Transport Secretary Chris Grayling’s announcement that the electrification of several railway lines will no longer go ahead is yet another Tory broken promise. Electrification of the Transpennine route between Manchester, York and Leeds; the Great Western Main Line west of Cardiff, the Midland Main Line north of Kettering, the; and the line between Windermere and Oxenholme in the Lake District have all been cancelled. However, Crossrail 2 was given the go-ahead in a move which (quite rightly) attracted criticism from both the Mayors of Manchester and Liverpool, Andy Burnham and Steve Rotherham respectively.
Lack of investment in transport in the North hampers economic growth in the U.K. as a whole. Although investment in London and the South East is of course to be welcomed, this cannot be to the detriment of investment in the North. It is not often I agree with George Osborne, but his rhetoric on a ‘Northern Powerhouse’ at least recognised the North has as much a role to play in Britain’s prosperity as the South. In Theresa May’s government however, only investment in London seems to matter with the so-called Northern Powerhouse all but a distant memory. Research from IPPR North shows that current transport expenditure amounts to £2595.68 per head in London, £714.08 per head in the South East, £99.19 per head in the North West and just £5.01 per head in the North East.
Investment in transport infrastructure is more than just a paint job on some 30-year-old trains (Yes, they still have Pacers up North). As the redevelopment of the Docklands area in London shows, a once neglected area blighted by poverty can be transformed into a thriving business hub if the appropriate transport infrastructure is provided. The Docklands Light Railway now carries 340,000 passengers each day and supports thousands of jobs in Canary Wharf, now one of the most important financial districts in the world.
In Manchester, the expanding Metrolink system has attracted significant investment from both the private and public sectors, not least of course the BBC’s decision to move many of its flagship programmes to the new Media City complex. Like the Docklands Light Railway in London, the Manchester Metrolink has transformed Salford Quays into a thriving retail, business and tourist hotspot.
Once the long-awaited Ordsall Chord is completed (expected to be December 2017) trains will be able to run between Manchester Piccadilly and Manchester Victoria, unlocking a huge array of opportunities for train operators to take advantage of; slashing journey times and improving connections across the North.
Investment in transport must not be seen in isolation however – but rather as a tool to unlock future potential. Improved transport infrastructure means more opportunities for businesses, retail and housing to be provided. It has the ability to breathe new life into an area and transform local economies.
Grayling’s announcement therefore is bad news for the North. Leeds and Manchester are two of the UK’s fastest growing cities. For businesses to be attracted to these areas and to resist the gravitational pull towards the capital, urgent investment in transport infrastructure is required. At present, long journey times on cramped diesel trains makes travel by rail between the two cities arduous and inefficient – hardly meeting the demands of business in the 21st century.
In post Brexit Britain, with outdated and inadequate transport infrastructure we will simply not be able to complete with our European neighbours to attract business. At home too, investment in transport infrastructure is essential to stem the ‘brain drain’ which forces our brightest and best down to London to seek the better employment opportunities that are accompanied by a comprehensive transport network. It’s time to turn the rhetoric of a ‘Northern Powerhouse’ into a reality and commit to a serious programme of investment in transport infrastructure to drive Britain’s economy forward.