It was to have been more than just a Railway

Author Hitachi Rail Licence CC BY-SA Deed  Source Wikimedia Commons


Jane Lambert

Railways are more than just a way of getting from A to B.  They are catalysts for economic growth.  It was the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway nearly 200 years ago that made it possible for textiles to be manufactured in Lancashire more cheaply than anywhere else in the world.   It was the completion of the transcontinental railway in 1869 that unlocked the economic potential of the United States.  Ir was the construction of the Shinkansen network that catapulted Japanese recovery after the Second World War.  In our own time, high-speed railways are integral to the Chinese Belt Road Initiative.

HS2 was part of an ambitious plan to transform the scattered communities of the North of England into a counterweight to London.  The scheme was the brainchild of Lord O'Neill and supported by the former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and the former Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne.  I wrote about it at the time in Creating a Northern Counterweight to London Is Good for the Nation on 5 April 2014 and in Power. Performance. Potential. Leeds Economic Conference on 5 July 2014.  A Transpennine agglomeration of over 6 million inhabitants facilitated by an Elizabeth Line of the North was to be linked not just to London but also to the Continental powerhouses such as Paris, the Ruhr and the Randtadt by high-speed rail.

The vision of a Northern counterweight to London had more or less faded away by 2019 when I wrote The Northern Powerhouse Five Years On is not what was expected Five Years Ago on 24 June 2918.   The Northern Powerhouse was nothing more than a transport policy for a massive region from Cheshire to the Scottish border.   Nobody of the weight of Clegg or Osborne championed the North.  It was made the responsibility of junior ministers.

If one looks at the North as a region of scattered communities then the cancellation of HS2 makes perfect sense.   In fact, it is remarkable that it was not cancelled a good deal earlier.   The survival of the project up to now is probably down to the former prime minister who once proposed a tunnel to Northern Ireland as well as a  Thames Estuary airport.   However, if one looks at the project as a catalyst for economic regeneration it was probably a flunked opportunity.

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