‘Genuine commitment’ to Northern Powerhouse - Grayling

All the UK's major cities should have smart pay as you go ticketing within the next two years, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling told today's North of England Transport Summit. "There is no reason why only London should have smart ticketing," he said, making the initiative a priority for this tenure at the DfT. But, he stipulated, "I want the systems to talk to each other." Passengers should not have to carry a Manchester card, a Leeds card and a different one for each city.

For longer journeys, bar codes on mobile phones should be available. The whole transport sector should move very rapidly towards this, he said.

The North of England had a huge legacy of transport infrastructure, he continued, but due to a long history of under-investment it sometimes seemed more suited to the 20th than the 21st century. As a result trains were crowded and roads clogged, and this was holding back growth. The Government was investing £13bn in the North in this parliament and there had been more commitments in the autumn statement. "But it is not just about money," he said. There needed to be better decision-making, a focus on better outcomes for passengers, and the need to get the input of people on the ground locally.

He was grateful for the work of Transport for the North and would be "working with them to see how we can strengthen their role".

"There is a genuine commitment from the Government to support the Northern Powerhouse to make a difference. Let us all make sure the Northern Powerhouse is working to deliver growth across the North," he said.

Transport for the North chief executive David Brown said that the organisation had brought together 11 local enterprise partnerships, 19 local government partners and four development partners including Network Rail and Highways England.

Its role was to help address the productivity gap between the north and south of England and to support growth in jobs, as part of the Northern Powerhouse economic strategy. In the short-term it sought to make sure improvements already in Network Rail's and Highways England's investment plans were carried through. In the medium term it would influence, making sure the aspirations of the north were incorporated in the next round of five-year strategies. In the long term it would set out a vision for transport in the North.

The first draft of its strategic transport plan would be published in the spring. "We will prioritise schemes that will deliver economic growth," he said.

Speaking on the role of transport investment in boosting the economy of the North, Network Rail Chair Sir Peter Hendy said that the three key purposes of rail investment were to support economic growth, job creation and housebuilding.

Citing Crossrail as an example, he said in his experience projects are successful if there is a clear idea of what is wanted and how much it will cost, and if changes in scope are avoided. In the case of Network Rail's investment programme for Control Period 5 (2014-19), much of it had been rooted in the days when Network Rail was a quasi-independent private company but with apparently unlimited access to government-guaranteed borrowing. As a result "much of CP5 wasn't at that stage of maturity". It was currently successfully being "retrofitted" to achieve this, he said.

Network Rail had carried out "a huge detailed study of what's needed to make the Northern Powerhouse a reality" which would feed into TfN's strategic transport plan. A crucial decision would be what should be prioritised. "The right way is to start with projects that create the most economic growth, jobs and housing," he said.

Over 160 transport professionals attended the inaugural summit held in Manchester today.