Mayor Andy Burnham says that he doesn’t have the level of authority or resources available to adequately tackle a growing transport crisis across Greater Manchester.
The 48-year old suggested that Manchester’s day-to-day control over transport would need to be equated with the powers available to the capital city, London, in order to effectively resolve the problem.
Despite often carrying the label of the UK’s ‘second city’ Manchester does not hold the same level of jurisdiction over the funding and organisation of its transport network as its southern counterpart.
Manchester suffers from heavily overburdened roads, congestion crushes in the city centre at peak times, and serious issues with rail services, with Oxford Road having been named as the worst station for delays in the whole of the UK.
Another major concern is the deteriorating air quality across Greater Manchester, which has seen the government set Burnham a deadline to produce a Clean Air Plan by the end of 2018. The mayor has confirmed his willingness to outline such a proposal but has said that he will not be able to oversee its successful implementation without a range of new powers.
This has led to Burnham asking people across the region to sign up to the ‘Take control of our Transport’ campaign, a Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA)-backed initiative that makes a series of demands to the government, in order to improve transport quality in the region.
Requests include further devolution of authority over rail networks, including Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) control over all Greater Manchester stations, joint planning power over roadworks, and a major investment programme in the area’s infrastructure until 2025.
Monday’s budget offered no regionally-focused transport funding announcements, and financing for ‘New City and Growth’ deals was specifically earmarked for Belfast, North Wales, and the Tay Cities area.
While frustration simmers over a perceived lack of government intervention in Manchester’s transport system, a need to address the city’s issues with congestion has been widely recognised, with the problem costing the city around £1.3 billion annually.
Burnham famously pledged to prevent the introduction of any congestion charge in the city when he was elected in May 2017. However, with Manchester second only to the capital for traffic congestion, calls have been made to revise this promise to deal with the intrinsic link to poor air quality.
The Mayor’s congestion deal was announced earlier this year and introduced a range of new policies, including more regular Metrolink services on the Ashton line, a new digital service that would offer real-time updates for sat-navs and GPS, and a review of transport for mid-week Manchester United games.
Employers also have a substantial role to play in easing congestion worries. The rush-hour ‘crush’ in the city centre is invariably due to many companies operating a traditional 9-5 working day, leading to huge pileups at each end of the day. In response, the council has introduced incentives to encourage companies to offer flexible start times, including heavy discounts on MetroLink travel.
So far a number of big name organisations have introduced the use of a new flexible scheme, including Kelloggs, Talk Talk, and Manchester Airport Group.
Such measures are however only alleviating, and the need for many council-wide powers to relieve pressures on the city’s transport network cannot be understated.
Controversy persists over how exactly centralisation can effectively manage local services, such as rail and bus links, compared to the carefully overseen devolution of funds and responsibilities.
Burnham echoed this sentiment, saying, “I fully understand the frustration people feel at the delays and disruption we are currently experiencing. I feel it too because I simply do not have enough powers at my disposal to get a grip on things”.