Liverpool City Region Combined Authority Response

Transport Select Committee call for evidence, Integrated Rail Plan

Introduction

The Liverpool City Region Combined Authority welcomes this opportunity to respond to the Transport Select Committee’s call for evidence on the implications of the Integrated Rail Plan (IRP) for the economy and rail capacity and connectivity.

The Mayoral Liverpool City Region Combined Authority was established in May 2017, following the election of Steve Rotheram as the City Region’s first directly elected Metro Mayor. The Mayoral Combined Authority draws on powers and funds made available through the 2015 Devolution Deal and follow-on deal in 2016. These powers and functions include:

The Liverpool City Region Combined Authority has declared a climate emergency, with the aim of achieving net zero by 2040. As part of this, mode shift for both passengers and freight is seen as critical; although increased home working and active travel have roles to play, greater use of public transport for both local and long distance journeys are essential.

The Liverpool City Region is an important gateway for people and visitors though its sea ports and airport, and connections to and from other parts of the country are critical. The City Region has a £5bn visitor economy, including nationally and internationally significant culture, conferences and sports, and is the 5th most visited city in the UK for overseas visitors.

Liverpool is the 4th largest sea port in the country, and the largest for trade with America, accommodating a wide range of different cargo types with a total tonnage of 34.3 million tonnes in 2019. Traffic is increasing following significant private sector investment that saw the creation of ‘Liverpool 2’, a new on-river terminal that can handle the largest container vessels. The port is a significant current and future asset for the local and national economy post-Brexit as a westward-facing port. For freight, access to distribution depots and onward supply chains relies on a well-functioning transport network.

The City Region is also home to an important and growing knowledge economy, with internationally significant businesses, research and development, as well as advanced manufacturing. Both physical and digital connectivity for people and goods are critical for future growth as the City Region plays its part in levelling up and growing the UK economy.

 

Liverpool City Region Combined Authority Response                            Page 15

Transport Select Committee Inquiry - IRP


Summary of our response

The key points we include within this document are as follows:

In the following parts of this document we provide evidence on the specific queries posed by the call for evidence.

 

1) The contribution that the IRP will make to rail capacity and connectivity for (a) passengers and (b) freight in (i) the Midlands and the North and (ii) the UK

In respect of the Liverpool City Region, the IRP will directly increase the frequency of fast passenger services between Liverpool and Manchester by 50% compared to the December 2019 timetable. December 2019 is a useful comparison point, being the last pre-COVID timetable in operation, as opposed to comparison with COVID-affected timetables.

Longer distance capacity on the Trans-Pennine corridor will also increase, but insufficient detail is currently available to understand the extent of this.

The IRP does not contain sufficient detail for the Combined Authority to understand the impact on other rail routes serving the City Region, in respect of the withdrawal or modification of existing services; potential impacts of increased freight demand; and the possibility of any released capacity available for use. This point is critical to understand connectivity and capacity associated with:

a)      impacts for stations in the City Region,

b)      potential for increased rail freight capacity, and

c)       potential for improving connectivity between the City Region and the rest of the country.

Liverpool City Region Combined Authority officers have participated in meetings (as part of the NPR programme) where Department for Transport officials have suggested that other longer distance services may need to cease in order to accommodate NPR services in Liverpool Lime Street. These services provide vital connectivity to parts of the country not served by NPR. They also provide critical intermediate connectivity within the broader City Region, thereby ensuring that access can be provided to both Liverpool and Manchester, in addition to longer distance destinations. It is the Combined Authority’s understanding that the planned NPR services will replace existing Trans-Pennine Express services. This will result in a loss of connectivity and capacity for Lea Green and Newton-Le-Willows, both within the borough of St Helens.

The choice by government to connect into the existing Trans-Pennine route at Marsden under-estimates the complexity and demand on this route, particularly as it is the main wst-east main line in the North of England. The NPR proposals produced by Transport for the North suggested a new line was the most appropriate solution to provide quick, frequent cross-Pennine services whilst at the same time releasing capacity for freight and other passenger services on the existing route. With a greater service mix on this route arising from the IRP, the ability to create a modal freight shift from road to rail will be severely impacted and  will impede the North of England’s strategy to  tackle climate change, congestion and emissions through modal shift of freight to rail from road.

