.

'Manchester's Victoria Station for example – we had a 10- step timeline, but we only built the first steps .There's more to do – for example parts that can be used as offices again. Network Rail will have some money for infrastructure but then someone else can come in, perhaps local authorities, to build on the image of the station.'

The envy towards London's transport system was one topic that Henri Murison, Director at the Northern Powerhouse Partnership talked about in the debate:

'I think it's the idea of having a dense urban network that has a degree of public subsidy to reduce travel by car. Everyone knows how the investment in the London transport system has meant investment into the bus market in London. Now there has been too much reliance on funding from the Zones 1 and 2 underground for last two years, so that has meant with the pandemic a shortfall. But let's create in the North a system of density in the bus network to create a mode of transport of choice.

'At the moment people don’t use buses in the North. They are only used by those who need them. They do not have the connectivity on buses and that means people are locked out of jobs because also the metro network system isn’t up to it and it has nowhere near the level of the London transport system. The metro is half finished but completing it will give access to a strategic system as well as local benefits. This is the challenge. The transport network outside London is being lost and the money to reform it is half what it should be. The North of England never had the transport system that London had and it grows further away from it. It needs to be funded properly.

'Scotland by comparison has had huge investment and I do think the Integrated Rail Plan is a missed opportunity. The choice of prioritisation has not been given to the North. We could spend a lot of time arguing about projects for the North with Central government but not get anywhere. We need proper separation form government until we get better value for money.'

Read Part Two of our discussions from 'Infrastructure, energy and transport 2022' in next week's newsletter.

Image below from BDP: Heritage restored - the station restaurant at Manchester Victoria


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