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A blow for the North last week with reports of further delays to the Integrated Rail Plan, originally due late 2020 and now not expected until the autumn.

The further delay will have a significant impact on the progress of Northern Powerhouse Rail and HS2, but it also sends a worrying message to the people of the North that the Government’s commitment to levelling up the country, is little more than warm words.

One of the challenges, is that calls for greater investment in our rail infrastructure are often framed in purely economic terms – around access to jobs, commuting and unlocking investment. But it’s also key to addressing social and environmental issues.

According to Department for Transport statistics, before the pandemic, 54% of rail journeys were made for commuting purposes, meaning the railways are needed for so much more than just access to work, jobs and economic growth.

In the recent ‘Decarbonising Transport’ plan from the Department for Transport, the Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP quite rightly states that “transport is not just how you get around. It is something that fundamentally shapes our towns, our cities, our countryside, our living standards, our health, and our whole quality of life. It can shape all these things for good – or for bad.”

And this is the salient point about why the North needs vital investment in transport infrastructure, and fast. It goes beyond faster journey times and increased capacity to access jobs and business growth. Transport is the key enabler of better access to healthcare, living standards, schools, education, job prospects for our young people, good quality of life and our route to net zero.

Bradford is the perfect example for this. Northern Powerhouse Rail in Bradford city centre would make it an even more attractive place to live, acting as a catalyst for regeneration, and investment in green infrastructure as well as housing and commercial development. Already offering a fantastic quality of life with a vibrant city and beautiful countryside, it would attract more people that want to learn new skills and more businesses that want to start-up and innovate. This is on top of the connectivity benefits it would bring to Bradford’s young, diverse and digitally-savvy population and the cleaner, greener transport network it would deliver.

With the Prime Minister shining a spotlight on Bradford in his levelling up speech the other week, highlighting challenges around post-16 education and unemployment, it is reassuring to see he is noting the need for action.

And it isn’t just transport investment at a pan-Northern level that will have an impact. Inter-city and local transport infrastructure, such as mass transit and local route upgrades, will make a dramatic difference to people living in hard to reach communities. That is why Combined Authorities across the North are continuing to make local transport investment a top priority, something we have seen the Metro Mayors championing, including Tracy Brabin, Ben Houchen, Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram.

With all this in mind, I think it would be fair to say that transport is the key to levelling up.

So how can we as communication professionals help make the case for this vital investment in our transport infrastructure?

  1. Look at the whole picture – move away from viewing transport in silo and in purely economic terms, instead demonstrate how it is the golden thread that knits together all parts of our society and brings wider social and economic benefits.
  2. Articulate the outcomes and the impact – it may sometimes feel like “jam tomorrow” but we have to bring to life the impact on people and planet.
  3. Put people at the heart of your comms – even the most creative writers struggle to articulate messages as simply and meaningfully as real-life case studies. Work with people who can tell you how transport (good and bad) impacts their life and let them do the talking.
  4. Get visual – whether you’re a train enthusiast or not (declaration of interest, I am a proud train enthusiast!) videos, images and graphics get the message across far better than reams of text.
  5. Play a part in influencing behaviour – thinking about the old saying “you don’t know what you don’t know” – as comms professionals, we have a role in informing people about their transport options and helping them make the case for transport investment. Simply by having the conversations and sharing information, be it through online channels, in our local community groups or through more strategic comms campaigns, we can all help make the case from the ground-up.

Victoria is Associate Director in Social’s Yorkshire office and has worked on a number of pan-Northern transport campaigns. Get in touch with Victoria on Victoria.Starkey@social.co.uk if you’d like a chat about how Social can help you with your transport communications.