Transport for the North published their ‘Strategic Transport Plan’ in February 2019. This article provides an overview of the plan and discusses how the plan aims to reduce transport carbon emissions.  

The Case for Change 

There is a significant disparity between the economic performance of the North compared to London and the South East. This makes the UK ‘the most unequal Northern European country in terms of income inequalities’ [1].  

Furthermore, Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) data shows that 14 of the 20 English towns and cities with the highest levels of deprivation are in the North [1]. This has an impact on life expectancy with 14 of the 20 English local authorities with the lowest healthy life expectancy found in the North [1]. It is hoped that boosting the economy of the North will help address these inequalities. 

With many small and medium-sized towns growing at pace, we are starting to see the formation of economic clusters. However, this is not the same for all towns, as many have struggled with de-industrialisation. TfN has highlighted poor connectivity as a major factor in areas becoming ‘peripheral’ [1]. They argue that most of the North’s rail services are now at capacity and other major roads are heavily congested, ‘acting as major barriers to transforming the North’s economy’ [1]. 

According to TfN: 

‘to release the benefits of agglomeration and economic mass, the North requires faster, more efficient, reliable and sustainable journeys on the road and rail networks’ [1] 

The Vision 

TfN’s vision is of ‘a thriving North of England, where world-class transport supports sustainable economic growth, excellent quality of life and improved opportunities for all.’ [1] 

Supporting this vision are their transport objectives:  

  • Transforming economic performance 
  • Increasing efficiency, reliability, integration, and resilience in the transport system 
  • Improving inclusivity, health, and access to opportunities for all 
  • Promoting and enhancing the built, historic, and natural environment 

TfN broke down these objectives further to outline the impact investment in transport can have and how this impacts more widely across the North and the rest of the UK: 

Investment in transport can: 

  • Increase employment and real wages, which has a social benefit via taxation 
  • Increase competition, leading to increases in net business productivity and output 
  • Improve health and wellbeing, increasing life expectancy 
  • Increase social mobility and inclusion 
  • Increase land values, supporting investment and regeneration 
  • Stimulate agglomeration economies, by effectively increasing proximity, raising productivity and wages, and retaining a skilled workforce 
  • Reduce journey times, increasing productivity and output 
  • Reduce transport costs, lowering prices and thereby allowing for an expansion of output 
  • Strengthen our global reach, by making it easier, faster and more reliable for people and goods to access the North’s airports and ports 

This will help to: 

  • Transform East-West inter-urban connectivity, which has not previously received sufficient attention and investment 
  • Helping develop the North’s existing and future functional economic clusters and assets, and support city-regions as drivers of economic growth.  
  • Provide easier access to high-quality jobs for more communities 
  • Tackle overcrowding and congestion 
  • Improve connectivity across the North’s transport network 
  • Make areas of the North accessible for new housing, commercial and industrial developments 
  • Strengthen businesses’ access to supply chains and the markets they serve 
  • Access the world’s most important current and future markets to support trade and inward investment 
  • Support the growth of tourism and the visitor economy 
  • Deliver a sustainable transport network that improves health, quality of life, and protects the environment  
  • Establish a firm commitment to create a stronger, more diverse and resilient place to do business  
  • Ensure that the North is an excellent place to live, work, visit, study and do business 

TfN’s Strategic Transport plan aims to deliver transformational, inclusive economic growth’ through significant investment to the ‘road and rail networks across the North [1]. 

Environmental Considerations 

In 2018 the Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy reported that transport is the largest source of pollution in the UK, accounting for 28% of all UK greenhouse gas emissions [2]. This does not seem to be changing very rapidly, while greenhouse emissions from the energy supply dropped by 7% from 2017 to 2018, the transport sector only dropped by 1%. This was the first fall in emissions since 2013 [2].  

Transport has a significant role to play in meeting UK commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. TfN acknowledges the role they must play in decarbonising: 

“This means that national road transport emissions will need to be near-zero, almost every vehicle on the road will need to be of an ultra-low emission type, and rail will need to be decarbonised by 2050” [1].  

So, how do they plan to do it? 

  • Electric vehicles: TfN notes ‘To succeed in making the transition to zero-emission, the electric vehicle charging infrastructure will need to change significantly’ [1]. As part of improvements planned to the North’s road network, they aim to support a move to electric vehicles through a rapid increase in the number of public charging points across all parts of the North. They note that ‘The North’s transport hubs, such as its 575 rail stations, are places where large numbers of vehicles are left for several hours, and working with Network Rail, train operators and local authorities, TfN will support the establishment of rapid hubs or charging point filling stations at these’ [1]. 
  • Clean air zones: To encourage a move to Ultra Low Emission Vehicles TfN will put in place Clean Air Zones. However, TfN asserts that it will also be ‘necessary to use disincentives to phase out fossil fuel vehicles altogether’ [1]. 
  • Public transport: TfN is focusing heavily on creating a strong rail network across the North. By introducing bi-mode and electric trains on the TransPennine Express network TfN are hoping it will cut the networks carbon emissions by 30% [1]. They are also aiming to make small, yet significant investments, ‘such as solar panels and LED lighting at rail stations, on streets, on strategic road networks, and on dedicated cycle and walking routes’ [1]. Furthermore, TfN aims to build new developments so there is good access to public transport. They are also encouraging public transport providers to retrofit vehicles and to maximise the reuse and recycling of materials.  
  • Improving the flow and efficiency of traffic: TfN reported that ‘whilst total traffic volumes are greatest on roads operated and managed by Highways England, which is known as the Strategic Road Network, this network only accounts for 2% of the road network in the North’ [1]. Consequently, a significant number of road journeys start and finish on local roads. This is not efficient and results in traffic build-up. The Major Road Network for the North hopes to invest in roads across the ‘pan-Northern gap’ to better connect the region [3] 
  • Working with the Environment Agency and Natural England, and the National Parks: ‘TfN recognises that successfully delivering inclusive, healthy, and sustainable growth is dependent upon protecting and renewing the high-quality environment in the North’ [1]. 

But is this enough? Friends of the Earth’s head of policy, Mike Childs, said:  

‘It is encouraging to see the government finally acknowledge that the only way to reduce the UK’s massive transport emissions is to increase public transport and active travel, and reduce car journeys…. But, if it is serious about lowering the transport sector’s carbon footprint, why did the Government just announce the biggest road-building budget in decades, and re-affirm its commitment to airport expansion? Investment is needed in buses, trams, cycling and walking, not more tarmac.’ [4] 

These are grand aims and TfN’s objectives include ‘promoting and enhancing the built, historic, and natural environment’ [1]. More details can be found in the Strategic Transport Plan. 


[1] 2018. Strategic Transport Plan. 

[2] Loughran, J., 2020. Transport most polluting sector as UK greenhouse gas emissions fall.  

[3] 2018. Major Roads Report.  

[4] 2020. Shapps sets out huge scale of 2050 net zero challenge.  

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Transport for the North published their ‘Strategic Transport Plan’ in February 2019. This article provides an overview of the plan and discusses how the plan aims to reduce transport carbon emissions.

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