The creation of the first body of its type in the country to drive forward transport plans for the North was announced by the Government today.
Transport Minister Jesse Norman laid down legislation which starts the process to turn Transport for the North into a statutory Sub-national Transport Body, with new legal powers and duties.
It means that, from next April, TfN will have the power to produce a statutory transport strategy for the North which the Government must formally consider when taking funding decisions.
It will also be able to fund organisations which deliver transport projects, work with local authorities to fund and promote road schemes and make smart ticketing a reality in the region.
The announcement this morning confirms that the body will not have the decision-making powers and ability to raise money enjoyed by its equivalent body in London, though this could still happen in years to come.
It prompted calls for Transport Secretary Chris Grayling to be “much bolder” in order to address the huge inequalities that exist in infrastructure spending between the North and South.
Transport for the North gaining statutory status is an important step towards transforming the North of England and giving it the voice and powers it needs to move forward.John Cridland
Responding to the news, Lord Jim O’Neill, one of the architects of the Northern Powerhouse project and a former Treasury Minister under George Osborne, questioned whether it would allow for TfN ultimately having the same powers as Transport for London.
He told The Yorkshire Post: “That answer is crucial. I’d like to see a joint statement from Transport Secretary, Chancellor and Prime Minister saying this is an important step on a journey to allow TfN the same powers, recognising it’s crucial role in helping to deliver long term goals for the Northern Powerhouse.”
Barnsley MP Dan Jarvis (Lab) said: “It is welcome news that Transport for the North is set to become the first statutory sub-national transport body in the country with the ability to influence transport investment decisions across the North of England.
“But we need to be much more ambitious. Chris Grayling has not yet shown the willingness to commit the resources or the devolution of power necessary to rectify decades of underinvestment in Northern transport infrastructure.
“I am not convinced that he shares my belief in how vital that investment is. He must be much bolder if he wants to address the structural inequalities which everyone now understands exist between the North and South.
“We still have a long way to go before Transport for the North has access to anything like the same powers and influence as Transport for London, which must remain our overall ambition for the organisation.”
The Government has in recent weeks been criticised for failing to prioritise transport in the North, after this summer’s decision to cancel the electrification of the Midland Mainline, and later the revelation that planned improvements to the trans-Pennine line between Leeds and Manchester were being reappraised.
Announcing the move, Mr Norman said: “We are committed to the Northern Powerhouse, and to giving the great towns and cities of the North more say over transport investment through their umbrella body Transport for the North.
“This Government is investing the most cash for a generation in transport projects for the North.
“These new powers will give Transport for the North far greater influence over national infrastructure decisions, as well the certainty they need to plan and drive forward projects such as Northern Powerhouse Rail and smart ticketing.”
Jake Berry, Northern Powerhouse Minister, said: “We are investing a record £13 billion in transport in the North of England - more than any Government in history.
“As part of this, Transport for the North will be a game-changer, with powers to speak with one voice on northern transport projects and drive forward ambitious plans to improve transport connections and unlock economic growth across the Northern Powerhouse.”
According to the Government, TfN is backed with £260m of government funding and “will transform transport across the North of England, providing the infrastructure needed to drive economic growth and create jobs and boost skills”.
The Department for Transport said today that it was awarding £18.5m from a £150m fund for its smart-ticketing programme, meaning paperless, smart card season tickets will be available for Northern and TransPennine Express and Merseyrail passengers by the end of 2018.
John Cridland, Independent Chair of Transport for the North, said: “Transport for the North gaining statutory status is an important step towards transforming the North of England and giving it the voice and powers it needs to move forward.
“Becoming a Sub-national Transport Body means that the Secretary of State of the day will take into account the North’s priorities when making transport infrastructure investment.
“These priorities will be developed collaboratively and we are currently working with our partners to finalise the draft Strategic Transport Plan, which will be published for public consultation early next year.
“This is a 30-year transport strategy for the North that will help drive economic growth in the region and help to re-balance the UK economy - statutory status will ensure this plan is considered as a formal statutory document that can provide a solid, evidenced-based framework for transport investment in the North over the coming decades.”