City region mayoral elections preview - infrastructure

In the second of Planning's previews of next month's English city-region mayoral elections, Bryan Johnston looks at how the main contenders are proposing to upgrade critical infrastructure in their areas.

Birmingham International Airport: expansion promise by West Midlands Labour candidate
Birmingham International Airport: expansion promise by West Midlands Labour candidate

Local transport matters dominate candidates' promises on infrastructure ahead of the 4 May poll to elect mayors for six English conurbations and sub-regions. However, several contenders also address energy issues in their manifestos or public statements.

The West Midlands looks set for major spending on rail, whichever of the two leading candidates takes office. Labour MEP Sion Simon wants to make Birmingham International Airport bigger than Gatwick and says land should be safeguarded for a second runway. Simon advocates a 12-mile light rail link from the airport into Birmingham's High Speed Two (HS2) station, along with another seven-mile tram route from Wednesbury to Brierley Hill in the Black Country, Midland Metro extensions in Birmingham and Wolverhampton and three new suburban stations in Birmingham. He also moots taking over the privately run M6 expressway in Staffordshire, making it toll-free.

While agreeing on the need for a world-class airport, Conservative candidate Andy Street demurs over a second runway. Street, who wants to bring all the region's rail services under mayoral control, would reopen the Camp Hill-Tamworth railway, with five new stations, and explore other opportunities for restored rail services. He says he would start construction of the Midlands Metro extension to Brierley Hill and look to extend the system to North Solihull and the airport. Elsewhere, his "renewal plan" rules out a universal congestion charge, suggests lifting expressway tolls only during serious traffic incidents on the M6, and proposes a 40-fold hike in cycling infrastructure spending.

The odds-on favourite in Greater Manchester, Labour's Andy Burnham, promises a "powerful" campaign to bring forward plans for a "Northern Powerhouse Rail" connecting the city with Liverpool and Leeds. A roads review to find "quick" solutions to congestion, a network of cycle lanes and an "iconic" bike hire scheme also feature in his plans. He argues that new transport links should focus on radial routes out to the suburbs and proposes a presumption against fracking across the city-region.

Conservative candidate Sean Anstee would press for legislation to bring bus services under mayoral control. He also plans to study the case for Metrolink light rail extensions into underserved areas "such as Stockport" and to promote smart motorways along the entire M60 orbital route. Lib Dem contender Jane Brophy says Metrolink should be extended to all ten boroughs, including an orbital route around the conurbation, and aims to make Greater Manchester the UK's "cycling capital".

In Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, Conservative contender James Palmer - who holds the transport infrastructure portfolio on the existing combined authority - is considering a "relatively small" underground rail network in Cambridge and a light rail system extending into the surrounding area. Lib Dem contender Rod Cantrill has mooted a congestion charge as well as light rail solutions. Labour's Kevin Price, a Cambridge city councillor, wants "bigger and better" park-and-ride facilities, new railway stations and improvements to the A10 and A47.

In the West of England, covering Bristol, Bath and South Gloucestershire, Lib Dem Stephen Williams has proposed better integration between bus and rail, "at least" four new stations and a possible tram link to Bristol Airport. Reviving suburban rail services is also a strong priority for the Conservatives' Tim Bowles, while Labour's Lesley Mansell says she would end station closures and increase frequency for existing rail services. Williams is also keen to make the Severn Estuary a "world leader" for clean energy from tidal lagoons and would veto any fracking proposals.

Green energy is also a key issue in the Liverpool hustings. In pole position, Labour MP Steve Rotheram is promoting a renewable energy company to harness tidal energy and a city-regional solar energy strategy. His closest rival, Lib Dem Carl Capstick, wants development of a tidal lagoon off Southport and innovative renewable energy schemes.

On the transport front, Rotheram aims to ensure a direct connection to HS2 and "more importantly" the planned east-west line between the leading northern cities. He plans new rail stations in key locations, including Liverpool Knowledge Quarter, and is promoting a major expansion of the Port of Liverpool. Rotheram and Cashman both aim to reduce and ideally end Mersey Tunnel tolls.

The future of Durham Tees Valley Airport is a major talking point in the Tees Valley election. Labour's Sue Jeffrey wants to see an enterprise zone as part of a "realistic plan" for the airport, Conservative Ben Houchen wants to renationalise it and Lib Dem Chris Foote Wood, who has called for permission for 350 homes at the facility to be revoked, would run it as a public-private partnership. All candidates see improved public transport as a priority, with UKIP contender John Tennant saying he would investigate bringing back the shelved Tees Valley Metro rail project.

Conference

Former deputy prime minister Lord Heseltine, DCLG/BEIS Cities and Local Growth Unit director Tom Walker and Homes and Communities Agency North West director Danielle Gillespie speak at the Institute of Economic Development's North conference in Manchester on 10 May. Details at IEDNorth.com.


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