Major spending to improve road links across the Pennines is vital to close the north-south divide, says a Huddersfield-based business group.
The government has confirmed multi-billion pound plans for 80 new road schemes across the country – including extending the “smart” motorway system which currently runs from Leeds to Brighouse to the entire length of the M62 between Manchester and Leeds.
It will also commission a study into the viability of running a tunnel under the Pennines to link Sheffield and Manchester.
Steven Leigh, head of policy for the Lockwood-based Mid Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce, said: “If it happens, it will be fantastic. It is about time this money was spent on infrastructure.”
He said extending the managed motorway was the only realistic way to reduce congestion – rather than the more expensive option of adding extra lanes. Mr Leigh said the scheme between Brighouse and Leeds had been hugely successful.
Mr Leigh said better trans-Pennine rail links were more important than the government’s HS2 and HS3 high-speed rail plans, but added: “Improved road links are absolutely essential. Unless we get improved connectivity, the north-south divide will only get wider.”
Colne Valley Conservative MP Jason McCartney, who discussed transport issues in a 20-minute meeting with Chancellor George Osborne just two weeks ago, said congestion on local roads and rail services was a major issue for many of his constituents.
He said the announcement of £3bn investment in Yorkshire and the north east was very welcome, saying: “The government has recognised that we need to get Yorkshire moving.
“The managed motorway between Huddersfield and Leeds last year was brought in on time and under budget. As a result, it has increased capacity and traffic flow is better.”
Huddersfield MP Barry Sheerman said the measures were being flagged up in the run-up to the general election, but were not new. And he claimed some of the proposals were unlikely to happen.
He said: “So much of it is pie in the sky – and it is mouldy pie in the sky at that because it’s a re-announcement of old commitments. We have known about the upgrading of the M62 for some time because the government has announced it about three times. The managed motorway should be extended, but I don’t see how this is a new policy.”
He contrasted the commitment only to carry out a ”viability” study of a tunnel under the Pennines to the reality of the Crossrail scheme in London, adding: “We have had massive investment in London and the south east while all the regions have languished.”
The CBI said the roads strategy marked “a significant milestone in our journey towards the delivery of much-needed upgrades to our existing road network, the arteries of our economy”.
But the Campaign for Better Transport said: “The plan will prove a counter-productive waste of money. There is no evidence that building new roads creates jobs or benefits the economy and plenty of evidence that it creates new traffic that just fills up the roads again.”