Kevin Bell, transport partner at law firm Womble Bond Dickinson, says: “In scenes not too dissimilar to the James Bond spoilers that have recently been doing the rounds on the internet, the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, took the opportunity at the weekend to announce his pre-Budget pledge for almost £7 billion of new transport projects to improve trains, trams, buses and cycleways across the North and the Midlands.

"A promise of new and improved train stations, extended tram systems, new bus routes and electric vehicle charging points to help build a clean, green transport network. Even the normally critical Labour Mayor for Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, welcomed this investment as an important first step in the levelling up agenda.

 “The naysayers will point to the fact that if you scratch beneath the surface of the Treasury’s weekend spoiler alerts then you will discover that only a small share (well, £1.5 billion, to be precise) is, in fact, new money.

"Yet our Mayoral Combined Authorities and local regions have asked for wider and deeper transport and infrastructure devolution and that is now being delivered in spades.

"Add to that the further commitments for transport infrastructure (including those comprised within the successful first-round funding bids under the Levelling Up Fund) and a new lower rate of domestic Air Passenger Duty announced in the Budget this afternoon and it is hard to argue that the Chancellor is not trying his best to tackle the fundamental barriers at the root of the North-South productivity gap.

"Only time will tell if the Government’s rhetoric of ensuring that levelling up is a “birthright of every child” is matched by reality.  But then, of course, there is the 'elephant in the room' that is HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail. Surely true levelling up (whatever that means to each of us) cannot be achieved without both of these projects being delivered in full?

"The continued delays to the publication of the Integrated Rail Plan and the fact that the Chancellor failed to publicly quash any of the continuing rumours about the Eastern leg of HS2 being scaled back and downgraded at the despatch box only adds to the increasing uncertainty surrounding these projects.”

The Northern Echo: Kevin RobertsonKevin Robertson

Womble Bond Dickinson partner Kevin Robertson said: "This year’s Autumn Budget from the Chancellor of the Exchequer focused squarely in one direction: up.

"In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, all eyes were on Rishi Sunak to pave the way for sustainable economic recovery - and the North East was no exception.  The Chancellor’s Levelling Up agenda has already begun to focus on the North East from the outset with the announcement of £100m investment into regional initiatives.

"Among the region’s projects set to benefit from the multi-billion-pound Levelling Up Fund are the restoration of Newcastle's historic Grainger Market and commitments to the North East’s community and were also demonstrated, with funding going towards the creation of a new sports facility in the West Denton area of Newcastle.  Infrastructure across the UK is set for a boost across rail, road and air.

"Specific reference to rail projects such as HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail were absent from the Budget announcement, and along with previous delays to the publication of the Integrated Rail Plan, leaves room for much-needed clarity around the delivery of these vital projects.

"The reduction in Air Passenger Duty on domestic return flights could result in increased investment into the region from other parts of the UK. This, coupled with the extension of airport support following the coronavirus crisis, could place the region’s two airports and surrounding areas at an economic advantage.

"However, this move does sit in opposition to the wider conversation on carbon emissions ahead of COP26.  While the Chancellor remained quiet on the green industrial revolution, he did outline investment relief for businesses using green technology such as solar panels.

"As a burgeoning world leader in green industries following significant investment into energy transition projects across the region, such as the recently announced £107bn Teesside offshore wind project, the North East is ideally placed to take advantage of this.

"While the Budget did offer several opportunities for levelling up in the region, there is concern among SMEs around how rises in wages and taxes are going to affect their businesses."



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