Marianne O Sullivan, Chamber policy adviser, has let the dust settle on the Budget and gives her views on the infrastructure elements of it, published in the Northern Echo
My policy area is transport and it was good to see this important part of our infrastructure given weight in the Budget.Overall, on behalf of our members, we were mostly pleased with the transport announcements, after having previously received large amounts of funding with the Metro fleet renewal there was still some transport funding for the North East announced including funding for Northern Powerhouse Rail and increased Transforming Cities funding for Tees Valley which was positive
One of the headline transport announcements was £37 million for Northern Powerhouse Rail. The Northern Powerhouse Rail project aims to connect Hull, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle and Sheffield. The £37 million will help fund the planning for the project but more funding will need to come from the Government in the future to get construction on the rail links started. The Chamber along with Transport for The North will be campaigning for this as part of our Stronger North East Campaign.
The Chamber will also be campaigning to ensure that Northern Powerhouse Rail does not only benefit Newcastle but the whole of the North East. Northern Powerhouse Rail will also stop at Darlington and Durham, we will campaign to ensure that the platforms at Darlington are realigned to ensure that Northern Powerhouse Rail trains can stop in Darlington and people can then reconnect to more frequent trains to the rest of Tees Valley.
Phillip Hammond also announced that the Transforming Cities Fund will be extended by a year to 2022-23, providing an extra £16.5 million for the Tees Valley. This will be important in increasing connectivity around Tees Valley and the Chamber will look to work with the Combined Authority to see how this funding can be best used. The North East Combined Authority area will be eligible to bid for an allocation from a new £440 million pot under a competitive process. The Chamber welcomes this but we also argue that it is essential that the North East gets funding to make key improvements regardless of the outcome of the bidding process.
In terms of more local transport issues £420 million will be allocated to local authorities in 2018-19 to tackle potholes and repair damaged roads and bridges. An additional £150 million will be made available to local authorities for small improvement projects such as roundabouts to ease congestion.
For the larger road network the Chancellor announced a strategic roads investment package worth £28.8 billion from 2020-2025. This will help to progress key projects such as the A66 Trans-Pennine route which would help improve connectivity to Tees Valley and to Teesport.
In terms of transport and technology the Budget set aside £78 million for the Stephenson Challenge to support innovation in electric motor technology. This funding will help both the digital and manufacturing sectors within the North East.
The Government announced that it will publish a National Infrastructure Assessment in 2019. It will be important to see future plans for Treasury infrastructure spending. Especially after Brexit the need for better infrastructure and connectivity will be important in growing the North East’s economy. The Chamber will be campaigning for a reform in Treasury rules on infrastructure to ensure that funding is also given to areas such as the North East where there is high development potential.
Whilst the Chamber welcomes the investment put forward in this Budget in our 2019 Stronger North East Campaign we will be putting forward the case to Government on behalf of our members for a long-term plan for investment in the North East including more investment in transport links to improve connectivity and help the region’s economy grow.