Chancellor George Osborne reaffirmed his commitment to the Northern Powerhouse in today’s (16 March) Spring Budget after confirming that the government will find the money to create a four-lane M62 and develop the case for a road tunnel from Manchester to Sheffield.
Mr Osborne told the House of Commons: “Last year I established a new National Infrastructure Commission to advise us all on the big long-term decisions we need to boost our productivity. I want to thank Andrew Adonis (chair) and his fellow commissioners for getting off to such a strong start.
“They recommend much stronger links across northern England. So we are giving the green light to High Speed 3 between Manchester and Leeds; finding new money to create a four-lane M62; and will develop the case for a new tunnelled road from Manchester to Sheffield.”
The government will also spend money upgrading the A66 and A69. The Northern Powerhouse is a proposal to boost economic growth in the North of England.
Mr Osborne continued: “I said we would build the Northern Powerhouse. We’ve put in place the mayors. We’re building the roads. We’re laying the track. We’re making the Northern Powerhouse a reality and rebalancing our country.”
The government will also establish the UK as a global centre for excellence in connected and autonomous vehicles. It will:
- Conduct trials of driverless cars on the strategic road network by 2017
- Consult this summer on sweeping away regulatory barriers within this Parliament to enable autonomous vehicles on England’s major roads
- Establish a £15 million ‘connected corridor’ from London to Dover to enable vehicles to communicate wirelessly with infrastructure and potentially other vehicles
- Carry out trials of truck platooning on the strategic road network
- Start trials of comparative fuel price signs on the M5 between Bristol and Exeter by spring 2016 to drive fuel price competition and help motorists save money.
The government is allocating £151 million from the Local Majors Fund in the first round of allocation, and is launching the bidding process for the second tranche of funding, designed to fund transformative local transport projects.
Budget 2016 also announces the allocation of a £50m Pothole Action Fund for England in 2016-17, enabling local authorities to fill nearly a million potholes. The government will also provide a further £130m to repair roads and bridges damaged by Storms Desmond and Eva.
In other transport-related announcements, Mr Osborne has given the green light to Crossrail 2. Tolls on the Severn Crossings between England and Wales will be halved by 2018 and fuel duty will be frozen for the sixth year in a row.
Chair of the government’s National Infrastructure Commission Andrew Adonis said: “The National Infrastructure Commission was established to transform the way we plan and deliver major infrastructure projects. I am glad that the government has accepted our first three reports.
“Putting HS3 at the heart of a new High Speed North can help bring our great Northern cities together and fire growth and Crossrail 2 is vital to keep more than 10 million Londoners moving in the 2030s. A Smart Power revolution across our energy sector – principally built around three innovations, Interconnection, Storage, and Demand Flexibility – could save consumers up to £8 billion a year by 2030, help the UK meet its 2050 carbon targets, and secure the UK’s energy supply for generations.”
Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) director general, Nick Baveystock, said: “The confirmed financial backing for vital transport projects in the North is excellent news. The next step should be to underpin this commitment with an integrated plan embracing a mix of ambitious, transformational projects alongside smaller scale investments. If the plan can be developed swiftly, it will maintain confidence in the vision and enable the benefits to be felt sooner. Similarly, the funds allocated to develop the case for Crossrail 2 are welcome, but this should move forward at a good pace so the hybrid Bill can be submitted in Parliament.
“While the headlines are focussed on important large projects, the upkeep of our existing infrastructure – from flood defences to local roads – should not be forgotten. We await details on any local authority cuts and the impact on maintenance budgets, and will continue to encourage a shift from reactive patch-up work towards a ‘whole life’ approach to infrastructure investment.”
LeasePlan UK’s managing director, Matt Dyer, said: “To hear that the Chancellor is powering ahead with a commitment to further infrastructure improvements, especially Crossrail 2 is encouraging for industry. With the current Crossrail link nearing completion, HS3 and the Manchester to Sheffield tunnel getting the green light, we are heading in the right direction to connect our British cities.
“However, even though the Chancellor has pledged £50 million Pothole Action Fund for England and £130 million to repair roads and bridges from storm Desmond and Eva, there is still an awful long way to go in repairing Britain’s decrepit and pothole-ridden roads.”
Dr Colin Brown, director of engineering at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, said: “The green light given today for Crossrail 2 and High Speed Rail 3 are very welcome news. However it is vital that these investments fit within a wider integrated transport strategy. At the moment major infrastructure projects are being developed in isolation and a holistic approach would better serve passengers, tax payers and businesses.
“We suggest that government departments work together to develop a strategy to incentivise and support the private sector, eliminating practices that create congestion on the public transport network, while it remains quiet at other times. Government would do well to learn and build on the experience of Crossrail ? a project that is being delivered on-time and on-budget. We need to be able to use the knowledge and people skills developed from Crossrail to ensure other rail projects in the UK can be delivered more effectively and efficiently.
“The announcement of plans for trials of driverless cars on the strategic road network by 2017 are positive but do not go far enough. Making all vehicles autonomous could prevent up to 95% of all traffic accidents and the widespread adoption of autonomous vehicles could bring billions of pounds to the UK economy. Government needs to take urgent action to resolve legislative, technological and insurance issues to help encourage the rollout of autonomous or driverless vehicles.”
Howard Robinson, chief executive of the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA), said: “Behind the headlines of frozen fuel tax, investment to create a four-lane M62, proposal for a road tunnel from Manchester to Sheffield, upgrading of the A66 and A69 and the green light given to Crossrail 2 is an inability to understand that access to these high-profile infrastructure projects is via a poorly maintained, potholed local road network.
“Local highway authorities simply do not have the funding resources to carry out both necessary emergency repairs and planned long-term maintenance. After years of cut-backs and under-investment it would cost £12 billion to bring our local road network up to an adequate standard. Against this, the Chancellor has today announced the allocation of a derisory £50 million Pothole Action Fund for England in 2016-17.
“The maintenance and upkeep of our local road network where 90% of all journeys are made, and which connects and joins-up the headline infrastructure projects, is surely worth better recognition and funding.”
Kevin Richardson, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT), said: “The government’s commitment to investing in large scale national infrastructure projects to make Britain fit for the future is welcomed. The Chancellor’s pledges to deliver infrastructure improvements ensure that the logistics and transport industry can continue to drive UK economic growth and serve the fast-growing population of the United Kingdom.”
Professor Nick Reed, academy director at TRL, said: “TRL welcomes the Chancellor’s confirmation of truck platooning trials on the UK’s roads. A move towards greater levels of automation in trucks could deliver compelling efficiency improvements for both the UK’s haulage industry and transport network. Trials of this nature are already in progress in the US and Europe, so it’s vital that the UK takes these steps to ensure our haulage industry remains competitive globally.
“First and foremost, safety must be the government’s highest priority. The technology needs to be proven to be safe before it moves to on-road trials, and thus gradually builds in complexity, to establish the scale of the benefits achievable in the context of real-world driving. The precise scope of trials remains to be defined, but we envisage that all vehicles participating in trials will have fully trained and qualified drivers at the controls at all times.
“Secondly, the haulage industry must be closely involved in the trials to examine the practical requirements for platooning in a commercial and operational environment. Within this, the needs of drivers must be prioritised. The further training required for drivers of the convoy’s lead and following trucks is important to ensure the safe operation of the platoon, and particular attention must be paid to the in-vehicle information systems that control platoon formation.”