When doing exams we are told to spend at least 10% of the time planning our answers. The trouble is – there are no marks for planning. It is the same with Strategy documents. Strategy is important but implementation is vital.
This year, so far, we have had Transport Strategy documents from Transport for the North, Sheffield City Region, Sheffield City Council, Doncaster Sheffield Airport and Highways England. Sheffield Chamber has commented on all of them and they are generally very good, but implementation is lacking.
To achieve a vision of a better-connected north, which could generate significant growth for our region, we need investment. On the Hope Valley rail upgrade designed to better connect Sheffield and Manchester City Regions, we have Network Rail quoting three years to implement and that is subject to funding. Even if it is achieved, the line speed will remain at a poor 70mph and the line will still have Victorian signalling. Two of the largest cities in England have a poor rail service of just two fast trains per hour, rising to only three after the proposed works.
At least we have some positive news on road links, as it looks like we will see a relatively modest scheme implemented to improve the A628 link to Manchester. The rather pie in the sky, long tunnel project was shelved as soon as the consultants had been paid, but at least it did focus attention on the dire need for some form of investment.
More inward investment from abroad into our region would be likely if we had good and regular air connections to our local airport from major international business hubs. Sheffield Chamber’s response to the Doncaster Sheffield Airport strategy highlighted this issue and requested that much more attention is devoted to it going forward. However, the proposal for a new railway station at Doncaster Sheffield Airport, at modest cost, on the main railway from London to Edinburgh is both welcome and seems to have an attractive return on investment. Sheffield Chamber is very supportive of the plans.
London rail connections from Sheffield are slow and comparatively infrequent, particularly at peak times. Sheffield Chamber is spending quite a bit of time talking to rail industry bodies about this. Cancellation of electrification of the railway from London to Sheffield and specification of bi-mode trains to replace the existing diesels from 2022, even though no bi-mode train actually exists capable of achieving the performance of the existing train fleet, is not helping matters at all. Frankly it is a real mess created by officials in London.
So, if you ask me, we seem to live in a period where there is too much talk and not enough action. Modest transport schemes could have a transformational effect on our city region economy. We have high expectations of Transport for the North and it would be a huge disappointment if they did not deliver on their vision and plans to improve our regional transport.