Proposals for improving transport infrastructure in the north of England featuring the £50 billion (€67.9 billion) HS2 high-speed rail scheme have been detailed by the UK government.
Chancellor George Osborne said plans for creating a “northern powerhouse” would be achieved through investment in both road and rail links between cities in the north.
The government’s Northern Transport Strategy Report highlighted a need to explore whether the HS2 rail project - planned to start in 2017, providing faster connections between London, Birmingham and Manchester - could be completed sooner than the projected completion date of 2026.
The first phase of the high-speed line would be between London and Birmingham, with its second stage continuing the project to Manchester, and also to Leeds.
However, a report by the UK’s House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee said the government had not justified the case for spending £50 billion (€67.9 billion) on HS2 as a means of rebalancing the economy between the south and north of England.
The northern transport strategy also identified a need for further rail improvement under a new TransNorth project. This would focus on upgrading services between Liverpool, Hull and Newcastle.
Road improvements also formed part of the report’s northern strategy, which identified a requirement for a new road link between the east and west of the country. This includes plans for a tunnel under the Peak District and improved road connections to Manchester Airport.
A new regional transport organisation, Transport for the North, will also be set up as part of the infrastructure improvements.
This week, HS2 released its design vision framework document, aimed as a guide for engineering and architectural teams working on the project.
HS2 has appointed Atkins for a four-year contract to provide building information modelling (BIM) services for the scheme’s design phase. Initial tendering for engineering work on HS2 is already underway.
Following the government’s strategy report, Jon Turton, infrastructure director at accountancy firm KPMG, said that major transport investment would provide a platform for wider economic growth.
He said, “The degree of transformation held out by the government report’s proposals will take billions of pounds of investment, and a long term funding plan will be essential if we are to see these transport aspirations become reality and to start playing a part in driving improved prosperity.”
In response to the government report, Robert Smith, transport partner at legal company DLA Piper, said that northern authorities had worked effectively towards a infrastructure development plan.
Smith said, “For this strategy to be delivered there needs to be a clear and committed funding plan to support the investment required.
“There must be certainty that, once selected, proposals will be delivered. This requires consistent government support and for Transport for the North to be empowered to deliver projects within the funding plan.”