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Our infrastructure rail and station-led regeneration report (part 1)

Newcastle-upon-Tyne Central Station by John Dobson and John Wilkinson Carmichael 1850 (from The Chronicle)

We were delighted that Stephen Dance, Head of the Commercial Adviser Team at the I&PA led our infrastructure and station-led regeneration debate this week with Newcastle City Council's Director of Place, Michelle Percy, Costain Group's Head of Digital Nathan Marsh, the Leader of Milton Keynes Council, Peter Marland, and the Northern Powerhouse Partnership's Director, Henri Murison. Chapman Taylor's Transportation Head, Peter Farmer and LDA Design Director, Cannon Ivers, also joined the discussion and we will be writing up their contribution next week.

There were questions around the proper joining up of rail infrastructure and station district development, the appropriate connectivity of rail in the north for commuting to work and for the visitor economy, the branding of particular cities for science and technology jobs around rail infrastructure, the industrialisation of research and technology and the growing social value of infrastructure projects.

Stephen began by describing the current and future need to work at joining up rail infrastructure with properly funded station and related district developments:

'You have got a budget for the strategic infrastructure but then the money for the rest has to come from elsewhere. Instead of looking at them as a fundable whole we tend to separate these out with different buckets and approvals but to my mind they need to combine together. We need to find ways to plan as an integrated whole and then use public capital as a fundable asset between rail and regeneration. We need to create structures whether as RDAs, mayoral bodies, joint ventures, or government sponsorship through agencies in order to bring these together to act as single controlling mind to deliver the projects.

'I can't point to many places where we have got it right', he said. 'Obviously King's Cross as a place has been successful but it doesn't incorporate much of the station. Canary Wharf - we have got that right but that's because of the private sector - but there are so many places where it hasn't worked. We are too fixated by delivering the big rail infrastructure without the planning of stations themselves and there's a funding point is always the case that there is never quite enough money for the rest of development beyond the delivery of rail and we should combine all our efforts to plan as a whole. That will help make the levelling up agenda successful.'

'Then there's the Net Zero perspective. Take the electrification of East West Rail, for example. We would expect a hydrogen technology to come through or a cheaper way of running electric trains. We will find new technologies but that's in the future.'

Director of Place at Newcastle City Council , Michelle Percy, talked about the news of the Northumberland Lines investment saying that it was crucial to provide local connectivity to the city to help people to get to jobs:

'I think the biggest challenge will be Net Zero and this has been socialised so well because of Covid-19...because of this the clustering around major stations will be the most important part of our growth going forward. Over the best part of twenty years of my career I have tried to work with various rail authorities on land ownership issues around stations . We might get the capital in but getting this spent in a timely fashion has been one of our biggest challenges.

'However, we have a new opportunity to get going now on the Newcastle Central Station development and we need to connect all our other regional hubs, joining residents and employment. There is still so much more to do with disconnected towns and we are committed to our clean air zones providing connectivity through rail and not the car.'

Newcastle City Council has been working on the city's main rail station in the hope that improvements will attract greater investment reinforcing Central Station as the principal rail gateway to the North East. The station opened by Queen Victoria in England's first great age of railway building, is seen the 'jewel in the crown of the North East rail network' according to Cllr Ged Bell. With increasing passenger numbers, the city council has determined with new shops to make it fit for purpose and attractive for visitors while also meeting pollution targets with improved traffic flows. The link to the developments at Forth Goods Yard and the Stephenson Quarter (based on the historical connections to the great nineteenth century engineer Robert Stephenson) is something that the council wants to promote. Robert Stephenson founded his company in 1823 in Forth Street, Newcastle and was the first company in the world to build railway engines, one of the most famous being 'Rocket'.

'There are lots of places that are too difficult still to commute from to Newcastle-upon-Tyne,' Henri Murrison, Director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership commented as he joined the debate.

