Jessica Bowles: The campaign for transformational transport investment

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Bruntwood's Director of Strategy Jessica Bowles on why Northern business leaders must continue the campaign for transformational investment in transport.

At the recent Northern Transport Summit in Leeds. Manchester City Council’s Sir Richard Leese reminded us that 10 years ago, with no little foresight, The Northern Way was setting out the case to the government for improving transport links, and in particular rail connections, across the north.

In those days I was sitting on the government’s side of the table, but many of us still understood why there needed to be invest to unlock the economic potential of the great northern cities, such as Liverpool, Leeds and Manchester.

In 2007, it was as I think it is now, very difficult to get an extremely London-centric group of decision makers to see investment in the North as anything more than a ‘handout’ or second best to investing in the more prosperous South East.

Some of this comes from ‘the numbers’ spat out from a limited and deceptively rigorous appraisal process for capital investment, but I believe it goes beyond this.

It’s my view that quite simply the investment in transport that we want and need in the North has not happened because the North seems a very long way away from London life, and to many is almost a foreign country.

The transformative effect of a modern, fast, intelligent transport system that closely connects people’s lives to work, culture, leisure and each other is missed because it can’t be
Imagined.

It is proven beyond question that business and people connected together generate more ideas, business opportunities and a bigger labour market that attracts in turn more businesses to invest, set up and grow.

It’s evident that we, as the North’s business leaders, need to make a clear and compelling case for long term investment in transport - between the cities and within them.

We need to set out the numbers that enable the Treasury to square long term spending, that is significantly beyond the levels of today. We also need to engage the imagination of politicians and decision makers.

We must not get distracted by arguments about which we want - HS2 or HS3, between trains or buses, between city to city connections or connections within cities, between transport and skills.

To be successful the North needs all of these things. And the economic benefits are for the UK as a whole not just the North.

London needs us to be as productive as we can be, to generate more tax than we spend on
public services and to compete effectively on a global stage.

We need to set out the case clearly, with a unified voice. We need to keep telling the story. Loudly and consistently.

 

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