“Inclusive investment is the foundation of a global city region”

Liverpool City Region mayor Steve Rotheram on the day of his victory in 2017. Image: Getty.

The Labour mayor of the Liverpool City region on its £500m new Strategic Investment Fund.

Devolution can be a complex topic. But at its root is a concept that could not be simpler – that the people who live in a place are best placed to make decisions about it.

Whilst the pace of devolution has arguably slowed of late, those decisions are increasingly about how we spend our money. And as we enter an uncertain, post-Brexit world, devolution gives us the opportunity to decide to use our resources in ways that benefit and protect our residents and communities.

That is why I am announcing a £500m fund to help transform the city region’s economy, creating high-quality jobs and boosting living standards for local people in the Liverpool City Region.

The new Strategic Investment Fund will feature a new approach to how our Combined Authority funds projects, which recognises the importance of building resilient communities, and puts the creation of social value at the heart of what we do. Some £100m will be available in the first year of the fund, rising to £500m over four years.


Our key purpose as a Combined Authority is to improve our residents’ lives, by creating the right ecosystems for our economy to thrive, while ensuring that growth benefits everyone through well paid local jobs and increased living standards.

Through the Strategic Investment Fund we will have £500m available to support projects in areas such transport infrastructure, economic development, skills, culture and housing.

Devolution gives us the opportunity to do things differently – and one of the ways we will do that is by making clear to applicants that they will have a better chance of success if their bids demonstrate positive social impact.

So, for example, we will consider their bid more favourably if they pay the living wage, refuse to use zero hour contracts, create apprenticeships and use local supply chains and labour to deliver their projects.

We are determined to ensure that, in an uncertain, post-Brexit world, this funding delivers the maximum possible benefit to the people of the Liverpool City Region.

As a Combined Authority we have already identified projects which can receive support from the fund, including:

  • Ultra-fast broadband for every borough, delivered by building a fibre superspine, that will connect all six of our constituent districts, and see digital exchanges created throughout the city region;
  •  A new smart ticketing system as part of our move towards a truly integrated public transport system; 
  • Help for our high streets, through a £5m Town Centre Fund that will help regenerate towns throughout our city region;
  • And a new generation of Mersey Ferries.

We know the difference that we can make as a Combined Authority from projects supported even before the adoption of this new approach.

Through our previous Single Investment Fund we have allocated £400m for investments across the city region, money which has enabled us to leverage in another £500m of additional investments.

We know that this investment will support around £1.7bn of economic activity, and directly create 9000 jobs and 5,500 apprenticeships, through supporting a wide range of projects, including:

  • £19m for the Newton-le-Willows interchange;
  • £13m for a new station at Maghull North;
  • £20m for a new Cruise Liner Terminal;
  • £2.5m for Blackburne House in Liverpool 8, one of the country’s leading educational centres for women;
  • £3.4 million for Alstom for a state-of-the-art train maintenance and repair facility, creating hundreds of local jobs and apprenticeships;
  • £30m for 40 skills projects in local colleges;
  • £12m for Paddington Village in the Knowledge Quarter;
  • £14million from its Single Investment Fund for the Shakespeare North Playhouse and a Rail Interchange project in Prescot.

In addition to making additional funding available, the new Strategic Investment Fund recognises the need to improve our capacity to develop high-impact investment-ready projects. So we will provide pre-development funding to help expand and improve the pipeline of projects, by providing support to prospective applicants to help analyse markets, identify opportunities and develop projects.

At the last election, Labour’s manifesto committed to a National Transformation Fund, which would increase levels of public investment in much needed infrastructure, R&D and job training.

I believe what we are creating here today is a city region version of that – our own local transformation fund.

It not only shows only the public that devolution and having a metro mayor is delivering significant benefits to our region; but also the difference that Labour in power can make.

Steve Rotheram is Labour mayor of the Liverpool City Region.

 
 
 
 

What other British cities can learn from the Tyne & Wear Metro

A Metro train at Monument. Image: Callum Cape/Wikipedia.

Ask any person on the street what they know about Newcastle, and they’ll list a few things. They’ll mention the accent; they’ll mention the football; they’ll mention brown ale and Sting and Greggs. They might even mention coal or shipbuilding, and then the conversation will inevitably turn political, and you’ll wish you hadn’t stopped to ask someone about Newcastle at all.

They won’t, however, mention the Tyne and Wear Metro, because they haven’t probably heard of it – which is a shame, because the Metro is one of the best things the north-east has to offer.

Two main issues plague suburban trains. One is frequency. Suburban rail networks often run on poor frequency; to take Birmingham for an example, most of its trains operate at 30-minute intervals.

The other is simplicity. Using Birmingham again, the entire system is built around New Street, leading to a very simple network. Actually, that’s not quite true: if you’re coming from Leamington Spa, Warwick, Stourbridge, Solihull or a host of other major minor (minor major?) towns, you don’t actually connect to New Street – no, you don’t even connect to the ENTIRE SYSTEM BUILT AROUND NEW STREET except at Smethwick Galton Bridge, miles away in the western suburbs, where the physical tracks don’t even connect – they pass over each other. Plus, what on earth is the blue line to Walsall doing?