Furthermore, the lack of clarity from both the IRP and Union Connectivity Review regarding the Golborne Link, and therefore, the future of the West Coast Main Line, creates further uncertainty about the prospects for released capacity. For Liverpool City Region, the IRP proposals will reduce passenger capacity and connectivity at Runcorn and will restrict the potential for freight growth from South Liverpool and Halton freight terminals. The Combined Authority firmly believes that equivalent capacity and connectivity is required at Runcorn through the provision of a long distance WCML service, which is highly dependent on the capacity available. Indeed, during the sifting process of options for NPR, the Liverpool City Region agreed to the option for a route via a Southern Parkway serving Runcorn being parked, on the condition that improved connectivity for Runcorn would be considered.

It should be noted that with respect to connectivity, Liverpool sees a particularly low level of connectivity for a city of its size, as shown below. Although NPR would see limited changes in connectivity in this regard, it is in the use of released capacity that offers opportunities – and hence partly the concern about the lack of detail in the IRP.


Direct rail connectivity, Jan 2020

More capacity for freight is a key area of concern for the Liverpool City Region, but is an area where there is little detail within the IRP. This is especially of note given the Port of Liverpool being the fourth largest in the country, handling 34.3 million tonnes of cargo in 2019. The port covers a complex range of different cargo types, each of which can pose distinct demands for the transport network. This traffic includes:

The port covers a range of terminals, including the new on-river Liverpool2 container terminal at Seaforth, which is able to handle the largest post-Panamax ships; this is one of only 3 such ports in the UK and the only Atlantic facing facility. The port sees a significant amount of trade with the island of Ireland,  and is the UK’s most significant port for trade with North America.


Source: Port 0499, DfT

The current pattern at the Port of Liverpool is one of continued growth, with levels exceeding that seen at a national average and which exceed the levels set when Liverpool2 was being conceived. All cargo types (with the exception of liquid bulk, primarily oil) have seen increases. Most notably, the last few years have seen a particular increase in containerised traffic (as shown in the above charts). There is still uncertainty about future traffic patterns post Brexit. The impact on ro-ro traffic to and to/from the island of Ireland is uncertain, but may lead to increases in traffic from North America and other westward-facing flows.

The Port is a significant asset for the UK, with its ability for further growth. It also offers significant transport benefits to the country, as Liverpool is closer to the end destination of many goods, with the potential to reduce the impact on the current congested transport networks of London and the southeast. Whilst the Port of Liverpool is ideally placed to absorb future freight growth, rail is not yet able to reach its full potential in serving the port due to the restricted capacity, such that the current predominant forms of freight movement to/from the port are road based. The impact of this, if unaddressed, will be  an increase in local and national carbon emissions and, specifically for the City Region an impact on residents health and well-being, with significant pollutants from road vehicles that are not restricted to internal combustion engines (such as PM10s).

Part of the current problem are the constraints on the national rail network, including the lack of a gauge-cleared freight route across the Pennines and capacity on the West Coast Main Line (both northwards to Scotland and southwards to London and the Midlands). A key aim of HS2 and NPR is to release capacity on the conventional network for freight traffic, and the delivery of these schemes in full would contribute substantially to realising freight mode-shift.

The port is not the only significant driver of rail freight in the City Region, with many current key rail flows to the Garston Freightliner terminal, 3MG at Widnes, Speke, and others. These key freight nodes are located on the WCML route into Liverpool. The plans presented to the City Region suggest that changes to the existing network will impact these facilities and create significant disruption during construction as well as limit the routes future capacity.


Key LCR Rail Freight terminals, 2019

 

2)  Whether and how the IRP will “level up” communities in the Midlands and the North

The strategic aims for Northern Powerhouse Rail were heavily built on the findings of the Northern Powerhouse Independent Economic Review (NPIER). This showed the many economic gaps that existed in the North compared to the rest of the country, including differences in levels of productivity, skills, population and employment, as well as significant concentrations of deprivation. The NPIER identified that a prerequisite for transforming the North’s economy was transformed transport both between and within city regions.

