The National Infrastructure Commission’s (NIC’s) first national assessment of the nation’s infrastructure needs was published in July.
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It made the point that regional cities should be the priority for integrated future transport investment to improve productivity, reduce congestion and underpin growth in housing and business.
The NIC recommended to the government that it commit £43bn of stable long term transport funding for regional cities.
It also urged metro mayors and city leaders to develop long term integrated strategies for transport, employment and housing by 2021.
“Government and cities need to act now to ensure that space in cities is used effectively, with room allocated for fast, frequent public transport systems, well-connected and affordable housing and pleasant public space,” the NIC said.
The NIC’s assessment was welcome support for the city conurbations of Greater Manchester and the West Midlands which are already well ahead in the strategy of connecting public transport and growth. Their key to success is to integrate public transport systems via attractive, user friendly interchange destinations that can in their own right act as catalysts for investment in regeneration, housing and jobs.
It helps that both have their eyes on the place-making revolution that will be able to be delivered alongside High Speed 2 (HS2).
The £58bn high speed, high capacity railway will have two stations in the West Midlands – one near the airport and National Exhibition Centre known as Birmingham Interchange and one at Curzon Street in the centre of Birmingham. Greater Manchester too, will have a duo of HS2 stops – one at Piccadilly in the centre of the city and one at the airport, which is currently undergoing a £1bn upgrade.
Interchanges are the key to the switch from the car
The HS2 trains are due to arrive in Birmingham in 2026 and Manchester in 2033. Journey times from city centre to London are 49mins for Birmingham, down from one hour 21 mins; and one hour eight minutes for Manchester, down from two hours eight minutes.
HS2 will be a transport revolution for the country but for the areas it serves directly the associated homes and employment opportunities are immense as long as people in the regions are able to access the stations.
To that end Transport for the West Midlands (TfWM) and Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) both have strategies in place with HS2 at their heart.
“We have the opportunity to benefit enormously from HS2 and we want to make sure we have everything in place to get the most out of it,” says TfWM director of policy, strategy and innovation Mike Waters.
TfWM’s Movement for Growth delivery plan puts a strategy in place to 2026 with two over-arching principles. One is to ensure that all parts of the West Midlands are plugged in to the two high speed rail stations and the significant growth and development that is already happening at their locations. The other is to steer transport investment into priority corridors for new jobs and homes, providing a joined up land use/transport planning approach to support the aims of the West Midlands Combined Authority’s strategic economic plan.
As the HS2 start date approaches, Waters has two other deadlines to prepare for that add extra impetus to the work. In 2021 Coventry is the UK City of Culture and the following year, in 2022, Birmingham hosts the Commonwealth Games.
The extra visitors will be joining the throngs in what is already a huge urban conurbation, Waters explains. “We have over 2.8M people, the largest city region outside London and over the next 20 to 30 years we have to accommodate growth of a city the size of Bristol. It is a huge challenge, and to cope we have to build and improve our public transport radically.”
Over the years to 2026, TfWM plans to invest £7.3bn. So far there are 77 committed schemes with a total capital cost of £5.1bn, with 61% of the funding – £3.1bn – already identified.
We have the opportunity to benefit enormously from HS2 and we want to make sure we have everything in place to get the most out of it
The ambition is to shift the emphasis of travel from the car, which accounts for 63% of journeys in the West Midlands currently, to 35% to 45% of all journeys.
“Interchanges are the key to the switch from the car,” Waters says – ease of movement between modes such as train, metro, Sprint rapid buses and bike hire, and equally, ease of paying for them via smart ticketing options.
“We have to change behaviours, hearts and minds, and use technology to communicate with the traveller. So we are investing around mobility as a service. Rather than presenting a blunt wall of information, we will convey real choices to people and the consequences of those choices in terms of cost, environment and health. It gives us an opportunity to start to have an influence and dialogue directly with passengers about when they travel and how, not just how much time it might take.”
The interchanges themselves are being made more user friendly as well.
