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West meets East as Midlands Connect heralds new dawn for transport planning

West meets East as Midlands Connect heralds new dawn for transport planning

🕔30.Mar 2016

Few people will have heard of Midlands Connect. Fewer still will have much of an idea what Midlands Connect is or seeks to achieve. Paul Dale reports. 

But this organisation, a unique collaboration of 28 councils, 11 Local Enterprise Partnerships, Network Rail, Highways England and the Department for Transport, is set to achieve something that was until recently thought impossible – bringing together the west and east Midlands and the Government to agree a much needed strategic transport plan for the whole region.

Formed two years ago, the partnership received a major boost from the Chancellor, George Osborne, who announced in his Budget that Midlands Connect will be on a statutory footing by 2018 as a sub-national transport body for the Midlands similar to Transport for London and Transport for the North.

Currently, decision-making over strategic transport schemes is centralised at the national level, but this is set to change in the Midlands under the Government’s devolution programme.

Midlands Connect will be given legal powers to advise transport ministers on investment priorities in their own areas and on strategic transport schemes to boost growth. A London-style oyster card could be developed, giving customers easier access to local train, tram and bus services.

The partnership believes improvements are badly needed to not only help release untapped growth across central England but also to tackle the significant transport challenges harming the competitiveness of both the Midlands and the wider UK economy.

Research by the CBI has shown that speeding up journey times across the Midlands could boost the regional economy by more than £1 billion a year, create an additional 300,000 jobs and save businesses nearly £500 million.

The aim is to improve connectivity, particularly from west to east, by road, rail and air, and maximise the growth potential of the Midlands, boosting GVA and creating thousands of jobs.

Midlands Connect says it is underpinned by two main principles:

  • Investing in a one voice approach to ensure the Midlands reaches a unified position on strategic transport investment.
  • An evidenced approach focused on clearly articulating the transport needs, opportunities and investment priorities in the region.

In July 2015 the Midlands Connect Partnership secured £5 million from the Government to help develop its vision and strategy for transforming transport connectivity across the region in order to drive economic growth. The strategy will set out credible long-term transport investment priorities to support the building of the Midlands as an engine for growth.

At their inaugural meeting on 16 December 2015 the Midlands Connect Partnership Advisory Board approved all nominations to the newly strengthened governance arrangements including the appointment of the Independent Chairman Sir John Peace.

The Midlands Connect project team, who will deliver the project on a day-to-day basis has also been established, with support from national agencies. Highways England, Network Rail, the Department for Transport, the West Midlands Integrated Transport Authority, and East Midlands councils have all provided members of the project team.

Andrew Cleaves, the Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP lead for transport, is chair of the Midlands Connect Programme Steering Group, which held its inaugural meeting last month.

The partnership is currently in the process of identifying the major road and rail schemes needed to support the region’s economy and help power the Government’s vision of a ‘Midlands Engine for Growth’

The schemes will form the backbone of a transport strategy due to be published later this year.

Mr Cleaves has launched Midlands Connect’s website, saying:

A key part of the project is to gather and present the evidence for those transport schemes that can release untapped economic growth across our region.

But it is important that our case is heard loud and clear and this website will help us do that and show how the region is speaking with one voice on this crucial issue.

With more news and content being added to the website all the time we hope the public, business community, media and other interested parties will find it a useful source of information.

Detailed briefs are out to tender, described as “large pieces of work which will underpin the strategy and provide the evidence for the eventual recommendations for infrastructure investment across the region”.

These briefs include work in the following areas:

  • HS2 Readiness
  • Main Corridor and Hub Connectivity
  • Freight and International Connectivity
  • Smarter Connectivity

An emerging opportunities report will look at the potential for economic growth from the key pieces of strategic road and rail infrastructure already identified by Highways England and Network Rail.

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