Chamber members were able to meet with Grant Shapps MP, Secretary of State for transport, to make the case for investment in the region in his first ministerial visit of 2020.
With the recent election results placing more of a focus on the North East and the Government promising major infrastructure improvements in the North it is essential that the region continues to push the case for investment. Covering all major areas of transport in the North East, these were the issues brought up when Grant Shapps visited Newcastle yesterday.
Key questions at the roundtable event included how changes to the Treasury’s Green Book could help with investment in the North. The Green Book is used by the Treasury to evaluate which infrastructure projects are worth investing in, currently this formula encourages investment in areas where there is already high economic growth and high productivity such as around London. At the event Grant Shapps MP highlighted that changes to the Green Book will be key in changing how they calculate the cost benefit ratios of projects and ensuring increased public investment in the North to address regional imbalances.
Investment in rail infrastructure and changes to the rail industry were also important discussion points. The Chamber’s fast track east coast campaign has highlighted upgrades to the East Coast Mainline as crucial for the region through reducing delays as well as creating capacity for more frequent services including Northern Powerhouse Rail.
Businesses at the roundtable were able to make the case to the Secretary of State of the need for better intercity rail services through Northern Powerhouse Rail and East Coast Mainline upgrades as well as more reliable local rail services with investment in the Metro’s rolling stock and approval of the North East’s Transforming Cities fund bid which includes reintroducing passenger services on the Ashington Blyth Tyne line.
Grant Shapps MP was questioned over the Government’s commitment to HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail. He was positive about the potential of Northern Powerhouse Rail for the North East and said a decision on Northern Powerhouse Rail should be coming soon, he would be waiting for the outcome of the Oakervee review before making a decision on HS2. He also mentioned the possibility of digital signalling on the railways in the future to help with capacity issues.
The North East is a maritime hub with major ports such as the Port of Tyne and Teesport as well as specialist ports such as the Port of Blyth with wind energy. The ports play a crucial role in transporting goods in and out of the country, when asked about support for regional ports in the future to encourage international trade Grant Shapps MP said that the UK was currently facing resilience issues with an over-reliance on ports such as Dover.
No deal Brexit preparation planning has highlighted that should delays happen at Dover for any reason (poor weather etc) the UK would be facing major issues with transporting goods. Ensuring that goods are also moved through other ports will help to increase resilience and ensure that goods can continue to be transported.
When asked about his support for regional airports Grant Shapps MP said he was keen to help to improve surface access to regional airports, but the industry will need to work on reducing carbon emissions, the Department for Transport will be working with companies on the use of biofuels.
Grant Shapps MP was supportive of Newcastle Airport’s plans to release a sustainability strategy soon and was also supportive of the decision to keep Teesside Airport open in order to allow people from across the region to travel internationally.
Businesses were keen to ask the Secretary of State about road improvements with the A1, A19, A66 and A69 all being mentioned as priorities for the region, road connections to and from Tees Valley were mentioned as a particular issue.
The Secretary of State was also asked about the bus network and how the Government can help to encourage bus use, especially with potential Clean Air zones in the region, and prevent congestion on the roads.
Grant Shapps MP said that the Government were keen to progress with projects dualling the A1 and the A66. In terms of buses he said he was supportive of buses to help with sustainable transport and with cities like York moving towards a car free zone there is potential for low emission buses to help with sustainable travel around the city acting as the first and last mile journey.
A key theme from Grant Shapps MP across the different modes of transport was the issue of decarbonisation and sustainable transport. Investing in public transport was seen as key as a way to reduce emissions, improving electric vehicle charging infrastructure was also seen as important by Grant Shapps MP especially with the North East being home to Nissan.
Lower emission buses, clean air zones and biofuels in aviation were all mentioned by Grant Shapps MP showing a focus on decarbonisation. The potential for coastal shipping as a way to transport goods rather than transporting goods by road was also discussed.
Looking forward it seems that decarbonisation will play a key role in the decision-making process for the Department for Transport in the future.
Grant Shapps MP was clear that it was a good time for the region to be pushing for investment and that the creation of devolved Mayors in the region are helpful in increasing the influence of the North East.
Grant Shapps MP said that there needs to be cooperation on transport issues and clear messaging on the region’s priorities between the North of Tyne Combined Authority, North East Combined Authority and the Tees valley Combined Authority. Cooperation is needed to help create a better integrated transport network across the region
With changes to the Green Book, the release of the Williams Rail Review and the Oakervee report, a budget in March along with a new national infrastructure strategy and decisions around major projects such as Northern Powerhouse Rail due soon it is clearly an important time to for infrastructure investment in the UK.
In terms of the North East there are positives with Green Book changes leading to potentially more investment, but there needs to be action taken rather than words to address regional imbalances in the UK’s economy.
The region needs to continue to cooperate and push the message for investment, the Government needs to continue to engage with the needs of businesses to help increase productivity and economic growth across the UK.