'No one would think of commuting from Leeds to work in Newcastle every day (although my wife did the reverse commute for a time). In the North there just isn't the infrastructure for a travel-to-work culture like there is in London and the south east. We need a different type of economic model. The point of the infrastructure is to enable that, not to be an end in itself. We are currently grappling with how to deliver large infrastructure projects like HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail and to extract from them incremental benefits as they are delivered in phases. At the same time we cannot tell local people in the North to wait twenty years for local connectivity - that's not a credible strategy for making an economic impact.

'You could upgrade the east coast main line to be ready for HS2 and NPR and then everyone's a winner. This could provide good old-fashioned savings for those travelling to and from Scotland. You could build the link side rail line so you can run more commuter services between Newcastle and Middlesbrough, and across to Liverpool and Manchester Airport, and take off suburban services from the east coast main line. I am enthusiastic that if such levelling up is applied in a sensible way, we can link this to the continued regeneration of cities, for Manchester, Newcastle and Leeds for instance. However, you need to bring the benefits of that levelling up to those living in the towns around these cities because you can actually need to be able to get to work.'

The Leader of Milton Keynes Council, Peter Marland, described how the north often talks of the south east as equal in investment terms:

'The south east without London is in fact at the bottom of the investment table for transport, and the perception is that Milton Keynes is a commuter town. It is not. Milton Keynes has since 1967 given back to the Treasury at the rate of £14 for every £1 invested and this money has been available to spend elsewhere in the UK. Milton Keynes is double the size of Oxford or Cambridge and has double the size of economy. I think it is important to get investment out of London but not to do it in a short-sighted way.

'Where I would challenge Stephen is on the wisdom of making short-term savings by not electrifying East West Railway linking Oxford via Bletchley for Milton Keynes to Cambridge. We are told we can't invest in new electrified lines because a hydrogen train will come along the tracks - literally - in the short term future, but as soon as a hydrogen train is developed we will be told that there will only be short sections of track where it will be used, because there are gantries for electric trains across most the network. You need to convert everyone to hydrogen or electrify the East West Railway. It's a good thing that some of the 1960s Beeching rail cuts are being reversed but what we don't want is rich people coming to live in Bletchley which is one of the most deprived parts of the country and then poorer people being forced out as a result.'

In terms of investment, the discussion moved on to the need to show social value for the money poured into infrastructure projects. Nathan Marsh, Chief Digital Costain Group said the social value of projects was equally important to sustainability:

'Social value is part of the new fabric for the wider case for a strategic infrastructure. Social value, economic value, environmental value, and project value are the four lenses I would view strategic infrastructure through. That means it's embedded in the community, in the surrounding area, considers the environment and the sustainability of the supply chain as well as the ongoing sound operation of the asset. We need to get better, as Stephen suggests, at integrating these and also at considering the longevity of these elements.

'The work we are doing for HS2 including the enabling works at Euston has created some 2,000 new stem careers and 220 employees taken from unemployment in the local area.. We can see the recycling of economic value with innovation brought to scale with our work at London Bridge and at the transformation of Gatwick Airport's station. We need to work with innovation and industrialise it, taking it all and building into 'science central' and taking it back to stations like Crewe.'

Costain believes that no two areas of the UK are the same, so the way people in each community define value will differ. With the scale of HS2 states Costain, there is a perfect opportunity to create lasting outcomes for local people for many years to come, even after the works are completed and the railway is operational. This might be by developing strong partnerships with key organisations such as Buses for Homeless, Bounce Back, C4WS, New Horizon Youth Centre, Women into Construction and St Mungo's. Costain says it has been able to fully understand the needs of the community and work to find solutions to support these needs. The contracting and consulting firm states that it has worked closely with borough councils and local residents to understand their priorities, to ensure the activities delivered on behalf of HS2 produce meaningful outcomes and longer-term benefits for the community.

Below - Bletchley flyover span lift (Network Rail)


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