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The North rejects hefty rail schemes And calls for better local transport infrastructure and internet connectivity

building consultants say HS2 and HS3 is not the answer to boosting the North’s
transport infrastructure.

Sharing their
‘wishlist’ for the upcoming autumn budget, three directors from Trident
Building Consultancy’s Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds offices, say where
investment should be made to better connect the North.

Keith Richards,
director in Trident’s Leeds office, said: “While a faster line between Leeds
and Manchester would be beneficial, this line already exists. I believe a
better use of HS3’s £39bn cost would be links from York to Sheffield and from
Birmingham to Newcastle – perhaps complementing existing lines to form a
‘northern crucifix’.”

Danny McEvoy,
associate director in Trident’s Liverpool office, feels HS2 is of little
benefit as it reduces the journey time from Manchester to London by only 15
minutes. Instead, a rail link between Scotland and Manchester would be of much
greater value as the journey currently takes over four hours – no quicker than
making the journey by road.

In August,
after the government pledged to invest more in the region, political leaders in
the north of England demanded a ‘Northern Budget’, including £7bn for transport
infrastructure. But Keith Richards urges that the investment addresses the
needs of northern towns above the needs of the northern cities:

“The old
industrial bases – Darlington, Doncaster, Wakefield, Wigan, Bolton, Barnsley,
Rotherham and others – still house a large proportion of the population of the
north, and yet they could be left out as a result of HS3. In fact, they may
suffer as a result of investment into rival conurbations. These are the towns
that have had their heart ripped out in the last 40 years but there’s not
enough investment to get them back on their feet. Relative to these towns,
Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds and Sheffield are prosperous.”

Keith also
recognises the need for better public transport: “Some city centres desperately
need better transport systems. For example, Leeds needs a tram or a better bus
system to enable people to get to their place of work. This is also true of new
developments outside Leeds.  Knaresborough has grown by approximately
5,000 new homes in five years and the vast majority of new residents commute to
Harrogate, York and Leeds, mostly driving.  The towns to the north and
west of Leeds need better, more localised, rail links.”

Danny McEvoy
adds: “In Liverpool there’s lots of work going on but not a lot of
collaboration between the public transport providers.” 

goes beyond transport

Furthermore, to
attract large companies to northern town and cities, high speed fibre optic
broadband is required. 

Keith Richards
explains: “It’s the higher end commerce that has helped Leeds.  Sky
Betting and Gaming, Channel 4, the new Government Hub and the legal and
financial sectors would not have located themselves in Leeds were it not for
the ability to access broadband. But there is a reliance on BT to provide fibre
optic broadband.  This should be something that the government is
investing in.”

From a
Liverpool perspective, Danny McEvoy agrees: “There is a real lack of investment
in broadband.  We’re currently working on an office building on Castle
Street in Liverpool’s business district where there’s no fibre optic broadband.
The client is having to put their own line in at an astronomical cost. For the
majority of new office builds, it’s included as part of the development, but
refurbs aren’t getting the upgrade and so many office buildings are missing out
on what is a necessity. In most cases, broadband is better at home than it is
at work.”

Pete Ewbank?, senior
associate director in Trident’s Manchester office, said: “Even in Deansgate in Manchester
there’s no dedicated line. Having to put in your own line can push costs up
from £50 a month to £500.”

Pete also made
the link between better connectivity and achieving greater
sustainability in their work: “Better internet connectivity would enable us to
reduce the number of meetings and removes the need to travel at all in some
cases. And when we do need a face to face meeting, if we had better transport
infrastructure, we would opt for public transport to get there.

Currently the
North East, the North West, and Yorkshire and Humber receive €380m from the
European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the European Social Fund (ESF).
The regions also receive matched funding from the UK for projects that boost
the economy or employment opportunities through training. The government has
said it will replace the ERDF and ESF post-Brexit with a Shared Prosperity Fund
which is likely to be split equally across England.

Pete Ewbank
concluded: “With the absence of this fund, we need the autumn budget to come
through for the North. We need it to bring the right transport infrastructure,
and we need connectivity – both digitally and physically. The North is very
much alive, but it needs government investment and commitment to fulfil its
true potential.”