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How two major projects are ‘levelling up’ up the north

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Mark Rowland North Levelling Up

At a recent MPA webinar, two project professionals explained the impact their projects will have in transforming the north of England as the government pushes its levelling-up agenda.

Transport for the North was established in 2016, with the aim to transform transport connectivity across the north of England. Now that the government has laid out its levelling-up agenda to boost national productivity through infrastructure post-pandemic, the organisation’s work is set to really step up.

“Transport connectivity has a phenomenally important role to play,” explained Tim Foster, interim strategy and programme director at Transport for the North, at the Major Projects Association event ‘Levelling Up: How Major Projects are Tackling Social and Economic Inequalities’.

“That’s what we are there to do: set the scene and the long-term vision for the way in which connectivity – for people, businesses, freight and logistics – can really transform the economic fortunes of the north of England.”

Good transport links provide many benefits to a region, Foster explained. They can boost equality by creating greater access to quality jobs and education. And they can drive economic growth, as businesses move into well-connected areas. Rail infrastructure also contributes to reaching net-zero targets, taking cars off the road as more people travel by train.

Meeting the specific transport needs of the region

Transport for the North’s programme, then, is far-reaching, ambitious and challenging. One of the biggest items of preliminary work involved a detailed spatial analysis of the region to determine how the current transport infrastructure is used, the spread of economic activity across the region and any serious gaps in transport connectivity. The team found that the economic assets of the north spread beyond its cities. Understanding the detail of that was really important, said Foster.

The team recognised that it needed bespoke tools and models to plan the programme, from transport models to land value and socio-economic models. This gave a view of why and how transport could drive change in the north, and the value it could provide to residents.

“We’re now at the point where we are bringing all that together,” said Foster. “So, we’re looking at detailed transport appraisal. What kind of transport interventions are needed across the north? We’re now in a position where we can bring that together and show that directly to decision-makers and stakeholders.”

Advancing the net-zero goal

Helen Boyle, regional development manager for Cadent Gas, is overseeing a similar programme that could change the fortunes of the north, contribute to the levelling-up agenda and further the UK’s net-zero goal considerably.

HyNet North West aims to transform the energy infrastructure in the region, with a low-carbon ‘industrial cluster’ involving hydrogen power generation, hydrogen and electric-powered vehicles and the UK’s first carbon, capture and storage (CCS) infrastructure. The programme is being delivered by a consortium of project partners, including Cadent, Progressive Energy, CF Fertilisers, Eni UK, Essar, Hanson, INOVYN and the University of Chester.

HyNet was recently granted £72m in funding from the Industrial Decarbonisation Challenge Fund to get the programme moving. “They are really becoming tangible infrastructure projects that are going to happen,” said Boyle. “That money gets them to a point... For HyNet specifically, it’s getting it to a point where a final investment decision can be made in 2023.”

From a project management perspective, it’s important to take a whole system approach, said Boyle, to make sure that each element of the cluster works harmoniously and in a way that delivers immediate benefits and opportunities to the local communities. There are several elements that add uncertainty to the programme, particularly when it comes to supply and demand.

Cadent is working with Electricity North West and local authorities in the region to determine how HyNet will inform the wider plans and strategies in each area, particularly in relation to the levelling-up agenda.

“Where does national policy need to give us more clarity or indeed change? Where are the barriers that are stopping this stuff happening at the moment? How do we lift the lid on that to make net-zero actually really start to take off? To then put the infrastructure in place, and provide all the opportunities for the region, it’s really important.”

Delivering against the national 10-point plan

The HyNet programme will run throughout the decade. The end goal is to provide energy infrastructure that delivers strongly against the government’s 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution. With regards to hydrogen, the government set a target of five gigawatts of low-carbon hydrogen production by 2030; HyNet should be producing 3.5 gigawatts by that date, “about 80 per cent of what’s being targeted on the 10-point plan”.

The 10-point plan also sets out carbon-capture goals: 10 million tonnes per year captured by 2030. HyNet aims to capture between seven and eight million tonnes – again, roughly 80 per cent of the target.

“It’s fulfilling a really significant proportion of the ambitions that were set out in the 10-point plan. That’s why it’s so important to the region as an infrastructure project.”

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