22 November 2010
Secretary of State for Transport, Philip Hammond, has stated in a speech at the North East Economic Forum that the main goal for the coalition Government is to build a strong, competitive economy for the longer term, while delivering on climate change targets. This will provide secure growth, jobs and private sector investment that will drive the country’s prosperity in the years ahead.

The Minister wants to avoid, at all costs, repeating the mistake of the recent past of spending too much but investing too little. It was made clear that transport will take priority in any investment in infrastructure and that this is seen as the strongest area that will provide sustainable economic growth.

Over the next four years, the Government plans to invest over £30 billion in road, rail and local transport projects across Britain, which was acknowledged as being more than was invested in the last four years. The plan is for a high-speed rail (HSR) network to lie at the heart of the Coalition Government’s transport policy and the strategy to rebalance and rebuild Britain’s economy.

Mr Hammond stated that HSR would allow the economies of the Midlands and the North to benefit directly from the global pull of London and the South-East, tackling the North-South divide in economic growth rate more effectively than half a century of regional policy has done. HSR will provide better connections not just to London, but also between the Midlands and the North as well. The journey time between Newcastle and Birmingham will be cut from 3 hours to around 2 hours 20 minutes and from London to Leeds reduced by 80 minutes. It was suggested that HSR would deliver transformational change to the way Britain works and competes in the 21st century.

At the beginning of October 2010, the Secretary of State announced the preferred option for HSR North of Birmingham was for two separate corridors – the ‘Y’ option. One line would be direct to Manchester and then connecting onto the West Coast main line. The other to Leeds via the East Midlands and South Yorkshire, with stations in both areas, before connecting onto the East Coast mainline North of Leeds to deliver improved journey times to the North East and Edinburgh.

The Minister stated that the new capacity HSR would provide will be vital in addressing the rail capacity challenges that are facing the most congested inter-urban routes. HSR will free up capacity to enable the continuing shift of freight from roads and onto rail, reducing carbon emissions and cutting congestion.

In the next few weeks the Secretary of State will launch detailed proposals that the Government will consult on in the New Year. This will include a preferred route between London and the West Midlands, and the corridor preference to Leeds and Manchester.

The Minister also announced specific local and regional transport schemes that will receive improvements and upgrades, including:

  • improvements to the East Coast Main Line;
  • £350 million upgrade of the Tyne and Wear Metro; and
  • £2 million grant funding to help establish a public transport smartcard.