Cumbria’s transport infrastructure is the butt of jokes. Heard the one about the A590 being the longest cul-de-sac in England?
We hope things are about to change.
Transport for the North (TfN) has launched a draft Strategic Transport Plan, a blueprint to improve transport links in the north of England, which argues the case for substantial government investment.
You can view the 96-page report here.
Make no mistake, this is an important document. TfN is about to become the statutory body for transport across the Northern Powerhouse, and this masterplan will be the blueprint for transport for the next 30 years.
It’s the subject of a public consultation until April. Cumbria Chamber of Commerce will be tabling a formal response to make sure schemes that benefit Cumbrian businesses are prioritised.
We want to hear your views to help shape our response. Click here to complete a short survey.
Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) has been heavily involved in drawing up TfN’s plan. Speaking at the Cumbrian launch at Carlisle College last week, LEP chairman George Beveridge explained why it is so important.
He said: “This plan is about economic transformation not transport for transport’s sake
“When I talk to businesses, transport investment always comes up.
Doing nothing is not an option. The Government has to step up and invest more in transport infrastructure.
“The reason for that is productivity. The North lags the rest of the country in terms of productivity and part of the reason for that is under-investment in transport infrastructure. Too much time is wasted moving around.
“We can increase the pool of employees from which businesses can recruit by improving transport links and so increasing travel-to-work areas.”
This is very much the thrust of the report. Make journeys shorter and easier, and you boost economic growth.
Improving transport, it argues, is the key to delivering the promises of additional 850,000 jobs across the North, and £92bn additional GVA, promised by 2050 in the Northern Powerhouse Independent Economic Review.
Rob Johnston, Chief Executive of Cumbria Chamber of Commerce, said: “We’ve studied the report in detail and there’s nothing we violently disagree with.
“The problem is what is not there.
“There isn’t a definitive list of specific transport projects for TfN to champion. It is only a draft report, but we think this is a critical omission that will need to be rectified in the final version.
“We found references to improving the A66, A69, A590 and A595, including the Whitehaven Relief Road and Carlisle Southern Link road, but no costed schemes, no reference to the Northern Access Route for Kendal and no discussion of a road crossing of Morecambe Bay and the Duddon estuary.
“On rail, there are references to improvements for the Furness, Cumbrian Coast and Tyne Valley lines, and to ensuring that stations on the West Coast Main Line are ‘HS2 ready’.
“But again there are no details and no costings, and no mention that HS2 is proposing that only trains between Scotland and Birmingham will call at stations in Cumbria. Passengers to London will have to change at Preston.
“That’s a ludicrous state of affairs and must change.”
The report identifies seven corridors for transport improvements – two of these feature Cumbria.
‘Connecting the Energy Coasts’ is about improving road and rail links from Cumbria and Lancashire to the North East while ‘North West to Sheffield City Region’ advocates “strengthening rail connectivity” on an axis from Carlisle through Preston and Manchester to Sheffield.
Rob said: “TfN doesn’t have funds of its own to invest. It will have to make the case to government and to the private sector.
“The seven corridors it has identified appear arbitrary. We’d like to see more research and hard evidence to support specific schemes.
“We need to demonstrate tangible benefits to justify investment.”
The report predicts huge increases in demand for road capacity and rail services in the North by 2050.
The number of rail journeys could rise four-fold to 760m, while demand for road travel could rise 54% to 193bn vehicle kilometres.
Rob added: “Doing nothing is not an option. The Government has to step up and invest more in transport infrastructure in the North.
“Aside from the M6 and West Coast Main Line, Cumbria’s transport infrastructure is not fit for purpose.
“It’s unacceptable that traffic on major arteries such as the A590 and A595 can be stuck in lengthy queues behind slow-moving farm vehicles.
“And it’s nothing short of bizarre that the 85-mile rail journey from Carlisle to Barrow, on the Cumbrian Coast Line, can take as long as the 250-mile journey from Oxenholme to London Euston.
“The Chamber will be arguing the case for major improvements to road and rail. It t will help us enormously if businesses complete our questionnaire. We need evidence to support our case and only you can provide it.”
Meanwhile, another report published this week highlights the fact that the North is getting a raw deal in transport investment.
According to the think tank IPPR North, planned transport investment in London is two-and-a-half times higher per person than in the North. London will receive £4,155 per person compared with just £1,600 here.