We’re Happy to Dig Tunnels in London, But Not to Properly Connect Our Northern CitiesApril 14, 2016
On the day her Majesty the Queen was officially naming the new Crossrail line, I was in Parliament, speaking at the launch of a major new report making the case for Liverpool’s infrastructure.
A report I commissioned by the think tank ResPublica, Ticket to Ride: How high speed rail for Liverpool can realise the Northern Powerhouse, makes the case for extending the proposed HS2 line into Liverpool City Centre. Most people I speak to are amazed to learn that it isn’t already scheduled to.
But it isn’t (it stops at Crewe). Ministers, worried about the allegation of profligacy surrounding HS2 have tried to rein-in project costs, meaning that sensible, evidence-based proposals to extend the line to Liverpool, or to run it into the centre of Sheffield, have been ruled out by the timorous souls at HS2 Limited.
But the contrast with Crossrail is instructive. Here we have a tale of two projects. On the one hand, the £14 billion invested in Crossrail has attracted few hostile headlines in our London-based national newspapers. (The same people, no doubt, who will now make use of the line?)
Yet the case for HS2 – the single most important infrastructure project in the country – and a new economic artery for our Northern conurbations – has to be fought and refought with irritating frequency from ill-informed naysayers.
So much so, that we are still left here still making what I believe is a compelling and vital case even at the eleventh hour, just months before work on the line is due to commence.
But as the report makes clear, that there are massive benefits from doing so, not just for Liverpool, but for the wider Northern economy and the UK as a whole. Let me give you just one example.
The Superport proposals we have developed in Merseyside will lead to a renaissance of the Liverpool dockside, with a predicted trebling of freight in future years, as we become the only port on the west coast of Britain which can accommodate the vast new container ships that can now negotiate the widened Panama Canal.
This opens up new markets for Northern exporters, including major companies such as Jaguar Land Rover in Liverpool and Nissan in Sunderland, but the potential is there for it to become an asset for the whole country. But we only realise this potential fully if we have a high-speed rail connection from Liverpool.
We risk short-changing future generations if we aren’t bold enough now.
The devolution deal we have negotiated with Whitehall and the broader concept of the Northern Powerhouse, gives us many of the tools we need to develop our economy in future decades, but it would help if there was a level playing field across the country.
Already, we are seeing plans for Crossrail 2. This will be the fourth major rail project in London since 2000, following the East London line extensions, the Thameslink programme and Crossrail 1.
London gets not only the powers but the kit, too, it needs to develop and prosper, without a murmur of dissent.
I look forward to the day when we can invite Her Majesty to Liverpool to open our HS2 connection.
Unfortunately, for now, the North is left pleading its case.