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Executive Leader Cllr Brenda Warrington

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Councillor Brenda Warrington, Executive Leader of Tameside Council

Another Broken Promise for the North

Friday, 24 January 2020

Stop me if you’ve heard this before. A politician in London, with great fanfare, promises some kind of transport investment in the North of England. Nothing happens for a while, and then all of a sudden the promised funding is either scaled back or cancelled altogether. Meanwhile, similar projects in London that deliver much less return for much more money are signed off without so much as a murmur.

We’ve seen it before over the years; and it looks like we could be seeing it again in 2020 with High Speed 2.

High Speed 2, or HS2 for short, was first proposed over ten years ago as the British answer to the Japanese bullet trains or the French TGV, a scratch-built state-of-the-art rail network that could accommodate up to 85 million passengers a year on trains reaching speeds of almost 300 kilometres per hour. The initial plan called for the network to be built in two separate stages. Phase One would link up London and Birmingham, while Phase Two would extend out to Manchester and Leeds from Birmingham, creating a “Y”-shaped route across the length of England.

Once complete, it would cut in half the travel times out of London to three of our great cities. The impact of the Phase 2 line from Birmingham to Manchester and Leeds in particular is expected to be nothing short of transformative. According to figures from the Northern Powerhouse Independent Review, by 2050 HS2 could create up to 171,000 new jobs across the region, including 60,000 in Greater Manchester, 50,000 in Leeds, 37,000 in Crewe and 24,000 in Liverpool, boosting our economy by tens of billions of pounds.


Or, at least, that was what they told us the plan was. We now know that a leaked review of HS2 has advised the government to postpone Phase 2 of the project for at least six months. We’ve been here too many times to not read the writing on the wall, that “postponed” very quickly turns into “cancelled”.

And HS2 is just the tip of the iceberg. Who can forget the ongoing fiasco with Northern Rail, which finally saw the franchise stripped from the operator after one out of every two trains failed to arrive at their destination on time this winter? Why are we still waiting for the Trans Pennine line between Manchester and Leeds to be electrified, an absolutely essential first step to combining the economic power of the North’s biggest cities? Even the recent consultation on bringing Greater Manchester’s bus services back into public control, as welcome as it is, only grants us similar powers to what London has enjoyed for decades.

An IPPR report in summer of last year reported that transport investment per head in London was £3,636 compared to £1,247 for the entire North of England. Add it all up and that’s a funding disparity of almost £66 billion. It’s true, as the critics often say, that transport investment will not by itself address the imbalance between London and the rest of the country. But it’s also true that any serious attempt to give the North its fair share must have turbocharging our region’s infrastructure at its heart. Successful completion of HS2 in its entirety is an indispensable element of that work.

The Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham, professional bodies like the Civil Engineer’s Contractors Association and the Rail Industry Association, and major business leaders in the region all agree. Cancelling HS2 at this stage would not only be a scandalous betrayal. It would send the message that, when push comes to shove, the best the North can expect is crumbs from the table. Tameside, Greater Manchester and the North deserves better, and over the next few months I’ll be joining with other leaders across the region to make sure that our case is heard. 


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