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Did the 2024 UK Budget shed any light on the future of transport?

Date
13 March 2024

The budget covered many aspects of the economy but said very little on transport, writes ICE Policy Fellow Jo Griffiths.

Did the 2024 UK Budget shed any light on the future of transport?
Among other unanswered questions, how £36 billion reallocated from HS2 will fund alternative transport projects remains unclear. Image credit: Shutterstock

On Wednesday 6 March, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt MP delivered his spring budget speech setting out the UK government’s plans and progress following the 2023 autumn statement.

The speech covered many aspects of the current UK economy. But, following the change in direction on HS2 late last year, it contained very little detail on transport.

Autumn promises

At the 2023 Conservative Party conference, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced plans to redirect £36 billion from HS2 phase 2 into alternative transport projects via a new Network North plan.

This included the following key projects:

  • £12 billion to expand Northern Powerhouse Rail.
  • £4.7 billion in long-term funding settlements for places outside cities in the North and Midlands.
  • £8.3 billion for local roads for pothole filling, resurfacing, bridge repairs, and other minor repair works.

The government also announced plans to privately finance the HS2 Euston station through a master development partner.

Spring outlook and announcements

In the spring budget, the government additionally gave the green light on:

  • The next phase of East West Rail, delivering services from Oxford to Bedford by the end of this decade.
  • A £4 billion investment programme to upgrade the timetable on the East Coast Main Line, increasing capacity, reducing journey times, and improving connectivity between London and Yorkshire, due in December 2024.
  • Future development in Cambridge, providing £7.2m to unlock local transport connections and support economic growth.

The government also outlined the next steps for securing private sector funding for HS2’s development and Euston station, with parts being identified for early release and development in the coming months.

What was missing?

There were little to no further details on Network North.

The chancellor was silent on how Network North will deliver the opportunities promised last year, and whether plans were still on track.

There was no mention of the detailed next steps for Northern Powerhouse Rail, apart from stating that “delivery is progressing, including through productive engagement with local leaders to take forward the £12bn investment”.

In other areas, the budget does confirm further devolution of power to local leaders. But, again, there’s no real detail of how this would affect transportation thinking or spending at the regional level.

On the positive side, there was no backtracking on transport elements in the 2023 autumn statement.

Links to transport opportunities

Indirect links to transport were present within the budget.

The funding and drive for green technology, moving towards the government’s net zero strategy, will affect the UK’s future transport needs and the way people travel in the country.

The commitment of funds to housing in turn requires transportation and links back to local devolution on decision-making and spending.

The coming general election may bring more answers

With transport dominating the headlines late last year, it was clear that taxation was the focus of the spring budget.

Plans outlined in October and November are still taking shape. But the government is sticking to the key decision it made – to cancel HS2 phase 2 and reallocate the savings into other transport schemes.

Nevertheless, transport remains fundamental to growth in the UK. Perhaps the coming general election will provide more of the detail the UK needs.

Related links

What should the ‘day 1’ infrastructure priorities be for the next UK Parliament?

Read more

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  • Jo Griffiths, Policy Fellow at ICE