Boring is the New Black


After the tumult that engulfed much of 2022, the relative stability towards the end of the last year represented something that more closely resembled ‘boring’ normality.

Granted, the industrial action and the ongoing timetable issues across much of the North’s rail network kept transport on the front pages and affected many journeys, but not waking up each morning wondering if there would be a functioning government at the end of that day was quite a relief.

So, as we head into 2023, is the return of boring here to stay, or are we going to be scrabbling round again for another adjective instead of “unprecedented”, which was used a lot in 2022?

The temptation is to lean towards the former – it is looking like a General Election is at least 18 months away now and, aside from the May Local Elections, there are few other planned electoral tests that may destabilise the government or create political opportunities for its opponents to exploit.

And a breather may not be such a bad thing, as it would allow a number of key bits of legislation and decision making to work through, including the examination stage of the Hybrid Bill for HS2 Phase 2b and a decision on the Development Consent Order for the A66 Upgrade. Whilst not necessarily being front page news, both processes are necessary steps in the delivery of these important infrastructure improvements.

There should also be the opportunity to deliver the long-planned National Policy Statements on energy, transport and water – given the issues relating to energy security, carbon emissions and climate resilience respectively, all three are needed to set the UK on a sustainable course that can make real strides in achieving carbon reductions.

The North will inherit three new large unitary authorities – one in North Yorkshire and two across Cumbria, as well as preparing for new Mayoral Combined Authorities in 2024 as the former joins with York and in the North East, where the devolution deal was announced just before Christmas. These will help fill in some of the devolution ‘gaps’ across the North and hopefully bring forward proposals for the remaining areas shortly. Devolution seems one area where both main political parties recognise the value, but how much either will be prepared to let go will be the real test.

In all, 2023 presents the chance to complete a lot of the hard yards in delivering the infrastructure that is needed – boring to the casual observer, but building momentum towards delivery nonetheless. There may even be some positive news around the start of the study examining how HS2 services can reach Leeds, although we may have to wait another 12-18 months afterwards for the actual recommendations.

And yet, those of us expecting (and maybe secretly hoping for) a quieter 2023, may still be surprised. The apparent lack of an early resolution to the rail industrial action may well snowball into a wider debate about the ongoing affordability of the rail network as it stands. The problems at Avanti West Coast and Transpennine Express may hasten the planned replacement for the franchise system just at the time when the private sector’s appetite is reduced.

The three month experiment in capped bus fares should see an increase in bus use, but this trial will end just as the last set of emergency funding from Government to the bus industry ends, possibly creating a double-whammy of patronage decrease and further service cuts. Greater Manchester’s first two bus franchising areas go live in September 2023, providing a real life test of the passenger and revenue modelling and forecasting that was mainly undertaken before the COVID-19 pandemic but that underpins the financial commitment assumed.

Either way, and however wrong or right these musings turn out to be in 12 months’ time, everyone at Fore wishes you a very happy and healthy New Year – enjoy the ride!

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