“We are making sure our bus stations have a sense of place, for example, with parcel collection services, lockers and community centres, so they are not just there to transport passengers but are a cohesive part of the area.”
Alongside heavy rail and buses, Metro tram extensions will be an important part of the investment plans with a £1.2bn programme of work over the next decade.
Tracks are already being laid for the extension from central Birmingham to Edgbaston Five Ways along with work to take the line to Hagley Road. By 2023 the tram will have an extra 17 stops on an 11km extension through Dudley to Brierly Hill, much of it along disused railway.
An ambitious part of the interconnected transport strategy is to develop something called Very Light Rail as an affordable alternative to conventional road running tram systems which require all services in the road to be relocated and often complex overhead wiring. The idea is to use lightweight technology, which has been successfully used in the automotive sector; and the latest propulsion technology to create low cost, lightweight tramline vehicles capable of running on-street and negotiating tight corners.
The centre for the research is the new Very Light Rail Innovation Centre in Dudley; while a link from Coventry railway station, via the city centre to the University of Warwick is a potential first route.
“Ultimately, the aim would be to connect Coventry’s growth areas to HS2 and the wider conventional tram network via VLR,” says Waters. Meanwhile further north, TfGM has ambitious plans in its Greater Manchester Transport Strategy 2040 “to enable customers to move seamlessly between services and modes of transport on a single, high quality, high capacity transport network that is easy to use and connects areas of new development”.
It is just now engaging in talks with central government ahead of the spending review of funding for all the proposals.
“We have had a place-based approach to transport planning for the last 20 years,” says TfGM transport strategy director Simon Warburton. “We don’t start with the transport mode, but by understanding the potential for improved connections which allows us to determine priorities.”
Part of that is understanding that “an integrated offer allows integrated choices so people can easily use more than one mode to make a complex journey.”
“Over the last 10 years, one of the things we focused on was the renewal of traditional bus stations. Now they are multi modal, we have relocated them so they sit with rail stations and are designed to physically integrate.”
Bolton Bus Station which opened last year is a good example, he says. “We did a very simple thing, we took the bus station from one side of the city centre and placed it next to the railway station as part of a broader regeneration plan. The land vacated by the bus station was used for new housing.”
Like the West Midlands, Greater Manchester is on the journey to universal smart ticketing and integrated travel information which advises people about the best combination of journeys to make.
Central to the city’s growth has been the Metrolink tram – the largest light rail network in the UK with services on seven lines to 93 stops covering 96km. Work is well underway to extend Metrolink to Trafford Park by 2020 and to build a western loop to Manchester airport. It has just been agreed to dedicate £83M of Transforming Cities funding to a £100M programme to add an extra 27 trams to the network to deal with overcrowding.
There are also ambitions to introduce tram-trains – where Metrolink can share lines with conventional trains. Routes identified with potential include Manchester to Wigan and Stockport to Manchester Airport.
But to bring us back to where we started, it is the opportunities created by HS2 that make eyes light up.
“We have set out our plans for one integrated interchange station at Piccadilly for HS2 and the east-west Northern Powerhouse rail link along with additional plans for Metrolink capability,” says Warburton.
The HS2 Piccadilly interchange would be a once in a century opportunity to regenerate the area around the station
“Our vision is that these (Piccadilly and Manchester Airport HS2) stations will become interchange facilities, creating an integrated transport system between HS2, Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) ail, local rail, Metrolink, bus transport and intercontinental air connections,” says the Stops are just the start strategy launched earlier this year.”
The redevelopment of Piccadilly would require the NPR lines to come in through a tunnel so as to leave land free for a new commercial district . Metrolink could also be tunnelled as well – the start perhaps of long term plans to put more of it underground that are being considered.
“The HS2 Piccadilly interchange would be a once in a century opportunity to regenerate the area around the station”, the strategy says.
£43bn Amount of transport funding the National Infrastructure Commission says should be allocated to regional cities
£100M Funding to add an extra 27 trams to Manchester Metrolink