The British Government recently announced its long awaited White Paper on levelling up, putting forward their plan to spread opportunities more fairly across the country, with the eventual goal of making Britain a more equal country.
A key component of the White Paper is to improve transport connectivity across the country, bringing transport standards closer to that of London by 2030. The proposal includes plans for over five billion GBP in funding for buses and a more integrated plan for railways . While it’s important to stress this is a bold plan and it has been welcomed by leaders in the North, there remains scepticism whether levelling up will be delivered .
Actions speak louder than words and the Government’s recent action in relation to Northern Transport speaks loudly; in November, the HS2 leg to Leeds was scrapped  and last January the Government cut funding for transport in the North by 40% .
On the issue of sustainability and transport, the White Paper is not nearly ambitious enough, focusing more on the economic benefits of greater transport connectivity rather than its numerous environmental advantages.
There is an alternative plan for what a sustainable transport network in the North could look like in the near future, and that is the bold proposals put forward by the Metro Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham.
So, what exactly is Andy Burnham’s plan? One of the main aims surrounds Greater Manchester becoming the first city region to deliver a completely carbon neutral transport network. To do so, Burnham plans to make ‘clean’ travel the most appealing to citizens.
To fulfil this commitment, the Greater Manchester Combined Authority will build the UK’s largest cycling and walking network by increasing safety on roads with more zebra markings, further develop the Bee Network bicycle sharing scheme first launched last October and implement improvements to cycling and walking spaces in areas like Littleborough and Ramsbottom .
Moreover, the Combined Authority has proposed the introduction of the largest Clean Air Zone outside of London to deter motorists from driving. However, this plan hangs in the balance following backlash from residents. Indeed, general opposition to clean air zones, and vehicle standards have led Burnham to request the Government extend the clean air standards deadline to 2027 to give residents time to upgrade vehicles . Certainly, it seems, public appetite for costly green transport revolutions have been largely muted.
Nonetheless, Greater Manchester seeks to emulate a ‘London Style’ transport network to improve bus services. Bus travel makes up 75% of all journeys in the region with around 3.48 million trips per week, thus any improvements to the buses will create the biggest transformation to transport. Once again, environmentally friendly services are at the centre of this plan.
Burnham pledges to introduce a modern low emissions bus system reaching a full fleet of zero emission buses by 2032 . Essentially the aim of this project is to transform the way people travel in Greater Manchester: currently due to the high fare prices and complicated travel routes driving remains popular and there is no alternative; 4 out of 10 journeys are made by cars .
The creation of the aforementioned ‘bee network’ will also eventually integrate buses, trams, cycling and walking by 2024 which will provide a better intermodal alternative to driving for commuters across the region.
However, you may ask ‘what proof do we have that Manchester Combined Authority will achieve its goals’? In response, Andy Burnham may point out that “70 million worth of travel schemes either completed or under construction has [already] led to thousands of people changing their commuter habits” .
Certainly, initial evidence seems to suggest that Burnham’s wide-reaching transport strategy will succeed according to its own metrics. If it does, Greater Manchester’s plans to create a sustainable, economically beneficial, intermodal, public transportation network may serve as a blueprint for what modern transport should resemble in Britain.
 Levelling Up the United Kingdom Presented to Parliament by the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities by Command of her Majesty. 2nd February 2022. Pp.176-182.
 E. Chappell. 2nd February 2022. Burnham welcomes levelling up funding outlined for Greater Manchester. Available at: https://labourlist.org/2022/02/burnham-welcomes-levelling-up-funding-announced-for-greater-manchester/ [Accessed 10th February 2022].
 G. Topham. 18th November 2021. HS2 rail leg to Leeds scrapped, Grant Shapps confirms. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2021/nov/18/hs2-rail-leg-to-leeds-scrapped-grant-shapps-confirms [Accessed 10th February 2022].
 Transport for the North. 14th January 2021. Transport budget cuts threaten levelling up agenda say Northern Leaders. Available at: https://transportforthenorth.com/press-release/transport-budget-cuts-threaten-levelling-up-agenda-say-northern-leaders/ [Accessed 10th February 2022]
 Transport for Greater Manchester. 21st October 2021. First Bee Network Cycle Hire stations installed ahead of launch. Available at: https://news.tfgm.com/news/first-bee-network-cycle-hire-stations-installed-ahead-of-launch [Accessed 11th February 2022]
 J. Timan. 2nd February 2022. Clean Air Zone Charges could be scrapped if deadline delayed to 2027, Mayor says. Available at: https://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/clean-air-zone-charges-could-22966603 [Accessed 11th February 2022]
 Greater Manchester Combined Authority. 22nd October 2021. New Greater Manchester Improvement Plan marks next step towards delivering Bee Network. Available at: https://greatermanchester-ca.gov.uk/news/new-greater-manchester-bus-service-improvement-plan-marks-next-step-towards-delivering-bee-network/ [Accessed 8th February 2022]
 Greater Manchester Combined Authority. 10th September 2021. Greater Manchester asks Government to back early delivery of London-style Public Transport System. Available at: https://greatermanchester-ca.gov.uk/news/greater-manchester-asks-government-to-back-early-delivery-of-london-style-public-transport-system/ [Accessed 8th February 2022]
 Greater Manchester Combined Authority. 8th November 2021. Greater Manchester aiming to be first City-region to deliver carbon neutral transport network. Available at: https://greatermanchester-ca.gov.uk/news/greater-manchester-aiming-to-be-first-city-region-to-deliver-carbon-neutral-transport-network/ [Accessed 8th February 2022]
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