The Will of the People


Brexit, Brexit, Brexit. The domination of what, it has to be said, is one of the defining political, social and economic issues of our time is fairly encompassing at the moment, leading to a paralysis in Westminster and what feels like a slowdown in planning and investment in infrastructure as everyone wonders what the outcome will be.

But out of chaos can sometimes come opportunity, and Transport for the North (TfN) launched its final Strategic Transport Plan at its inaugural conference last month, together with a supporting Investment Programme for strategic transport improvements across the North for the next 30 years.

The Plan itself is a comprehensive policy document, but there are three important aspects surrounding it that are worthy of shining a light on.

First, whilst TfN’s document may be called a Transport Plan, it’s not that. It’s a plan about opportunity. If you don’t believe me, then please watch this video made for the launch of the conference:

Gracie may come from Sheffield, but she could equally be from Carlisle, Scunthorpe, Morpeth or Chester – the message about opportunity is the same wherever you are in the North. This is also a very rare example of policy and communications working in perfect harmony, something that a number of our political masters may choose to learn from.

Second, between the draft and final version of the Plan, much was added about sustainability and air quality. Environmental transport organisations have called the approach taken by TfN to be “best in class” and this is a significant achievement that is testament to all those who developed this part of the Plan because transport can become a leader in the drive to reduce carbon emissions and tackle the air quality issues in a number of our main centres.

Third, and perhaps most importantly when Westminster politics has never been so divided, this is a Plan by the North, for the North. To have all 20 Local Transport Authorities, of whatever political make-up and stage of devolution, signed up to a robust evidence-led proposal for transport, is a powerful statement of clarity.

The fact that TfN maintains that the Investment Programme is not an unaffordable wish list, but represents an additional spend of only £50 per person in the North per year over the next 30 years on strategic transport begs the question as to what’s not to like?

IPPR North has launched a report this week identifying a number of “quick wins” for early approval by Government, and showing that the Plan can result in tangible benefits to people early will be an important part of ensuring its success.

But, and yes, here’s the “but” part of this piece, the Plan’s excellent messaging, comprehensive backing, and any associated quick wins, will be for nothing if it’s not turned into reality. And therein lies the risk – at a time when the UK as a whole is crying out for an agreed way forward out of the current confusion, the North actually has one, but do enough people know about it, and furthermore, actually have the inclination to shout about it and make sure that it cannot be ignored?

If we are so committed to implementing the will of the people, all of us across the North need to work with TfN to increase the noise about their Strategic Transport Plan. Because it can improve the lives and futures of every young person like Gracie, but whether it will (or not) is something that we have the power to influence, and now is the time to do just that.

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