Comment: Who are the spatial winners and losers of the TfN strategy?

Anthony Rae writes 8th March 2018  The environmental organisations – in their discussions with TfN over the last two years about its emerging transport strategy – have long been concerned that its underlying spatial objectives should be explicitly stated in order that its spatial outcomes – which areas/regions across the North might be either winners or losers as a result of its implementation? – could be understood and transparently managed.

So in October 2016 we expressed the view (in a meeting, and note) that ‘the next stage of the spatial analysis should examine a series of outcome choices which when analysed and aggregated could be bundled into a more limited number of spatial scenario options:

– ‘Will the Northern Powerhouse (NP)/TfN interventions result in either convergent or divergent economic outcomes across the NP area over the long term? The wider context for this analysis – that the status quo within the UK as a whole is a pattern of continuing future divergence – would allow all these relative distributional movements to be revealed’.

– ‘Relatedly will they encourage spatial distributions which have either a unipolar or multipolar tendency? The present distribution for the UK as a whole is unipolar in characteristic (with London/Greater SE disproportionately advantaged); the NP/TfN strategy needs to understand whether proposed interventions will either tend to recreate this unipolar approach in the North (with Manchester in place of London) or alternatively result in a broad distribution of benefits across the North’.

– ‘Relatedly how will they affect the distribution of benefits across hierarchies of cities/regions, at various levels e.g. Manchester/Leeds/Sheffield/Newcastle/Hull, or Leeds/Bradford/Huddersfield/Halifax, etc? Outcomes from these choices would become influential in making corridor or modal route choices’.

– ‘What are the spatial choices and points of emphasis between nodes (cities), corridors and hinterlands? Shifting the focus between each of these will result in different distributions of benefits, and what should be preferred modal choices for proposed interventions. We have also called for the TfN strategy to debate a fundamental principle as to whether benefits would be better obtained between (inter) or within (intra) regions.’ note October 2016

In response TfN argued that they would not be setting such spatial objectives because it was not in their remit to do so. We maintain however that all these questions remain fundamentally important to a review of the draft strategy that eventually merged and which is now subject to consultation. What follows explains how we have attempted to identify what are indeed its ‘spatial outcomes’.

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Page 24 of the STP – Forecasting future transport demand in a transformed Northern economy – explains the methodology whereby the high level economic growth forecasts identified in the Independent Economic Review have been translated into an understanding of “where this growth is most likely to happen … A significant proportion of this growth is focussed on major towns and cities, but there are opportunities to achieve transformational growth across all parts of the North.” Then on page 25 there’s a map showing the spatial distribution of the transformational scenario in terms of the provided change in GVA per person. It shows that “transformational GVA growth is spread across the North, and not just in the large conurbations. TfN’s long term Investment Programme will ensure that these pockets of economic growth are supported by strategic, intra-regional connectivity.”

The map displays this spatial distribution of the difference between the ‘Transformational’ and BAU scenarios in various pastel shades, representing £000 GVA increments per capita (between £0-6000). But the environmental organisation realised that this is just a partial representation of the GVA spatial outcomes. What is more important are the absolute start and end GVA levels as a result of the strategy, and not just across and between different parts of the North but also in a UK context – where the Northern regions have for decades continuously fallen behind the London/SE super region. By examining these we would be able to probe beneath the limited information provided on the pastel map; understand both the relative and absolute movements between different city regions and subregions across the North; establish therefore the spatial beneficiaries – the winners and losers – of the strategy; and finally apply this ultimate test: Would the absolute figures show that the strategy contributed either to the convergence, or alternatively divergence, of GVA levels across the North?

 This is fundamentally important because (as we suggested in October 2016) it can be hypothesised that a possible outcome of the TfN strategy would be to replicate within the North itself precisely the same unequal set of transport infrastructure and investment outcomes that it has experienced over decades compared to London/SE, but this time with Manchester being hypothesised as the equivalent of London and the likely ‘winner’.

So we asked TfN for the GVA spreadsheets that underlie its own modelling (and their map), and we’re grateful that they’ve been able to provide us with them. They give the GVA levels, both absolute and per capita, for both the BAU and Transformational scenarios, at 2015 (start) and 2050 (end) years, and for all 77 Northern districts individually and also collected in 12 city regions/subregions. All we’ve done is to aggregate and compare these 12 regional GVA outcomes in order to display the extent of their change both absolutely and relative to each other. What’s also now possible to understand is the absolute start and end positions of each region, and their constituents districts.

Thirdly, it’s possible to calculate the extent to which the GVA change for any region represents either a convergence towards or divergence from the average. If e.g regions starting from a relatively high GVA level displayed below average change by 2050 then this would be an indication of regional convergence across the North, as a result of the strategy. Alternatively if those same regions demonstrated above average change, then it must indicate divergence as they continue to pull away from northern counterparts. Convergence or divergence is demonstrated by a change in a region’s share of total Northern GVA between 2015-50.

Finally, from a separate TfN spreadsheet identifying annual changes to GVA between English regions, we’ve been be able to calculate what happens to the position of Northern regions and the well-understood North v South gap as a result of the Transformational strategy, when compared to the BAU one.

