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Ministerial panel mooted to balance regional transport spending

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Businesses have demanded the creation of a cross-Whitehall panel to ensure megaprojects such as Crossrail 2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail don’t boost certain region’s economies at the expense of others.

A report from the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) said ministers from a range of departments should sit together to oversee infrastructure policy with the aim of avoiding a “two-speed England”.

LGC’s sister title New Civil Engineer also reported that the study, called ’Driving Delivery’, called for greater devolution of powers to appease frustrations about varying investment levels in different parts of the country.

“Crossrail 2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail often become the focal point of these either/or debates,” the report said. “With the two projects now progressing in lockstep, and the National Infrastructure Commission highlighting that investment in regions should be in addition to investment in London, the challenge of delivering different regions’ priorities will remain.”

The CBI report called for the formation of “an inter-departmental group to include all departments with responsibilities for infrastructure to better coordinate policy, planning and delivery”.

A spokesperson confirmed that this group would include ministers from the transport, business, communities and culture departments as well as the Treasury and potentially others.

“It would coordinate how policy decisions on infrastructure were made, and how government could better join up policy on different forms of infrastructure, particularly in looking at how improvements in infrastructure can drive regional growth,” he added.

Other recommendations included a commitment in the comprehensive spending review to increase local transport funding and decrease the number of pots this comes from.

There was also calls for the creation of sub-national transport bodies for the South West and the East, to ensure devolved powers given to existing bodies such as Transport for the North are present across the UK.

CBI chief UK policy director Matthew Fell said: “England’s infrastructure is a patchwork quilt. It takes longer to get from Liverpool to Hull by train than from London to Paris.

“Firms have identified the most important projects across the country, but uncertainty and complexity on infrastructure decision making is blocking progress, deterring investors and holding back our regions from fully realising their incredible potential.

“As we focus on being an outward-looking, trading nation, we need world-beating regional infrastructure that unlocks productivity and makes us the envy of our competitors. Business and transport organisations will be the first to work with the government to achieve this.”

The report described a wildly varying sentiment towards transport facilities across the UK – along with equally wide-ranging views on whether these would improve in the future.

According to a survey carried out by the CBI with civils giant Aecom last year, while only 12% of firms in Yorkshire and the Humber were dissatisfied with infrastructure, this figure soared to 69% across the Pennines in the North West.

Almost two-thirds of businesses in the North East expected infrastructure to improve in the wake of devolution, but half of those in Northern Ireland thought it would worsen.

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