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Commons committee outlines 'urgent' need for transport investment in the North

There is an “urgent” need for investment in transport schemes in the north of England, the cross-party Commons transport select committee has claimed.

Committee chairman Louise Ellman has called for a fully integrated economic development strategy for transport investment to even out regional disparities across the country.

The government must publish a White Paper on its transport strategy, explaining in particular how its spending on transport will deliver economic growth and development, says the cross-party transport select committee in its latest report. Such a strategy must set objectives for all transport spending and explain the criteria ministers will use to decide between different claims on limited financial resources.

It said that regional imbalances could get worse if the problem is not addressed soon.

“The government must do more to correct regional disparities in transport investment,” said Labour MP for Liverpool Riverside Ellman.

“Transport spending in London for 2008/09 was almost twice the UK average per capita and with schemes like Crossrail this trend looks set to continue.”

“The economic recession has however had a bigger impact in the north so there is an urgent need for increased investment in transport schemes within and between northern cities - such as the Northern Hub rail scheme - in order to boost their capacity for economic growth,” she said.

The report also highlights concerns over the way the regional planning system has been radically altered under the new coalition government.

“The current Government has swept away the regional tier of planning and many institutions that played a key role in the development of strategic priorities for transport spending in support of economic development. This has created a vacuum that has left regions without the institutions and arrangements they need to plan and prioritise sub-national transport schemes and other significant transport infrastructure,” said Ellman.

“We have been told that groups of Local Enterprise Partnerships and ‘other arrangements’ may fill the transport gap left by the abolition of regional bodies. Yet many of these LEPs are either barely formed or have yet to be established. Arrangements for transport – we have learned - may not be in place until the end of this Parliament. This delay is likely to weaken decision making and widen the economic divisions between regions,” she said.

The committee also urged the government to make its appraisal and decision-making process for transport developments more transparent. It should also provide a formal statement about the regeneration benefits of proposed schemes, it said.

The Department for Transport’s New Approach To Appraisal process, which plays such a major role in deciding which transport schemes get government funding, is highly controversial.

Small schemes, including sustainable transport projects, may be cut disproportionately under new transport funding arrangements. It is unclear whether the Local Sustainable Transport Fund will reverse this trend.

Short-term cuts to road maintenance may increase long-term costs.

No one transport mode or type of scheme will deliver economic growth to every part of England. National government is not well placed to decide what is best for a local area and the Government should consider raising the threshold for government approval and appraisal of locally-determined transport schemes.

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