• Brexit means high-speed rail to Liverpool and the North is now a political and economic imperative


    The Brexit vote sent a shockwave through the political establishment and as the dust settles, its message for HS2, “HS3” and the Northern Powerhouse is emerging. Now is the time to invest in a transport network that uses HS2 to irrigate the regions, not drain them, says Andrew Morris, Chair of 20 Miles More.

    In the thirty years since the Big Bang deregulation of financial markets, “the City” has become the de facto centre of international financial markets.  Successive governments have become increasingly mesmerised by its charms, to the exclusion of the rest of the nation.   London generates great wealth, producing as much tax revenues as the next 37 largest UK cities together each year [1]. That wealth is highly concentrated in London and has created a dangerously imbalanced economy. It is difficult to find another major country that is so economically imbalanced.  Canada, France, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Japan, and Spain have multiple wealth-creating cities.  Whilst in the UK only 6 companies in the FTSE 100 are based north of Birmingham, down from 10 in 1984[2].

    Currently, London is the not just the economic centre of the UK, it is also the legislative, judicial, media, cultural and transport hub – despite being tucked way in the south-eastern corner of a long, narrow island.  The blinkered focus on London has led to a mindset that everything of any importance is there, and the corollary that if it’s not in London it’s unimportant.

    The North of England has suffered in particular over the last 30 years. It has been strip-mined for assets by the City. High-value industries have been subsumed into London or sold off to the highest bidder. The North’s world-leading industrial companies were just an opportunity to realise their breakup value. Patents and products bases were sold off by corporate raiders to foreign rivals as the companies were starved of finance.

    Transport investment is an area of inequality that stands out. More money will be spent on one London project, Crossrail, than all of the transport projects in the North of England put together[3]. This investment chasm urgently needs to be bridged and high-speed rail is one policy that should be amended to achieve this.

    HS2’s major deficiency is its London-centricity.  There is only one hub on HS2: London.  The three other cities on HS2 are branches off the main line. It is a hierarchical design from a bygone era, not an interconnected network for the information age.  Sir David Higgins was quick to recognise this when coming onboard HS2 Limited [4]. How high-speed rail should serve the North needs to be redressed. “HS3” must go beyond a command-and-control solution connecting just two points in the North to London. High-speed rail needs to mesh together the great cities of the North and to connect them with the Birmingham and London, and onward to Edinburgh and Glasgow. It is imperative that a route map is planned, leaving no doubt about all future destinations for potential investors, business planning and city development.

    20 Miles More proposed a solution to solve this problem in January 2014 [5]. By adding just 20 miles more of high-speed track, the largest city not on HS2, Liverpool, can be linked. This route would run west to east from Liverpool to Manchester connecting to the HS2 route. Not only would this boost the business case for HS2 by £8bn, it would form the first phase of an “HS3” network extending from Liverpool and Manchester to Bradford, Leeds, Hull spanning the North.

    The Brexit vote has been a rude awakening for the political establishment.  The public has voiced their anger with the status quo.  The shock result wasn’t just about the settlement between the UK and the EU but also the settlement between metropolitan London and the rest of the country.  The Government needs to address this sense of alienation with policies that will rebalance an unstable economy and build the nation’s wealth across the Nation. High-speed rail can benefit the North, but HS2 needs to be adapted to do so. With the Chancellor’s autumn statement approaching we have reached a key turning point, will HS2 irrigate the North or drain it?

    1. 10 years of tax, Centre for Cities, July 2016
    2. Lure of the south too strong for northern businesses, Financial Times, 15 March 2015
    3. Transport Secretary urged to close £1,600 per person London-North spending gap, IPPR, 8 August 2016
    4. HS2 Plus: A Report by David Higgins, Department for Transport, 17 March 2014
    5. 20 Miles More: A Counterproposal for Liverpool and HS2, January 2014

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