An ageing map of the West Midlands rail network: click any of the images in this article to expand them. Image: Transport for the West Midlands/Centro.

But Newcastle has long been a hub of railway activity. Tragically, the north-east has fewer active railway lines than any other region of the UK. Less tragically, this is because Tyne and Wear has the Metro.


The Metro was formed in 1980 from a somewhat eccentric collection of railways, including freight-only lines, part of the old Tyneside Electrics route, underground tunnelling through the city centre, track-sharing on the National Rail route to Sunderland, and lines closed after the Beeching axe fell in the early 1960s.

From this random group of railway lines, the Metro has managed to produce a very simple network of two lines. Both take a somewhat circuitous route, the Yellow line especially, because it’s literally a circle for much of its route; but they get to most of the major population centres. And frequency is excellent – a basic 5 trains an hour, with 10 tph on the inner core, increasing at peak times (my local station sees 17 tph each way in the morning peak).

Fares are simple, too: there are only three zones, and they’re generally good value, whilst the Metro has been a national leader in pay-as-you-go technology (PAYG), with a tap-in, tap-out system. The Metro also shares many characteristics of European light rail systems – for example, it uses the metric system (although this will doubtless revert to miles and chains post-Brexit, whilst fares will be paid in shillings).

 

The Metro network. Image: Nexus.

Perhaps most importantly, the Metro has been the British pioneer for the Karlsruhe model, in which light rail trains share tracks with mainline services. This began in 2002 with the extension to Sunderland, and, with new bi-mode trains coming in the next ten years, the Metro could expand further around the northeast. The Sheffield Supertram also recently adopted this model with its expansion to Rotherham; other cities, like Manchester, are considering similar moves.

However, these cities aren’t considering what the Metro has done best – amalgamated local lines to allow people to get around a city easily. Most cities’ rail services are focused on those commuters who travel in from outside, instead of allowing travel within a city; there’s no coherent system of corridors allowing residents to travel within the limits of a city.

The Metro doesn’t only offer lessons to big cities. Oxford, for example, currently has dire public transport, focused on busy buses which share the same congested roads as private vehicles; the city currently has only two rail stations near the centre (red dots).

Image: Google.

But it doesn’t need to be this way. For a start, Oxford is a fairly lateral city, featuring lots of north-south movements, along broadly the same route the railway line follows. So, using some existing infrastructure and reinstating other parts, Oxford’s public transport could be drastically improved. With limited engineering work, new stations could be built on the current track (blue dots on the map below; with more extensive work, the Cowley branch could be reinstated, too (orange dots). Electrify this new six-station route and, hey presto, Oxford has a functioning metro system; the short length of the route also means that few trains would be necessary for a fequent service.

Image: Google.

Next up: Leeds. West Yorkshire is a densely populated area with a large number of railway lines. Perfect! I hear you cry. Imperfect! I cry in return. Waaaaaah! Cry the people of Leeds, who, after two cancelled rapid transit schemes, have had enough of imaginative public transport projects.

Here’s a map of West Yorkshire:

Image: Google.

Here’s a map of West Yorkshire’s railway network:

 ​

Image: West Yorkshire Metro.

The problem is that all of the lines go to major towns, places like Dewsbury, Halifax or Castleford, which need a mainline connection due to their size. Options for a metro service are limited.

But that’s not to say they’re non-existent. For example, the Leeds-Bradford Interchange line passes through densely populated areas; and anyway, Bradford Interchange is a terminus, so it’s poorly suited to service as a through station, as it’s currently being used.

Image: Google.

With several extra stops, this line could be converted to a higher frequency light rail operation. It would then enter an underground section just before Holbeck; trains from Halifax could now reach Leeds via the Dewsbury line. The underground section would pass underneath Leeds station, therefore freeing up capacity at the mainline station, potentially simplifying the track layout as well.

 

Image: Google.

Then you have the lines from Dewsbury and Wakefield, which nearly touch here:

Image: Google.

By building a chord, services from Morley northwards could run into Leeds via the Wakefield line, leaving the Dewsbury line north of Morley open for light rail operation, probably with an interchange at the aforementioned station.

Image: Google.

The Leeds-Micklefield section of the Leeds-York line could also be put into metro service, by building a chord west of Woodlesford over the River Aire and connecting at Neville Hill Depot (this would involve running services from York and Selby via Castleford instead):

The path of the proposed chord, in white. Image: Google.

With a section of underground track in Leeds city centre, and an underground line into the north-east of Leeds – an area completely unserved by rail transport at present – the overall map could look like this, with the pink and yellow dots representing different lines:

Et voila! Image: Google.

Leeds would then have a light-rail based public transport system, with potential for expansion using the Karlsruhe model. It wouldn’t even be too expensive, as it mainly uses existing infrastructure. (Okay, the northeastern tunnel would be pricey, but would deliver huge benefits for the area.)

Why aren’t more cities doing this? Local council leaders often talk about introducing “metro-style services” – but they avoid committing to real metro projects because they’re more expensive than piecemeal improvements to the local rail system, and they’re often more complex to deliver (with the lack of space in modern-day city centres, real metro systems need tunnels).

But metro systems can provide huge benefits to cities, with more stops, a joined-up network, and simpler fares. More cities should follow the example of the Tyne and Wear Metro.