MINISTERS were today told to provide “substantial” funding to upgrade the North East’s inadequate transport network if they are serious about boosting prosperity and avoiding gridlock.
The influential IPPR North think-tank called for a review of the Government’s transport funding, with the North East receiving just 81% of the regional average per head and London handed almost three times as much cash.
In a report, it warned cash could be skewed away from the region despite its road network being in the worst condition in England with motorists left stuck in traffic on routes such as the A1.
The Newcastle-based organisation added existing North-South rail and inter-regional links were unlikely to be able to cope in future and urged ministers to begin immediately investigating the benefits of ultra-fast maglev services.
Regional transport chiefs must be handed more powers over roads, trains and buses to streamline delivery and boost economic growth, it said.
More controversially, it suggested a potential role for congestion charging that could cover areas outside major urban areas.
Last night, Tyne Bridge MP David Clelland, a member of the Commons transport committee, said: “We need to have more equity of funding in terms of transport and the North East is lagging behind of what we ought to be allocated.”
The Labour MP also stressed the need to campaign on high-speed rail with ministers now more “likely to listen”, although they remained worried about maglev’s potential costs.
Andrew Sugden, from the North East Chamber of Commerce, said: “There is absolutely a need to look at how transport funding is allocated to ensure the North East gets a fair deal and we would like to see high-speed rail as part of that.”
Tory Hexham MP Peter Atkinson said road and rail improvements were needed, but warned against any “tax” on rural motorists.
Northumberland-based Alan James, of maglev champions UK Ultraspeed, said: “We warmly welcome IPPR’s conclusion that a radical upgrade of connectivity to and between the cities of the English North is an absolute requirement.”
IPPR chief economist Howard Reed said the Department for Transport should look at funding, with the report saying it was “less clear” why spending was lower in the North East, and claimed its Local Transport Bill was not strong enough to get the region moving.
Tyne and Wear PTE Nexus said there needed to be a joined-up approach to transport but believed proposed legislation allowed regions to develop local solutions. Development agency One NorthEast said a “hard-headed” assessment of the region’s transport had started, with it due to lead on planning from 2010. The Northern Way, charged with boosting the area’s economy, said the report backed its evidence-based priorities and highlighted the emphasis on high-speed rail.
The DfT claimed it was “misleading” to compare spending in different areas as each had varying needs. “DfT spending on road and rail in the North East has increased by 80% over the six years – from £165m in 2001-02 to £298m in 2007-08,” a spokesman said.