Accelerated funding for High Speed 3, Manchester Piccadilly station development and improvements to trans-Pennine road links will ensure connectivity between northern cities, according to the National Infrastructure Commission.
The commission set out its findings in a report published today, to coincide with the revelation that chancellor George Osborne will commit funding to further infrastructure funding in his Budget tomorrow.
The High Speed North report finds that: “The North needs immediate and very significant investment for action now and a plan for longer term transformation to reduce journey times, increase capacity and improve reliability.”
High Speed 3 should be kick-started between Manchester and Leeds, with the aim of improving on existing enhancements that will reduce journey times from 49mins to 40mins by 2022, to 30mins as a result of a high speed link, it said.
It also called for a long term masterplan to transform Manchester Piccadilly station to ensure it works for High Speed 2 and as part of the Northern Hub scheme, and to secure regeneration and development of the surrounding Mayfield area.
In the meantime, it said Network Rail should reinstate a delivery date for two new through platforms at the station.
These new platforms were due to be completed by 2018, but the rail operator and owner subsequently removed the deadline, and as things stand there is no specific target date for completion.
The commission worked with consultant Arup on revising plans at Manchester Piccadilly, which it said could be refurbished on a scale similar to that of King’s Cross in London and have the regeneration impact of Birmingham’s New Street.
The consultant also offered up suggested improvements to Network Rail’s trans-Pennine plans. Beyond the existing plans to 2022, it found options on the Diggle route, via Huddersfield, involving construction of new tunnels and/or the use of disused track.
While the work is at an early stage the report said the options have potential to reduce journey times between Leeds and Manchester by between 1min and 10mins.
The findings come a week after chair of the commission Lord Adonis, who originally championed High Speed 2 as the last Labour transport secretary, pushed for Crossrail 2 to go ahead without delay. Osborne has today also promised to introduce a planning bill for the new London rail scheme in this Parliament.
In roads, the commission called on Highways England to bring forward “very substantial capital funding” to speed up two M62 schemes between Liverpool and Manchester and Manchester and Leeds.
The recommendations were made as work is continuing on a long term plan to tunnel across the Pennines between Sheffield and Manchester, under the Peak District, for which Osborne today also pledged capital funding for further development.
The commission said an update from studies of longer term road options along the route were due imminently, while briefly alluding to the possibility that road and rail options could be combined.