Sunday, 14 July 2013

North West missing out to the South on infrastructure spending

Infrastructure is vital to economic growth and prosperity. It is a great disappointment to me therefore that this Government has not seen the potential of the North West to play a great role in the UK’s economic recovery by investing in the north wests infrastructure more considerably.

The North West was at the forefront of the industrial revolution, and the infrastructural developments which came with the steam train and the expansion of rail allowed the region to become a manufacturing superpower. I want to see that replicated in the modern age – and will only happen if the infrastructural groundwork is laid.

The rail suffers with congestion in places, un-electrified lines, and too few services in other areas. The demand is certainly there, and if you roll out a quality service, people will forget what it was like not to have quality trains and links to regional economic hubs. We also have some of the most congested motorways in the UK – making an already expensive means of transport both unpleasant and slow.

The poor services that the North West’s infrastructure provide for individuals and businesses add time costs, add inefficiencies and make the region a less effective area to do business and a less attractive area to start new business. Haulage trapped in traffic jams adds costs to business, as do staff late to work. The high cost of using the roads in comparison to the cheaper costs of travelling by train is another problem that could be addressed by better rail provision. These matters must be addressed urgently if we are to take part in the new century.

But what is the Government doing to address these blockages in our economic pipeline? According to a report by IPPR North the infrastructure spend in the North West is £178 per head in the current control period, vs. £2,731 per head in London and South East. Though there are obviously different operating and land costs in these different areas, the disparity in spending is incredibly worrying.

We need to build on our existing network, open up the pinch-points, and invest in future infrastructure. If the Government were to outline a detailed plan for the expansion of HS2 into its second phase would give businesses and trade bodies time to plan and advocate in the interests of growth; other big projects such as Liverpool SuperPort, and the actual expansion and development of Manchester and Liverpool Airports would bring enormous benefits to the north.

Even smaller, tangible changes would improve the population’s views of public transport in the north west. Oyster card-style payment methods, and bus stops that tell you how long it will be until the next bus comes are tangible changes that people can feel.

For Hyndburn programmes such as; widening the M66; a direct rail connectivity to the North East via SELRAP could open up new economic opportunities; consideration of extension of the M65 going up the North East economy and better interconnectivity to airports. John Lennon Liverpool Airport cannot be reached directly form Preston and the journey time by public transport to Manchester Airport is around two hours; connecting Rossendale to Bury by rail.

Quality bus contracts for Lancashire would make our inner and inter-city bus travel more appealing, reducing congestion and journey time for everyone; and widening the M66 north of the M62 could deal with the daily deadlock on Britain’s busiest road.

Infrastructural improvements are changes that people can really feel the benefit of once they have happened. They improve quality of life, reduce congestion and make it easier to do business and grow our economy.