Given that the IRP represents a scaling back of both transformed inter-city journeys, and an apparent lack of released capacity for local networks, it is unclear as to what extent the IRP can contribute to levelling up the North. The level of detail necessary to assess these alterations would include (but not be limited to) the analysis already conducted by Transport for the North (including changes in levels of population able to access key cities); changes in those switching from road to rail owing to changes in generalised journey times; and detail of what reduced capacity is available so that the North can strategically work with DfT to utilise this for maximum benefit.

Since the NPIER’s publication in 2016, many of the gaps identified have continued to increase. For example, the ‘GVA gap’ seen by the North of England has stepped up by a further 1%; but the change is even more marked in the Liverpool City Region (which already had a wider performance gap than the North’s average), rising by 3%.


Source: Subregional GVA (balanced), ONS (Data to 2019, the 2016 NPIER report covered up to 2013)

This pattern continues across a range of metrics, including working age population, a critical foundation for economic growth, and where the North is not attracting / retaining population.


Source: Mid-year Population estimates, ONS (Data indexed to 2013, the point covered up to by the 2016 NPIER report)

In summary, some of the key gaps – according to the latest data – are as shown below

 

Rest of England

Rest of England excl. London

North of England

Liverpool City Region

Economic Activity Rate

79.5%

79.7%

76.9%

76.0%

Employment Rate

75.4%

76.0%

72.8%

72.4%

Unemployment Rate

5.1%

4.7%

5.3%

4.7%

% in top two employment SOCs

35.7%

33.6%

31.3%

32.1%

Public Sector employment

21.6%

22.0%

25.6%

29.3%

Private Sector employment

78.4%

78.0%

74.4%

70.7%

% with NVQ4+

44.8%

40.4%

37.3%

37.9%

GVA per capita

£32,633

£27,109

£23,948

£21,547

% of IMDs in most deprived decile

5.8%

6.7%

20.4%

33.9%

 

In addition, there has been a range of disruptive impacts on the economy from COVID, which are likely to have a further negative impact on the gaps identified above.

A particularly noticeable behaviour was the increased level of working from home; data from ONS shows that during 2020 this was far above levels seen in previous years, but that people living in the North were less likely to have worked from home.


Source: APS, ONS

COVID has also inevitably had an impact, and this makes many of the findings and recommendations that were contained within NPIER all the more relevant. It is disappointing that the IRP does not adequately demonstrate how far it will go in levelling up the economy, compared to the proposals in the original NPR business case. 

 

3) How the IRP will affect rail infrastructure and services outside the Midlands and the North

It is unclear from the IRP how it will affect services and infrastructure outside Midlands and the North, since it is vague on levels of released capacity that would be delivered as part of the planned interventions.

As the Phase 2a section of HS2 has been given the green light to proceed, with completion in the mid 2030s, released capacity on the West Coast Main Line between London and Crewe will be improved. There needs to be a strategic discussion involving regional partners as to how this capacity is used. For example, increased levels of freight, such as that from the Port of Liverpool towards London and the Midlands, should be included in any discussion, as well improved passenger connectivity, and capacity from the North to secondary cities in the South. (Note that LCRCA is currently undertaking a study exploring the potential for mode shift of freight to rail from the Port of Liverpool; accessing the WCML southwards may pose issues).

There will also be capacity challenges on the WCML northwards, which may well affect the potential for freight from LCR (and other areas) to Scotland. Although the Union Connectivity Review recognises the constraints place on the WCML, the IRP is largely silent on this.

The Union Connectivity Review also recognises the importance of a corridor connecting North Wales to Liverpool and beyond; this is long standing (also see the work by Growth Track 360, covering the Mersey-Dee geography) and was a key driver in the reopening of the Halton Curve, enabling direct services from North Wales to Lime Street; currently (pre-COVID) this was mostly hourly from Chester to Lime Street, in part owing to capacity issues at Chester, but the business case expects this to be at least hourly, with aspirations a half hourly service; given the capacity concerns posed by the IRP proposals for Liverpool, there are concerns this may not be realised.

 

4) The challenges to central Government, Great British Railways, regional and local authorities, transport bodies and other stakeholders in delivering the IRP

In delivering the IRP we would flag up two distinct issues; the development of the scheme and mitigating its impacts during delivery.

