Belfast Telegraph

Call for better airports and ports in quest to link up 'northern powerhouse'

Better connected airports and ports in the north of England could release massive potential benefits for trade and business growth, say business chiefs.

Improving international links could see 75 million air passengers travelling to and from the region each year by 2050, according to the Independent International Connectivity Commission.

Better road and rail links to and from the region's ports could also see more freight being shipped in and out which would boost the economy and ease pressure on south coast ports.

Commission head John Cridland, chair of Transport for the North (TfN), said: "It's clear that the north's ports and airports are key economic assets for the region with nearly 40 million passengers flying from the region each year and around a third of all UK freight using northern ports.

"Yet we know that the lack of access to and from our ports and airports is holding them back, with congestion on our roads and railways making it difficult for people and goods to reach international gateways.

"These inadequate ground transport links, coupled with not enough direct services to key international destinations, mean that passengers from the north often have to travel from southern gateways.

"They also act as a disincentive from both business and leisure travellers to visit the region.

"Unlike in the south, where ports and airports are heavily congested, the north's international gateways have unused capacity.

"We believe international connectivity starts on the ground; by properly utilising available resources we can both boost the economy of the north and ease pressure on overloaded ports and airports elsewhere.

"We need to start promoting the north as a destination of choice, both to do business and to visit."

The commission recommends a series of detailed interventions to improve road and rail links to airports and ports across the region.

Improving ground access to the region's airports and increasing the number of international flights to and from the North would increase capacity for both passengers and air freight, it says.

Improved links to and from the region's ports could also see more ferry services and an increase in freight being shipped directly into the north.

TfN is a partnership that brings together local and combined authorities and business leaders from across the north with central Government.

Commenting on the report, former chancellor George Osborne, chair of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, said: "I created Transport for the North in 2015 because it was clear to me the role that transport connectivity would play in delivering a northern powerhouse.

"Much has been said about the importance of connecting together the great cities of the north but today's report demonstrates how vital it is that the region also has strong links to the world.

"In the years to come, the great airports and ports of the north will play an increasingly important role in driving greater levels of investment, trade and tourism into the UK and every effort must be made to ensure that they continue to grow and it is as easy as possible for passengers to access these key national assets.

"Since the Northern Powerhouse Partnership was created last autumn, I have spoken to hundreds of businesses, civic leaders and other organisations across the north and their feedback has been uncompromising - transport connectivity will always be the lifeblood of the region's economy."

Ken O'Toole, chief executive of Manchester Airport, said: "We welcome this independent report, which makes clear the north needs strong access to the world's most important markets in order to achieve transformational levels of growth.

"It rightly recognises the strength of Manchester Airport's existing route network and its potential to play an even greater role in driving levels of trade, tourism and inward investment by connecting to the north to more key global destinations in the years to come.

"The commission has confirmed what we have been saying for some time - that large scale investment in road and rail infrastructure is needed to ensure all parts of the north are connected to its primary global gateway.

"It is this combination of world-class domestic and international connectivity that is needed to ensure the goals of the Northern Powerhouse Independent Economic Review and the UK's new Industrial Strategy are realised."