Prime Minister Boris Johnson has committed to boosting transport connections between the UK's four nations, with an initial fund of £20 million to kick-start projects.
The move follows the interim report of Sir Peter Hendy’s union connectivity review, which suggests a UK Strategic Transport Network would help deliver the Prime Minister's ambition of better connecting all parts of the UK.
Hendy said: "Devolution has been good for transport, but it has also led to a lack of attention to connectivity between the four nations, due to competing priorities and complex funding.
"A UK Strategic Transport Network could resolve this, with its core objective centred around levelling up across the whole of the UK."
Such a network would significantly expand and upgrade direct transport connections in the UK across road, rail, sea and air, helping to reduce delays and bottlenecks, and stimulate economic growth, the Government said.
As well as considering how transport links can better connect the UK, the Prime Minister has said he will consider their environmental and social impact – taking into account how they will improve the quality of life of the people that use them.
The potential network will now form the main focus of Hendy’s continuing investigations, with a final report published in the summer.
The £20m will go towards developing some of the projects Hendy has already identified, such as:
- Improved rail connectivity between the north coast of Wales and England
- Upgrading the A75 between Gretna, Dumfries and Stranraer – a key route for south-west Scotland and Northern Ireland but almost entirely single-carriageway
- Faster rail links from England to Scotland, including looking at options to enhance the West Coast Main Line
- Rail improvements in south-east Wales, building on ideas from the Welsh Government’s Burns Commission
The Government has also announced that the consultation on aviation tax reform, announced at Budget 2020, will be published in spring 2021.
The consultation will include options to change the APD treatment for domestic flights, such as reintroducing a return leg exemption or creation of a new lower domestic rate.
In addition to looking at the case for increasing the number of international distance bands, the Government said that it will continue to decarbonise domestic aviation as part of net zero, including through mandating the use of sustainable aviation fuels. All domestic aviation emissions are captured in carbon budgets.
Johnson said: "It’s now time to build back better in a way that brings every corner of the UK closer together.
"We will harness the incredible power of infrastructure to level up parts of our country that have too long been left off the transport map.
"This pioneering review by Sir Peter Hendy gives us the tools we need to deliver on our ambitions for a UK-wide transport network that encompasses sea, rail, and road – and I also want to cut passenger duty on domestic flights so we can support connectivity across the country."
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps added that the Government "will work closely" with devolved administrations on development studies.
Air passenger duty cut ‘makes a mockery of climate commitments’
Smart Transport member Campaign for Better Transport has criticised the plans to cut air passenger duty.
Chief executive Paul Tuohy said: "This is enormously disappointing, especially coming a week after a rail fare rise and fuel duty freeze, and makes a mockery of our climate commitments.
"The Government’s own green agenda is veering badly off course and without a rethink it threatens to undermine all its previous efforts to tackle carbon emissions.”