Transport bosses have unveiled a plan to breathe new life into Greater Manchester's railway stations and drive investment and potential housing development surrounding them.
The railway network in the region and its collection of stations will always be linked to the city's past as an industrial heartland - the railway first came to the city centre in 1830 - but today Greater Manchester stands on the verge of a new transport revolution, with the Bee Network set to align all forms of public transport in a London-style network.
Greater Manchester's Transport Commissioner, Vernon Everitt - speaking after the latest devolution deal was agreed between Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) and the Government - argued our railway stations have often 'not kept pace' with the level of commercial development and modernisation going on around them.
Transport for Greater Manchester revealed the city region will now work with Network Rail in partnership with the Government to 'identify potential opportunities to drive regeneration and commercial and housing development around them'.
The Manchester Evening News can reveal a formal framework for the plan is set to be established by the end of the year, with the aim of boosting commercial income in areas surrounding railway stations. TfGM has confirmed the scope of the plan would look at railway stations anywhere across Greater Manchester.
Mr Everitt, speaking in Manchester at a board meeting of Transport Focus, an independent watchdog for transport users, said it could lead to upgrades for stations themselves coming far more quickly.
"We are looking to establish a formal vehicle to commercially redevelop central Manchester's stations," he said at the meeting. "So if you look at all the building around us, there's loads of commercial stuff gone up, lots of residentials have gone up. The stations have not kept pace with that level of commercial development and modernisation.
"So we will work with Network Rail, districts and other landowners to look at the central Manchester stations as an estate and hopefully attract more commercial money in to help us upgrade those stations faster than might otherwise be the case."
Civic leaders in Greater Manchester this month signed the historic 'trailblazer devolution deal' with the Government earlier this month, giving the city region more powers over transport and housing.
Levelling Up minister Dehenna Davison said the mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, and the 10 local authorities would now have the 'flexibility' and 'financial fire power' to rise to the challenges the city-region faces - and allow it to 'reach its true potential'.
The deal commits to the 'full integration' of local rail services with the public transport network by 2030. It means buses, trams and trains in Greater Manchester will be connected under one system like London's.
The Bee Network branding will be used on local railway stations and, crucially, the deal also lays the foundation for more local influence over those stations. It references identifying opportunities to build housing, offices and other types of development in and around them.
The trailblazer announcement and document references Greater Manchester as 'one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the country, especially toward the urban core'.
That would, said the Government, result in 'a growing demand for travel in the coming years', with an expected population growth set to 'stimulate more jobs, businesses, homes, and economic growth alongside greater inclusion and provide new markets for public transport and active travel.
"Transport in Greater Manchester remains dominated by car trips and car ownership has increased in recent years," states the announcement.
"GMCA's plan to integrate transport via the Bee Network is to provide a safe, reliable, and affordable alternative option for unnecessary car trips."
The devolution deal said it would allow for the 'identification of worthwhile opportunities for regeneration and commercial and housing development in and around rail stations, as the establishment of Great British Railways creates an opportunity to increase commercial income'.
"Government will work with GMCA to facilitate the right formal vehicle for collaboration to inform decisions on land use and transport, involving GMCA, Great British Rail Transition Team, TfGM, constituent authorities, Network Rail, London & Continental Railways, and other relevant organisations by end of 2023.
"In the last ten years, the Greater Manchester skyline has been transformed by new apartment buildings, offices, hotels, and cultural venues. The population in the central wards has boomed as surface car parks and derelict industrial sites have made way for new homes and communities.
"This is a testament to local leadership and the effective use of infrastructure funding and powers to create fantastic new places. Through this trailblazer deal, the government, and GMCA agree to new powers and flexible funding to build on this potential and deliver further and faster: building more homes, tackling the poorer quality of homes across the region, and spreading the benefits of regeneration further across the city region."
A TfGM spokesperson said: "As part of the Trailblazer Devolution Deal announced in the 2023 Spring Statement, Greater Manchester will work in formal partnership with government and the rail industry to make more of rail stations as local community assets, including to identify potential opportunities to drive regeneration and commercial and housing development around them.
"The first step is to establish a formal framework by the end of the year to ensure strong collaboration and effective decision-making and delivery between the Great British Railways Transition Team, Transport for Greater Manchester, local authorities, Network Rail and other relevant organisations."
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