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How Can Investment Enable Sustainable Economic Growth In The North?

5 min

sustainable economic growth
Credit: Cristiana Chivarria, Flickr
Finding the right transport investment to create sustainable economic growth is essential for the rail industry in the North. Quadrant Transport looks at how we can see the growth.

Quadrant Transport spoke to Martin Tugwell, Chief Executive at Transport for the North (TfN), about how rail can create this sustainable economic growth.

He began by explaining that the answer to this is more complicated than we might think, and in the first instance, we must understand what we are dealing with.

Martin Tugwell, Chief Executive at Transport for the North
Martin Tugwell, Chief Executive at Transport for the North
Rail Focusing On Sustainability Is Essential Going Forward

Until the arrival of TfN, Martin said that no one else had mapped out the unique mix of assets that the North has or explained the economic drivers that shape the character and potential of the region.

TfN did that with the Northern Powerhouse Independent Economic Review, which provided the foundation for the North’s first statutory Strategic Transport Plan.

Martin expressed that it was a plan that united Northern leaders around a 30-year-vison and “one which showcased a route-map through which productivity and job prospects could be significantly enhanced and by which the North could become a net contributor to the UK economy.”

Outlined in TfN’s ‘Strategic Transport Plan’ there are four key objectives of the plan. These include:

  • Transforming economic performance.
  • Increasing efficiency, reliability, integration, and resilience in the transport system.
  • Improving inclusivity, health, and access to opportunities for all.
  • Promoting and enhancing the built, historic, and natural environment.

Since the inception of the plan six years ago, much has happened. Not only has the North become more aware of environmental issues that local communities face, but it has seen adaptions due to the pandemic.

Emerging from the pandemic, it was essential to come back more with a tailored focus on sustainability; Martin revealed: “We were reminded of how critical our transport system is to sustaining everyday lives, and yet we were also shown that not only is change possible, but it can take place at pace when faced with an existential threat.”

We emerged from the pandemic with more focus and determination to tackle the issues that matter.

Approaches To Planning Must Always Think About The Future

Strategic thought leadership is essential to ensuring that the North’s approach to planning, developing, and delivering investment in the transport system addresses the challenges of the future.

It is why TfN is now in the process of developing a revised and more focused second version of its Strategic Transport Plan, which Martin described as “a plan which, whilst maintaining the scale of ambition for the North in the longer term, also looks more closely at the decisions and outputs needed over the next five to ten years.”

Our new Plan will be user-centred, place-based and outcome-focused, putting ‘People and Places’ at the heart of our work and developing interventions and outputs that best serve their needs.

Informed by the TAME (‘Technical Assurance, Modelling & Evaluation’) team, TfN has recently mapped out where investment needs to be seen across the North, for example, in EV charging points and has produced some pioneering work on transport-related social exclusion.

Martin said that transport-related social exclusion is “a major issue in the North, where over 20 per cent of the population suffers in some way or other from transport acting as a barrier to them realising their potential.”

If we’re going to fix the problem, first you need to understand it.

Communities Must Be At The Centre Of Planning

The major focus on levelling up serves as a reminder that rail’s current approach to planning for our transport system is not working to deliver for everyone in society and shows the need to focus on delivering outcomes that extend beyond simple consideration of the implications for the North’s transports system.

Martin told Quadrant Transport that levelling up is about looking at the bigger picture: “Levelling up is about taking a wider view of investment decisions, one in which it is not just about the cost, but one which gives greater weight to the value of those decisions for our communities and their residents.”

"The pandemic reminded us that the sector is at the heart of our economy and of our communities." Martin Tugwell, Chief Executive at Transport for the North.

Keeping a focus on the long-term vision is essential when it comes to enabling sustainable growth in the North and seeing the modal shift is part of this long-term vision.

Martin explained: “The potential for rail to substitute for long-distance car trips, particularly those associated with leisure and domestic tourism is significant, and network expansion, including through schemes such as High Speed 2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail will play a key part in changing travel behaviours both in the short and long term.”

He continued: “The pandemic reminded us that the sector is at the heart of our economy and of our communities. And in seeking to realise the potential of the North it is critical that our future freight and logistics are at the centre of our thinking. It’s why our Freight and Logistics strategy is a key input into our next Strategic Transport Plan.”

The Transport System Needs To Be Seen As Part Of A Wider Infrastructure System

To end, Martin revealed that one of the most important things is that the industry must be honest with themselves: “We have to be honest with ourselves. Our transport system needs to reflect the true cost of our travel choices.

“We need to better understand and take account of the wider implications of our investment decisions on the choices available to individuals.

“We need to not only evaluate the cost of our decisions but better understand and reflect their value in terms of social, economic, and environmental outcomes.”

We need to start seeing our transport system as part of a much wider infrastructure system, one that connects people and places with opportunities and services.

For rail in the North to meet its sustainability goals and to create sustainable economic growth, it is key that the industry focuses on creating infrastructure that reflects the needs of its local people and environment.