Come the infrastructure revolution… Sunak promises UK-wide commitment to levelling up

The Chancellor promised an “infrastructure revolution” in his Autumn Budget speech, promising to spend £21bn on roads, £46bn on railways and £5.7bn London-style travel settlement plans for Liverpool, Greater Manchester, the West Midlands and South Yorkshire.

Greater Manchester will receive £1.07bn of City Region Sustainable Transport Settlements, while £710m will go to the Liverpool City Region over five years to transform local transport networks, for schemes such as next generation Metrolink tram-train vehicles, and battery power for rolling stock to expand the Merseyrail network.

More than £249m has been allocated for North West local roads maintenance funding between 2022-23 and 2024-25, and in excess of £50m for smaller transport improvement priorities through the Integrated Transport Block, to local authorities in the North West not receiving City region settlements.

There will be a £14.7m investment through the Transforming Cities Fund to regenerate the Friargate North and Ringway area in Preston, and allocation of a share of £70m Zero Emission Bus Regional Areas (ZEBRA) funding to Warrington to transition an entire bus fleet, of around 120 buses, to zero emission.

In addition, £2.6bn has been announced for local road upgrades over this Parliament including the A595 Grizebeck Bypass in Cumbria, and £24bn for strategic roads investment, including the A66 Northern TransPennine and improvements to the M60 Simister Island.

He also promised £6.5bn on road upgrades, and £5bn for cycling and walking routes.

Chris Oglesby, chief executive of property developer Bruntwood, said: “The £6.9bn pot for regional transport infrastructure is mostly a collection of existing announcements reheated for today – just £1.5bn of it is new money. But we welcome the certainty this five year funding will give to regional cities.

“We know that levelling up is bigger than transport investment, but you could be forgiven for thinking the Government sees it that way. In this light, such a meagre new sum is disappointing for its self-acclaimed ‘defining mission’.

“Worryingly, another Budget has passed with no mention of funding to support Northern Powerhouse Rail nor the Eastern leg of HS2. These two transformational projects would turbo-charge economic growth in the North and Midlands.

“Alongside our local transport networks we need to see investment in intercity links – connecting Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Bradford, Sheffield and Newcastle; the original agglomeration thesis that drove the whole Northern Powerhouse project. This combination is what will unlock the next generation of growth in the North and rebalance the economy.”

He added: “Not investing in an underground station at Manchester Piccadilly is a mistake we will come to regret and see as a major strategic error. Without this piece of the rail-jigsaw the opportunity to properly connect Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool – attracting investment and creating jobs – will never be fully realised.”

The announcement was part of a £1.7bn infrastructure commitment to levelling up that would, Rishi Sunak said, “benefit whole UK.”

He outlined investment in the Tate Liverpool and York Railways Museum, as well as cash for over 800 museums and libraries and a new Beatles attraction on Liverpool waterfront.

Sunak added: We have made the decision on whether to retrench or invest – and we are investing in a plan for growth that builds a stronger economy for the future.”

The Chancellor also announced changes to air passenger duty, saying that flights between airports in UK from April 2023 will subject to lower rate of air passenger duty, meaning that 9 million people see their duty cut by half. This would be a boost to regional airports, said Sunak, adding: “Airports are major regional employers, and that’s why we’re extend support for airports for a further six months.”