It’s forgiveable, if short-sighted, for much of the country – and possibly more of Europe and the world – to consider London and its surrounding areas to be the beating heart of UK industry. Those involved in the shipping of cargo, however – the physical movement of those goods which contribute to our economy – know that there are some overlooked towns and cities which act as arteries for the flow of our country’s lifeblood: Dover, Felixstowe, Holyhead, among others.
A less-overlooked but often underestimated region is Greater Manchester and the surrounding area.

Manchester is often described as the ‘gateway to the North’, an epithet which is supported by the Invest in Manchester campaign. The thriving city is also at the heart of the Northern Powerhouse. This is the collective name for the region comprising Greater Manchester and the surrounding cities and towns with a total population of 15 million people. It is a hub for innovation, supported by the region’s excellent education establishments and manufacturing hotspots. Over 2,000 international businesses have a major presence here. A combination of industry and education results in money being available for development in the area, as well as ample opportunity to found and support new working initiatives.

Transport for the North is based in Manchester and is England’s first sub-national transport body, comprising a partnership of transport authorities, delivery partners and local enterprise partnerships, all working in tandem. As the name suggests, the partnership aims to deliver comprehensive transport plans – both commercial and otherwise – for the north of England: from waterways to air and sea ports to passenger trains.

A huge part of Transport for the North’s drive is to support the freight and logistics industry and its peripheral sectors in order to enhance the potential for economic growth. For this to happen, there needs to be a significant improvement in local infrastructure. In 2018, Transport for the North authored a report which outlined a case for investment in the region, as well as a vision for its future.

Part of this report cited forecasts based on the ‘Great Britain Freight Model.’ The model is used to predict and analyse freight flow as it currently stands and under future conditions. In all predicted outcomes listed in the report, every single mode of freight transportation is set to increase significantly in both volume and distance travelled by 2050.

The M62 corridor is already at peak capacity (both consumer and industrial) so there is significant momentum to try to move things onto the railway. The trans-Pennine route is one which is seeing significant investment. It will run from Mersey, through Manchester, to Yorkshire and Humber. Rail freight alone is worth £1.7 billion to the UK economy and is one of the cleanest forms of freight transportation. Compound this with our busy roads and it makes complete sense to further develop the infrastructure to support more freight trains.

Developing the rail network is seen as an essential move forward towards empowering the North and supporting the growth of the local economy, rates of employment and the development of innovation. Manchester is already home to the World Freight Terminal – the largest in the UK outside of London – and remains the preferred distribution hub for international powerhouses such as Adidas, L’Oréal, Kellogg’s and Procter & Gamble. This significant work to improve the Manchester region’s freight connections will have an incredible impact on business’ intelligence, development, growth and support.

Sarah O’Connell, Senior Editor, FORWARDER magazine