Firstly, the development of the business case to date has seen the LCRCA engage with TfN, both in ensuring an input of relevant local knowledge and maximising opportunities to reap economic, social and environmental benefits from the scheme. This has included amongst many activities:

Given the changing role of TfN with respect to NPR, it is unclear whether and how this productive work by officers of LCR and other authorities will continue.

Secondly, in delivery of the scheme, construction impacts will need to be mitigated, particularly on the current network. This is of concern – as highlighted earlier – as the current solution suggested by IRP for Liverpool will be more disruptive than any of the alternative options which would see new line or composite of new line and upgrades built. Further, the analysis presented has yet to present evidence that demonstrate a true comparison of delivery costs especially when factoring in prolonged disruption to the existing WCML and services, compensation to residents for prolonged periods of construction noise and impacts, and the wider costs associated with road closures and diversions.

This prolonged level of disruption will impact negatively on the City Region’s successful £5bn visitor economy; data shows for many markets, especially the lucrative staying visitor market, a high proportion of visitors use rail, especially to markets along the WCML (including overseas visitors arriving via Heathrow and other international gateways in the Southeast):


Source: LCR Tourism Digest (Note: these come from 2010 surveys, given the growth in rail patronage since, these rail proportions are likely to have increased)

Unlike commuters, many visitors are choosing Liverpool from a range of destinations; if barriers are placed in their way, they may visit alternative locations, including elsewhere in Europe.

The visitor economy has long been one of the Liverpool City Region’s success stories; bolstered by the growth seen during its year as European Capital of Culture in 2008, there has been an ongoing trend of growth in both staying and day visitor markets. In 2019, the visitor Economy was worth £5bn, supporting 55,700 jobs, with Liverpool is 5th in the most-visited cities by overseas visitors in the UK. Alongside jobs in sectors directly associated with the visitor economy (such as accommodation and attractions), there are also a wide number of jobs across the city region which are indirectly supported by spend in the visitor economy, including retail and supply chains.


Source: STEAM model (GTSUK for the Liverpool City Region Local Enterprise Partnership

COVID has had a dramatic impact on the Visitor Economy locally, nationally and internationally. Whilst the current picture is one of uncertainty, there are strong signs that this sector will recover. The Liverpool City Region has run four different scenarios to represent this – including elements such as higher and lower OBR economic forecasts, changes to domestic restrictions, and the extent to which international markets recover – both logistically and perceptually. This suggests that a recovery is likely, with even the potential for a longer-term gain (compared to a cautious pre-COVID ‘background trend’) from retention of increased domestic visits.


LCR modelling of VE growth scenarios (Note: modelling will be revisited as fresh data is available)

Key to this recovery, both short term and longer term, will lie in supporting the market, including ensuring that visitors can access the Liverpool City Region, with the rail network central to this. Hence our concern over possible disruption impacts from construction compared to other options, and the need to maintain direct links.

This may also be considered in the light of increased consumer awareness of environmental considerations, and wanting to access destinations with sustainable modes of travel.

There is also an imperative to achieve net zero in carbon emissions. Transport has long been a sector that has not played in its part in reducing emissions. The future travel demand scenarios from TfN show the importance of mode shift to public transport in tackling this, even alongside increased levels of Zero Emission Vehicles, active travel, and – as seen during the COVID restrictions – potentially higher continued levels of working from home than were prevalent before the pandemic.

There is thus concern that potentially disruptive works may deter people switching to rail – and even lose some of the current market. Recent ORR data showed that whilst journeys to/from the Liverpool City Region grew by 58% from 2009/10 to 2018/19, growth in journeys within the Liverpool City Region grew at a much slower rate (+5%). To a large part this slower growth is associated with a long cycle of disruptive engineering works on the local rail network, as we outline below.


Source: ORR Stations Data
(Note; other disruption including closure of the Chat Moss line for electrification not shown)

These drops/slower levels of growth are despite the bus replacement service offer being a ‘best in class’ option, in terms of vehicle quality, timetabling and information.

The concern here is less about the impact of extensive disruption engineering works on the rail market itself, but what this disruption may mean in deterring the vital switch to public transport that is needed to encourage people from their cars – and note that many of these journeys are of a distance where bus may not be as viable an attractive alternative.

Hence, our concern over delivery of the IRP scheme, and we would re-iterate the importance of considering afresh potential alternative alignments that are less disruptive.

