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Seeing the bigger picture on transport

 

Column by Arlen Pettitt as published in the Journal (24 January).

The average North Easterner clocks up more than 1,200 miles a year on their commute to work. That’s more than our neighbours in the North West or Yorkshire and Humber, and trumped only by those poor souls caught by London’s gravitational pull in the South East and East of England.

For many of us, our commute is to our nearest major town or city. That’s often because that’s the only major employment centre we can sensibly reach every morning – a reality which limits our horizons when it comes for looking for work, and reduces the pool of skilled labour businesses can reach into.

In fact, according to Transport for the North (TfN), just 10,000 people live within 60 minutes by train of four major northern cities.

I don’t have confirmation, but my personal research suggests those lucky few must be clustered around the station in the former mill town of Dewsbury, West Yorkshire.

They probably all work in Leeds – criminally unaware of the breadth of options their privileged status provides.

For some parts of our region reaching just one city in an hour can be tough.

Last week TfN launched their Strategic Transport Plan, which aims to give us all broader horizons by improving the connections between the economic assets of the North.

With jobs and prosperity at its heart, the plan attempts to avoid the usual parochial pitfall of transport investment by looking at how entire corridors function, rather than simply listing priorities and individual schemes.

North East England does well from the plan, with three of the seven strategic corridors covering our area – one focusing on road links to Scotland, one on rail along the East Coast and one on connecting us across the county to the West.

Many of the improvements the Chamber has campaigned for are there – upgrades to Newcastle and Darlington Stations, dualling of the A1, integrated smart ticketing – but the sum of the parts is far more powerful.

Despite its prominence, TfN is still reliant on central government for funding, and so realising the plan and maximising the benefits will mean the region – and the wider North – continuing to work together.

It might feel strange to see Newcastle campaigning for rail investment in Darlington, or the North East fighting for Cumbrian roads – it’s certainly a change of tack – but building a stronger North will allow us to build a stronger North East.