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On infrastructure spending, the North remembers

    On 24 July Transport Secretary Chris Grayling announced his support for Crossrail 2 – a £30billion project that will link London’s south-west and north through Victoria – as he believed “there was no doubt London needed new infrastructure in order to retain its status as the UK’s economic powerhouse.”

    That would be London, the UK’s largest city with 366 rail passenger stations, over 500 bus routes, multiple 24 hour bus and tube lines, and where debate over how many tube lines London has took over a sub-sector of Twitter and the CityMetric website’s podcast for several days in late June. If you’re interested, TfL says 11 and Jonn Eldridge agrees, Stephen Bush says its 14, and there’s some disagreement about whether or not the Thames (yes, the river Thames) counts. This also doesn’t include Crossrail 1 – aka the Elizabeth Line – which hasn’t opened yet.

    I don’t mean to dismiss the capital’s need for infrastructure investment but Chris Grayling’s announcement came 3 days after cancelling rail-electrification between Liverpool and Newcastle, saying electrification will instead happen “where it makes a difference”. The day after, Grayling announced that he was reviewing plans to build two extra platforms at Manchester Piccadilly, needed to enable the city to cope with extra trains.

    The 2016 IPPR report highlighted figures from HM Treasury that showed transport spending for London amounts to almost £2,000 per head, the North receives less than a quarter of that and Yorkshire and Humber – a large and open region with plenty of disparate towns and villages that you’d think would mean even more need for good transport links – doesn’t even scrape £250 per head.

    A train from Liverpool to Hull (a journey of 127 miles) takes between 3 hours and 3 hours 20 depending on the train. However, if you wanted to get from London to Paris (285 miles by road), you can do it almost an hour quicker with the Eurostar taking 2 hours 22 minutes. We’ve all seen the stories of friends who – rather than bankrupt themselves travelling on Britain’s railways – book flights to Malaga and catch up there instead.

    Lack of infrastructure spending is holding the north back. Richard Threlfall, KPMG’s UK head of infrastructure, said in 2015 “The north has huge potential, it should be in the premier league of world economics but is currently condemned to mediocrity because of lack of investment.”

    Years of neglect – from both main parties – in the North’s infrastructure looked like it might be ending with the announcement of the Northern Powerhouse by George Osborne. Finally, we cried, someone has noticed us up here! Commitments were made and backing out of them now then following it up by announcing more spending for London is a slap in the face.

    (Although as an aside, I plan to write another blog soon on how the Northern Powerhouse is a nice idea but shows big city bias and ignores the fact that “the North” is more than just Manchester, Leeds, and Sheffield. There’s quite a few towns and villages up there, not to mention Newcastle, Sunderland, Carlisle, Bradford, and the 2017 UK City of Culture, Hull.)

    As recently as 1978, the Conservative Party had decent representation in northern cities, having between ¼ and half the seats on the councils of Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle, and Sheffield. By 2010 they had 0. Wiped out in all 4 areas.

    If the Conservative Party wants to try and make some gains in the north of England, never mind achieve the kind of resurgence managed by Ruth Davidson and the Scottish Conservatives, they should start by sticking to their commitments on infrastructure spending.

    Or else, as the saying goes, the North remembers.


    DISCLAIMER: The views set out in CPS blog posts are those of the individual authors only and should not be taken to represent a corporate view of the Centre for Policy Studies.

    Emma is the Senior Communications and Events Officer, having joined the Centre for Policy Studies in January 2017. Prior to joining the CPS, Emma worked as a Development Officer for a not-for-profit social care organisation. 

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