Opinion: Why Transport for North boss is wrong to target motorists

Martin Tugwell Web (1)

As TfN’s CEO calls for conversation around asking car owners to pay more for driving, our man queries the reasoning

How disappointing that Transport for the North’s new CEO, Martin Tugwell, has marked his arrival in this important job with, in my opinion, a lazy attack on motorists. Tugwell wants an “open conversation”, according to The Guardian, about pushing up the cost of motoring to make public transport more attractive.

Millions of motorists in the north of England will probably wonder what planet Tugwell is on, as 72% of the cost of every litre of fuel they buy already heads towards to the Treasury as either fuel duty or VAT. 

It’s a worry for those in rural areas, where bus and train services will forever be almost non-existent, although Tugwell did acknowledge the conversation isn’t an easy one and that he doesn’t want to “disenfranchise” people living in less dense populations. 

In some ways, it’s hard not to feel sorry for Tugwell and TfN, an organisation that was launched with great optimism in 2015 to bring greater coherence to roads and rail building as part of the Northern Powerhouse project.

In 2019, the government rubber-stamped a £30 billion, 30-year road programme for the north, including dualling the A66 at Scotch Corner, a Trans-Pennine tunnel to relieve traffic through the Peak District, plus the Manchester NW Quadrant motorway improvements.

At that time, TfN’s road director, Peter Molyneaux, made positive noises about the economic benefits of new roads, which under Treasury rules require a £1.50 payback for every £1 spent.

Encouragingly, the A66 dualling even made it into the Highways Agency’s RIS2 strategic roads programme for 2020-2025.

However, progress on rail has been slow and the puzzle over the northern extension of HS2 remains unresolved.

The reality, though, is that Tugwell runs a toothless tiger. TfN has not been handed control of a huge budget for rail and road programmes, which remain under central government administration, through organisations like the Highways Agency and Network Rail, while TfN’s annual management budget has been cut in half to £6 million.

With very little to do of consequence, Tugwell appears to have selected Plan B: let’s get some publicity by attacking the very motorists whose taxes pay towards his salary.

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