Transport and the Election: Moving beyond 'one big project at a time
30 May 2017 | Author: David Leam, Infrastructure Director, London First

One of the main questions I've been asked this past week is what the party manifestos mean for the next generation of major transport infrastructure schemes, and for Crossrail 2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail in particular.

Northern Powerhouse Rail has so far had a good election in that some version of it was positively name checked by each of the three main party manifestos. That said, the fact that the three parties each had a different name for it highlighted the work that still needs to be done on project definition.

Crossrail 2 supporters would have welcomed an explicit mention in the Conservative manifesto. All can, however, take comfort in the strength of its broader commitment to "focus on creating extra capacity on the railways, which will ease overcrowding, bring new lines and stations, and improve existing routes."

But the crunch time for both projects was never going to be during this election but rather in the months ahead. Moreover, I remain of the view that the metro Mayor elections of 4th May will prove a far more important date than the general election of 8th June. How the new generation of city leaders use their platform will be crucial in determining these projects' success.

We've seen in London the investment that successive Mayors have helped attract to its transport system. There's no reason why in time the new Metro Mayors couldn't bring similar benefits to the West Midlands, Greater Manchester, Liverpool and beyond.

But will our Metro Mayors be able to collaborate as well as compete? Will we find ourselves locked in arguments about the relative merits of investing in one city instead of another; in Northern Powerhouse Rail or in Crossrail 2; or even - as government will ask - whether we really have to do any of these schemes just now at all?

Or could we see the emergence of powerful new coalitions, with Labour and Conservative Mayors, backed by business, coming together to champion their common need - for sustained investment in commuter and inter-city transport and to be given the powers and resources by government to facilitate that.

I know which of those the Treasury will find harder to handle. So instead of defaulting to squabbles over who gets which slice of the pie, let's concentrate our efforts on making the pie bigger. Let's work together to emphasise the productivity benefits that transport investments can bring and let's collaborate in exploring options to bridge the funding gaps such projects always face.

For Britain to meet the challenges of the next decade it needs to break out of the 'one big project at a time' mentality that continues to permeate transport policy in this country. Let our cities show the way.

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