Â£70bn transport master plan welcomed in Sheffield, but doubts raised over funding
'Transformational' plans to get the north moving better have been welcomed in Sheffield, but doubts remain over funding for the Â£70 billion transport master plan.
Transport for the North's (TfN) draft Strategic Transport Plan, published on Tuseday, includes proposals to improve rail connections from Sheffield to Leeds, Manchester and Hull, and to press ahead with plans for a trans-Pennine road tunnel, albeit a shorter one than initially proposed.
Clive Betts, MP for Sheffield South East, said: "It's a very nice indication of what ideally we would like to see in some cases but the big questions are how much money is actually available, where is it going to come from and how quickly can it be provided to make this happen?
"Transport for the North hasn't been given statutory powers. It's almost there to advise the Government, and there's no saying whether that advice will be taken and all the money will be provided.
He praised plans to upgrade the Hope Valley Line between Sheffield and Manchester, which he believes could be completed within five years.
But he believes a new line is needed between the two cities, which he described as the worst connected major cities in Europe, along with expansion of Sheffield station to handle more passengers.
He also said he was glad there was a growing consensus that improvements were needed to the A628 Woodhead Pass running through the Pennines.
But he said with a shorter road tunnel now proposed to save costs it is imperative the route is made 'all-weather', to prevent frequent closures due to snow and ice, possibly through the introduction of under-road heating.
Sheffield Central MP Paul Blomfield said: "Getting more, faster and better rail links between the golden triangle of northern cities – Sheffield, Leeds and Manchester – is crucial to the economic development of the north.
"But we need more than plans. The Government has to commit the funds to make it happen. It’s simply not acceptable that £1,943 is spent per person on transport in London while we get £190 per person in Yorkshire and the Humber.
"While they're talking up money in the future, they've cut plans for electrification of the Sheffield-London line. We need to rebalance the UK economy, creating more jobs in the north, and that starts with a fair deal on transport spending."
Martin McKervey, who is a Sheffield City Region Local Enterprise Partnership board lead member for transport, and a member of Transport for the North's Partnership Board, described the plans as 'transformational'.
"We all know the north, including Sheffield, has some wonderful assets like the lovely countryside and great companies, but there are some very harsh economic realities we never seem to grapple with," he said,
"This plan is about driving transformational change. It's a new vision for a new approach to improving the economic performance of the north."
On Monday, parliament approved plans to make TfN the first sub-national transport body in England as of April this year. This means its plans must be formally considered by the Government when taking decisions about transport investment in the north.
Mr McKervey said it was important to remember that while the estimated £60-70bn cost over 30 years sounds like a lot, this equates to just £50 a year more per northern citizen than would be spent in a business-as-usual' scenario on transport infrastructure in the region.
He also said while the Government would be expected to provide much of that money, TfN was looking at various other funding sources, including the possibility of a business levy like the one which is helping to pay for the Crossrail line through London.
He claimed upgrading railway lines would dramatically improve connections from Sheffield to Manchester and Leeds, and improve access to Doncaster Sheffield Airport, which there are plans to link to the East Coast Mainline.
As for plans to better link Sheffield and Manchester by road, he claimed the existing connections were 'not fit for purpose'.
He described the trans-Pennine tunnel as a 'must-have' for the two cities and said even with the planned reduction in length the proposed road tunnel would be one of the longest in Europe.
Andrew Dyson, of the Hope Valley Railway Users Group, said: "Generally, the plan looks quite positive but actually delivering substantially faster journeys between Sheffield and Manchester will be quite difficult without substantial investment in the infrastructure.
"The concentration seems to be on improving rail connections between Manchester and Leeds, where there will soon be six fast trains an hour.
"There are only two fast trains an hour between Sheffield and Manchester, and plans for a third have now been sat on the transport secretary's desk for around 14 months."
* You can view the draft plan at http://transportforthenorth.com/wp-content/uploads/TfN-Strategic-Plan_draft_lr.pdf.