A UK-wide Strategic Transport Network is a potential solution to the lack of connectivity between the four nations of the UK, says Sir Peter Hendy CBE in his interim report, commissioned by the Government.

The key emerging recommendation from the Union Connectivity Review is the “possible development of a new UK Strategic Transport Network.”

The Network Rail Chair also sets out nine ‘key concerns’ to improve transport saying: “From the work I have done so far, some of the key concerns raised include the following, obviously not exhaustive list:”

In addition to publishing the interim report this morning, the Government has pledged to start work on reducing barriers and announced a £20m to “develop plans for upgraded rail, road, sea and air links.” See separate story here

Announcing the findings so far, the next step is for the Review to develop proposals for a UK Strategic Transport Network covering road, rail, air and maritime.

“This will focus on the possible geographical layout of such a network, the potential benefits and challenges, assessment and performance metrics, legal considerations, environmental impacts, the role of key stakeholders, delivery arrangements and funding.”

The 61-page interim report sets out the findings so far, ahead of the final report to be submitted by Sir Peter in the summer.

The Review was announced in June 2020 , with its terms of reference set out by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps in a statement to Parliament on 5 October 2020.

The Review is an “opportunity to assess current transport connectivity within and between the nations of the UK and to make recommendations that will maximise economic potential and improve quality of life.”

The Union Connectivity Review is assessing transport connections and networks in, and between, England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. It will consider how the quality and availability of transport can support economic growth, levelling up and an improvement in quality of life.

The ‘bridge to Belfast’

The Interim Report considers existing transport connectivity of the UK and breaks this down by mode for passengers and for freight. It also provides detail on the environmental impact of travel between the nations of the UK.

A proposal by Prime Minister Boris Johnson for a fixed link (bridge or tunnel) between Northern Ireland and the British mainland has aroused much public comment.

As part of the Review, two experts, Professor Douglas Oakervee CBE, and Professor Gordon Masterton OBE, are to “lead a discrete piece of work, using engineering consultants, to assess the feasibility of such a link, and an outline cost and timescale for the link and the associated works needed.”

Devolution has worked, with a ‘but’

Devolution has been “good for transport where its delivery has been devolved” says Sir Peter.

“But I have already concluded that conversely that has also led to a certain lack of attention to connectivity between the four nations, due to competing priorities and complex funding.”

Levelling up has also brought into focus the way in which transport investment proposals are prioritised, he adds.

Brexit-effect could create an opportunity?

“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,” says Sir Peter.

“In recent years the UK has put an annual average of €447m 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.

“In recent years the UK has put an annual average of €447m into CEF-T, the EU transport funding mechanism, but received back only a tenth of that. This creates the opportunity to replace this by a UK Network”

Sir Peter Hendy, Union Connectivity Review, Interim Report

“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.

“UK government funding would, like the former EU funding, be used to add to existing funding streams, to enable higher capacity, faster, and more reliable connectivity.

“And, because the Network would be determined by the UK government, which I would expect it to do in consultation with the devolved administrations, it would be determined to directly address the UK’s particular needs.”

Scope of the Review

The government has asked Sir Peter to undertake a detailed review of how the quality and availability of transport infrastructure across the UK can support economic growth and quality of life across the whole of the UK.

This covers transport connectivity between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland via road, rail and air, and across the Irish Sea.

As part of this review, Sir Peter has been asked to consider:

The Review will make recommendations as to whether and how best to improve transport connectivity in the long term, including how to bolster existing connections.

These recommendations will be consistent with the UK’s wider fiscal strategy, will have significant benefits to either economic growth or quality of life in the UK and will be underpinned by economic analysis. This analysis will be published.

The Review will consider the cost, feasibility and value for money of any recommendations made.

It will also consider relevant delivery arrangements and timescales as well as how any proposed projects should be sequenced.

Download the full interim report below: