On the back of Rishi Sunak's Autumn Budget, Kevin Bell, transport partner at Womble Bond Dickinson, says:
"In scenes not too dissimilar to the James Bond spoilers that have recently been doing the rounds on the internet, the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, took the opportunity at the weekend to announce his pre-Budget pledge for almost £7 billion of new transport projects to improve trains, trams, buses and cycleways across the North and the Midlands. A promise of new and improved train stations, extended tram systems, new bus routes and electric vehicle charging points to help build a clean, green transport network. Even the normally critical Labour Mayor for Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, welcomed this investment as an important first step in the levelling up agenda.
"The naysayers will point to the fact that if you scratch beneath the surface of the Treasury's weekend spoiler alerts then you will discover that only a small share (well, £1.5 billion, to be precise) is, in fact, new money. Yet our Mayoral Combined Authorities and local regions have asked for wider and deeper transport and infrastructure devolution and that is now being delivered in spades. Add to that the further commitments for transport infrastructure (including those comprised within the successful first-round funding bids under the Levelling Up Fund) and a new lower rate of domestic Air Passenger Duty announced in the Budget this afternoon and it is hard to argue that the Chancellor is not trying his best to tackle the fundamental barriers at the root of the North-South productivity gap. Only time will tell if the Government's rhetoric of ensuring that levelling up is a 'birth right of every child' is matched by reality.
"But then, of course, there is the 'elephant in the room' that is HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail. Surely true levelling up (whatever that means to each of us) cannot be achieved without both of these projects being delivered in full? The continued delays to the publication of the Integrated Rail Plan and the fact that the Chancellor failed to publicly quash any of the continuing rumours about the Eastern leg of HS2 being scaled back and downgraded at the despatch box only adds to the increasing uncertainty surrounding these projects."