BORIS Johnson has pledged to create a strategic transport network across the UK following the findings of a major review, despite transport being a devolved matter.
Network Rail chairman Sir Peter Hendy was asked to undertake the Union Connectivity Review by Johnson’s government in a bid to improve transport and shore up the Union.
One of the key recommendations of the report is to create a UKNet, which would map out the strategic locations across the country and plot how best to link them together, while also providing extra funding for underperforming areas of the network.
The Prime Minister pledged to set up UKNet “right away”.
A previous major infrastructure project from Johnson that looked to shore up support for the Union was to have a bridge connecting Scotland and Northern Ireland, but that is understood to have since been shelved after a report found it would be “too technically challenging and expensive”.
Johnson described Hendy’s review as “inspiring vision for the future of transport” and said the Cabinet will consider it carefully.
He added: “Determined to get to work right away, we will set up a strategic UK-wide transport network that can better serve the whole country with stronger sea, rail and road links – not only bringing us closer together, but boosting jobs, prosperity and opportunity.”
In Scotland, Hendy recommended reducing journey times and increasing capacity on the West Coast Main Line as well as routes between Scotland and London and conducting an assessment of the east coast road and rail corridor.
Upgrades to the A75 in the south of Scotland were also recommended, which would improve connectivity to Northern Ireland.
Calls were made for improving the A55, M53 and M56 and the South Wales Corridor in Wales, along with the North Wales Coast Main Line and rail links to the Midlands from Cardiff.
“My recommendations provide comprehensive, achievable and clear plans forward to better connect the whole of the United Kingdom, leading to more growth, jobs, housing and social cohesion,” Hendy said.
“I welcome the enthusiasm shown by the Prime Minister and the Government to my final report and I look forward to their formal response to my recommendations, which aim to spread opportunity and prosperity right across the United Kingdom.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said that “transport is devolved to Holyrood and the UK Government should respect that”.
“We will always seek to engage constructively with the UK Government – for example, on cross-border rail and our shared desire for HS2 to serve Scotland, but UK ministers have no role in deciding investment in Scotland’s trunk roads,” the spokesman said.
“Scottish ministers have not been sighted on the recommendations of the Union Connectivity report, however if UK ministers really want to play a helpful role, then they could simply deliver the funding we need for such infrastructure investment in line with established budgetary mechanisms for Scotland to determine our spending priorities.”
Missing from the UK Government announcements is the proposed link between Scotland and Northern Ireland – although it is understood the idea will not go ahead.
In recent years, the Prime Minister along with Scottish Secretary Alister Jack have talked up a bridge or tunnel between Larne and Cairnryan to link the two islands – an idea which was heavily derided in Scotland and elsewhere and had a possible price tag of £33 billion.