The UK Government has released the interim report of Sir Peter Hendy’s Union Connectivity Review, which outlines potential for a UK Strategic Transport Network.
As a result, the government has made an immediate £20 million commitment to develop transport plans. In addition, Sir Peter suggests a source of funding worth £380 million a year, using money that will no longer be financing EU transport plans.
In June 2020, Sir Peter Hendy CBE was tasked by the Prime Minister to explore ways in which transport can improve connections between all parts of the United Kingdom.
In response to the interim report, published on 8 March 2021, Prime Minister Boris Johnson set out his vision to build back better from coronavirus by boosting transport connectivity across and between the whole of the UK, as part of ambitions to ‘level up’ across the country.
The government will consult on cutting air passenger duty on internal UK flights, and will commit £20 million to develop plans for upgraded rail, road, sea and air links, including:
- Improved rail connectivity between the north coast of Wales and England;
- Upgrading the A75 between Gretna, Dumfries and Stranraer, a key route for southwest Scotland and Northern Ireland but almost entirely single-carriageway;
- Significantly faster rail links from England to Scotland, including looking at options to enhance the West Coast main line;
- Rail improvements in southeast Wales, building on ideas from the Welsh Government’s Burns Commission.
Sir Peter Hendy’s report sets out how a UK Strategic Transport Network would help deliver this ambition. Such a network would significantly expand and upgrade direct transport connections in the UK across road, rail, sea and air, helping to reduce delays and bottlenecks and stimulate economic growth.
Improving rail links helps cut carbon emissions, and so as well as considering how transport links can improve connections in the UK, the Prime Minister will consider their environmental and social impact, taking into account how they will improve the quality of life of the people that use them.
The potential network will now form the main focus of Sir Peter’s continuing investigations, with his final report in the summer looking to identify specific transport upgrades that could form the backbone of the network’s ambitions. The government will receive his final report and recommendations ahead of the Spending Review, so that it can consider and confirm funding plans for delivering improved connectivity across the UK.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson stated: “It’s now time to build back better in a way which brings every corner of the UK closer together. We will harness the incredible power of infrastructure to level up parts of our country that have too long been left off the transport map.
“This pioneering review by Sir Peter Hendy gives us the tools we need to deliver on our ambitions for a UK-wide transport network that encompasses sea, rail, and road – and I also want to cut passenger duty on domestic flights so we can support connectivity across the country.”
Sir Peter Hendy CBE said: “Devolution has been good for transport but it has also led to a lack of attention to connectivity between the four nations, due to competing priorities and complex funding. A UK Strategic Transport Network could resolve this, with its core objective centred around levelling up across the whole of the UK.”
In his foreword to the interim report, Sir Peter suggests one source of funding for the improvements needed: “Leaving the European Union has meant we have also left behind the EU Trans-European Network for Transport, designed to identify routes and nodes across the EU into which EU funding would create EU-wide growth, jobs, housing and social cohesion.
“In recent years, the UK has put an annual average of €447 million (£382 million) into CEF-T, the EU transport funding mechanism, but received back only a tenth of that figure.
“This creates the opportunity to replace this by a UK Network, with the same objectives, but tailored to respond to the UK’s needs including the levelling up agenda, and which could be used to put resource into better connectivity between the four nations of the United Kingdom.
“My consultation in the early stages of this work suggests widespread approval for this concept, provided it is funded, and that funding is not subtracted from existing funding of the devolved administrations.”
Going forward into the summer, the Review will continue to assess transport and economic baselines, undertake research, engage with stakeholders, and fully assess the responses from the Call for Evidence. It will use this information to consider policy and develop well evidenced recommendations which seek to improve transport connectivity and support economic growth and an improvement in quality of life for people across the UK.