 

5) How the rail schemes in the IRP will integrate and interact with HS2             

Unlike other parts of the Northern Powerhouse Rail network, the majority of the route between Liverpool and Manchester is shared with HS2, implying that there should be a high degree of integration, including maximising of business case benefits.

From the inception of both NPR and HS2, the Liverpool City Region has been clear that a core benefit of both schemes should be to ensure that they release capacity on the current network thereby enabling mode shift of freight and, through improved connectivity, an improved rail passenger offer. However, as indicated earlier, the level of detail in the IRP means this cannot be assessed.

It is also unclear exactly how the recommendations within the Union Connectivity Review will align with this, and in particular how the need for more capacity on the WCML northwards will be dealt with.

 

6) How the rail improvement schemes in the IRP were selected, and whether those selections represent equity between and within regions

The evidence presented within the IRP and supporting documentation makes the factors behind scheme selection unclear.

The TfN business case for Northern Powerhouse Rail was heavily based on the needs identified within the NPIER– transformed journeys between the key cities in the North and improved intra-city journeys. The evidence presented in IRP does not make it clear how far the proposals will take the North towards the transformed economy necessary to address economic, social and environmental issues.

The inception for NPR was also based on a review of the transport infrastructure of economically successful areas elsewhere such as the Randstad and Rhine-Ruhr (as shown below), demonstrating an understanding of what limitations were inherent in the North’s current transport offer. This also showed the importance of connectivity, not just speed. It is unclear whether the IRP has included such strategic considerations as part of its decision-making.

Source: One North report

In terms of equity across the North, the NPIER was clear that the North required a focus – a polycentric area of growth, rather than looking at just one node. Given the levels of information in IRP, this is difficult to establish.

The IRP refers to the TfN preferred option in terms of costs, but it does not reference other options, at a lower level of cost, that emerged from the sifting process during 2020-2021 and why these were not taken forwards or investigated further (for example, the routes designated 5-2 or 3b4.3.

In terms of scheme selection, Liverpool City Region has a track record of working with TfN and DfT to establish the optimal solution for the North as a whole. From the scheme inception on the Liverpool-Manchester leg, this has included:

Our key concern is that the IRP options should – effectively – ‘first do no harm’ to our current rail connectivity. From the evidence provided it is unclear from the detail whether this is the case, and we would welcome further discussions with DfT on this.

 

7) Whether the IRP represents value for money for UK taxpayers

It is unclear from the evidence in the IRP whether the proposals represent value for UK taxpayers. The information presented allows neither a quantification of / or to what extent it achieves a transformation of the North; nor what it actually means in scheme-level BCR.

However, given that the strategic aims of NPR centre on transforming connectivity between cities, and releasing capacity that can improve freight and intra-city, there are a number of doubts as to whether these will be realised. Here we would explicitly point to the Green Book review in 2020, which pointed out that schemes should not be solely reliant on BCRs, but the importance of a strategic case which aligned with Government Objectives and which makes the case for change.

reviewers should be open to a business cases for projects with a low BCR if, compared to options that have been appraised, that option is the best value for money way of delivering an intervention

If we take the need to achieve mode shift and levelling up the North as a priority, it is clear that scheme costs should not here be the sole driver.

By contrast the TfN business case was very clear for each option, by each leg of NPR, what the BCR might be. For some options  NPR did not always achieve a BCR of 1:1. However, there needs to be an awareness (notwithstanding the above quote) that there were a number of key components not  included within the TfN business case. This included:

We would specifically note that alongside some ground-breaking work on analysis, TfN’s business case work also included a recognition of the improved resilience and reliability the new NPR lines would bring. Given the detail within the IRP proposals we are concerned that this aspect will degrade, as the proposals do not consider the need for resilience (although if evidence is available we would visibility of this. Our concern, in this regards, is not unlike recent network interventions: specifically the Ordsall Curve ,where a significant investment was made, but because of a lack of adequate investment beyond the new infrastructure itself, or a lack of detailed consideration of capacity and connectivity, significant negative impacts across the North of England’s transport infrastructure have been felt rather than the positive impacts expected.

 

 

Liverpool City Region Combined Authority Response                            Page 15

Transport Select Committee Inquiry - IRP