So far as we know the environmental organisations are the only stakeholders/ consultees who have sought to examine the effectiveness of the strategy from the perspective of these spatial outcomes. And, as we suspected, the results of the exercise are revealing and extremely important as a test of the efficacy of the strategy. These are our headline findings:

– An analysis of absolute GVA changes, and of the extent of convergence/divergence promoted by the draft strategy, is more important than the display of incremental GVA additions (by district) provided in the STP p.25 map. So the latter on its own is not at all an adequate test of the strategy’s GVA spatial outcomes.

– This table of absolute GVA changes (so NB not allowing for relative population change between regions [a per capita change]) shows that five regions – headed by the North East, and then Greater Manchester, followed by Sheffield city region – increase their share of total Northern GVA as a result of the transformational strategy, thus demonstrating positive divergence in their favour; but seven regions demonstrate a decrease in their share of Northern GVA, and thus negative divergence, with Hull region, Leeds City Region and finally Cumbria at the bottom.

– It is possible to undertake a more fine-grained analysis within each of these 12 regions. Just as one example: although Leeds City Region is already almost at the bottom of this convergence/ divergence table, isolating just the five West Yorkshire districts within LCR produces an even starker outcome: a -0.76% reduction (2050 share of Northern GVA, compared to 2015 share), compared to –0.57% for the larger Leeds CR and now even below the  –0.68% for Cumbria previously in the bottom position.

– There is a similar pattern in the amount of absolute GVA growth achieved as a result of the transformational strategy 2015-50, varying between the North East demonstrating +153% growth at the top and Cumbria +82% at the bottom. This can be interpreted in two ways, in terms of the scale of the difference in growth rates between regions, or that even the lowest region achieves a near doubling its current GVA as a result of a strategy intervention.

– As well as measuring changes to the relative position of regions according to their absolute share of Northern GVA, the spreadsheets also provide the per capita GVA figures (thus allowing for relative population change). Again this now permits a more fine-grained understanding of the fortunes of individual districts as potential beneficiaries of the TfN transformational strategy. So for example, the table below demonstrates the changes in per capita GVA as a result of the transformational scenario: in Newcastle (capital of the North East region which showed the most favourable increase in its share of total northern GVA), Manchester (second placed in that league table), and contrasted with Kirklees and Bradford within a West Yorkshire that comes near or at the bottom of that table.

District 2015 per capita

GVA £000

2050 per capita

GVA £000

Absolute increase £000
Newcastle 25.6 48.4 22.8
Manchester 30.0 59.1 29.1
Kirklees 17.2 24.6 7.4
Bradford 17.8 24.5 6.7

It can be seen that Kirklees and Bradford have not attained even by the end of the ‘transformational’ strategy period in 2050 the per capita GVA already experienced by Newcastle and Manchester in 2015 before it begins.

– What the larger scale North versus South analysis – which similarly indexes the share of Northern GVA as a percentage of total UK, for both BAU and ‘transformational’ scenarios (all rebased at 2015) – shows is that, up to 2030, the North under a BAU scenario continues to fall behind the UK as a whole, as we would expect; but that even under the TfN Transformational scenario it’s still below the percentage of UK GVA it started with in 2015 (following a downward dip to the mid 2020s). Thereafter it increases its share of UK GVA in the period 2030-2050.

What this demonstrates is the timelag involved not just in the provision of additional connectivity when this is achieved by new physical infrastructure, but also that some districts/ regions of the North experiencing deprivation relative to other northern areas will be waiting not just into the 2030-40s for an uplift, but even longer still recognising that the improvement after 2030 is for the Northern region as a whole with – as we’ve shown – a wide spread of winners and losers bundled within that average.

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Nearly 18 months ago the environmental organisations set out our argument as to ‘why the developing TfN transport strategy would be deficient unless it is based on evidenced and established spatial and sustainability objectives.’ Our rationale was this: doing so would ‘elevate the issue of spatial objectives to the top of the Northern Powerhouse/TfN agenda; provide foundational background analysis and forecasting; and develop a relatively limited range of spatial scenarios which decision-makers could then use to set overarching spatial objectives and thus steer their top-level strategy, modal preferences, route/corridor choices, and investment programmes.’ note October 2016

TfN responded then that their strategy didn’t need to be driven by an explicit spatial framework. Now their view is different: that the spatial strategies of individual regions/districts should in fact start to be shaped by the TfN transformational strategy and its infrastructure programmes. This follows the conclusions of the Independent Economic Review that ‘future patterns of land use – where jobs are located and where the people live who fill those jobs – is contingent on the future scale and shape of the North’s transport networks, and especially the North’s future public transport networks … [and that consequently] … the approach to transport appraisal as well as the approach to spatial economic planning in the North must be able to capture and deliver the benefits of this transformational change in a way that all parties can have confidence.’ Scenarios 6.32

So it turns out that understanding the STP’s spatial outcomes – its GVA winners and losers – really does matter in terms of the judgements everybody should be making about the draft TfN strategy, and whether it actually is optimal in terms of its distribution across the North of both transport interventions, and of economic and social outcomes stretching long into the future.

And it poses the question: wouldn’t it be better to have a strategy that explicitly targeted GVA convergence across the North, rather than the apparent divergence now being revealed – and planned?