Newcastle's 'weak' public transport costs economy £1.7 billion a year, says report

Cities in the United Kingdom such as Newcastle have "significantly worse" public transport links than their European counterparts, according to a new report.

Published by the think tank Centre for Cities, the report says Newcastle's "weak transport accessibility" costs the economy £1.7 billion a year - limiting job opportunities and making the city "feel smaller".

It found that across the UK's 10 largest cities outside London, "poor" transport infrastructure leaves a total productivity gap of £23.1 billion, which could be used to fund public schemes.

(Source: Traveltime; ONS; Eurostat; Centre for Cities' calculations. Estimates based on PUA boundaries, which may be affecting the analysis by including some towns that will be unlikely to be connected by new public transport.)

"These missed billions are almost equivalent to the UK Government's entire transport budget and more than it spends on the Home Office, international development, culture, or foreign affairs," said a spokesperson from the think tank.

"The £5.7 billion promised in the Budget is not alone enough to level up urban transport."

What's wrong with the UK's public transport?

According to the report, it is far too difficult for people in the suburbs to access city centres.

"While Rishi Sunak promised an 'infrastructure revolution' in last week's Budget, poor infrastructure is rarely the only cause of urban transport problems," the Centre for Cities spokesperson continued.

"The main reason is that more people in European cities such as Bordeaux or Berlin live in well-connected mid-rise suburbs close to the centre than in detached, car-dependent UK suburbs.

Colin Simpson works in a call centre in Newcastle, seven miles from his home in Crawcook, Gateshead.

He has to rely on lifts due to the poor reliability of his local bus service.

"Theres been a lot of cancellations and services withdrawn so now I am getting a lift into work," he said.

"We used to have a really good bus service but they pulled out a while ago and it's deteriorated. If you want to be at work for a specific time you cant trust it, you're at fault not the buses and I totally get it."

'Productivity gap due to weak public transport accessibility' in the UK's 10 largest cities outside London


£8.9 billion

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£3.6 billion

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£2.8 billion

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£2.3 billion

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£1.7 billion

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£1.7 billion

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£1 billion

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£936 million

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£137 million

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Combined lost productivity

£23.1 billion

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What should be done about it?

While Centre for Cities does call for more transport infrastructure investment than has been outlined in the budget, it believes a more direct step should be taken to improve Newcastle's city centre access by public transport.

Paul Swinney, director of policy and research at the think tank, says authorities need to increase housing density around transport hubs - particularly around metro stations.

Until then, he argues, car will continue to be king.

Presented as part of the 2021 Autumn Budget, the government has recently announced the following projects to 'level up' public transport in the region:

  • City Region Sustainable Transport Settlements: £310 million over five years to transform local transport networks in the Tees Valley for schemes such as upgrading Middlesbrough and Darlington stations and improving local rail links.

  • £210 million funding for new Nexus trains over the Spending Review period, to improve journeys for passengers and level up opportunity.

  • Up to £50,000 through the Restoring Your Railway ‘Ideas Fund’ to develop an early-stage proposal to reinstate passenger rail links between Darlington and Weardale.

Responding to accusations that it is not doing enough to improve public transport, a Department for Transport spokesperson said: “We’ve announced a comprehensive package to boost investment in places in need and improve people’s everyday lives, as we continue to level up across the country. 

 “We will be investing billions to improve transport in eight City Regions, with further funding specifically for vital new infrastructure and public services around the country.