Investing in transpennine rail services could add billions to the economy and should be a national priority, a new Government-backed report says today.
The Centre for Cities thinktank found that city centres are increasingly becoming the engines of the UK economy and transport investment should focus on improving their connections.
And it recommended Leeds and Manchester links should be prioritised because the two cities have some of the highest concentrations of highly skilled jobs in areas such as finance and law but also some of the poorest rail services.
Significantly, the report was commissioned by the Government to find out where improvement of services would have the biggest impact and has been published just weeks before Chancellor George Osborne delivers his annual Autumn Statement which he has already promised will have strengthening the North’s economy at its heart.
Mr Osborne has previously spoken about the importance of improving transport links to unlock the North’s economic potential and has floated the idea of a transpennine high speed rail link dubbed HS3.
Centre for Cities chief executive Alexandra Jones said: “The Manchester to Leeds route currently takes almost twice as long to travel as the longer distance between London and Milton Keynes.
“The capital’s rail connections to neighbouring cities have played an important part in building strong and successful economies across the South East, and the evidence strongly suggests that Manchester and Leeds would benefit enormously from quicker and more frequent connections. This is a critically important, well-overdue upgrade that should be the first stage of delivering on the Government’s ambition to build a Northern powerhouse.”
The report highlights previous research suggesting cutting journey times in the North by 20 minutes could add as much as £6.7 billion to the economy.
It argues that high-value “knowledge intensive” jobs are increasingly important to the economy and they tend to be concentrated in major cities making better inter-city connections a priority.
The report also sharply contrasts the scale of the public transport network in and around London and those in other cities, identifying it as a key advantage for the capital by giving businesses a bigger pool of talent and offering workers easier access to job opportunities.
This week, the City Growth Commission, led by former Goldman Sachs chief economist Jim O’Neill, will recommend faster transPennine services and more local powers to make spending decisions.
Stephen Joseph, chief executive of the Campaign for Better Transport, welcomed the report as adding to the “growing pile of evidence” that transport links were key to improving the region’s economy.
A Department for Transport spokesman said: “The government is committed to improving transport infrastructure in the north of England. We agree that a further step change improvement in east-west rail connectivity alongside HS2 is a vital element for creating a northern powerhouse.”