Outside the marginals

A commentary on the politics that followed the UK 2010, 2015 & 2017 elections

Seeing the light?

I have to admit to a degree of surprise. Who might have said this?

… the cities in the North of England were individually strong but were “collectively not strong enough

He said that in the past few decades giant global cities, such as London, had emerged – and that the string of northern cities, with better transport links and careful planning, could take them on and be “greater than the sum of their parts”.  …

it was not “healthy for our economy, not good for our country” if “the powerhouse of London dominates more and more”. …

“We need an ambitious plan to make the cities and towns here in this northern belt radically more connected from east to west – to create the equivalent of travelling around a single global city.

“I want us to start thinking about whether to build a new high-speed rail connection east-west from Manchester to Leeds.”
BBC News Website 23 June 2014 : High-speed rail link needed to boost north – xxxxxxx

A Clue? … Well, it’s a Tory. A very senior Tory – in office

More? … It’s a Tory who is tight with our money and believes in Austerity

It’s the Chancellor, George Osborne.

I am at a bit of a loss as to how he could come to such a set of views:

  • London dominance is not good (Scots take note – your major gripe might be sinking in – Thank you)
  • That the Northern Cities could collectively compete (OK, leave aside the common idea that Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester are “Northern” – a common mistake easily rectified by looking at an atlas)
  • A new high-speed rail connection “east-west from Manchester to Leeds” should be considered (OK east-west is actually Leeds to Manchester, but let’s not be picky.)
British Isles Map

Map of British Isles (Shetland and Orkney not shown) © Google

I need to pick myself up off the floor, I am not meant to agree with Osborne – he’s not “one of us”. So many of us have been advocating using high speed rail to link the M62 corridor into a mega-city region – I have referred to it as HS62.

So there must be problems – I must have misunderstood.


Mr Osborne said he did not yet have time scales – but he wanted “to start a conversation”

This looks as if it is merely being “floated” as an idea – which means that it won’t happen until after HS2 has been fully built (HS2 in 2032 – HS3 in 204x?). And there is a very good chance that HS2 will never be fully built – indeed HS2 if fully built may further drain economic viability out of the regions “it serves” and into an every Greater London.

If the Chancellor really has seen the light he should want what he calls HS3 built first – if he believes that it is wrong that “the powerhouse of London dominates more and more” and that “the string of northern cities, with better transport links and careful planning, could take [giant global cities] on”. With two major economic hubs in the country he may then find that the business case for HS2 is more compelling and easier to finance.


Just Leeds – Manchester has to be short-sighted. Manchester should be designed as a through station not a terminus and the link should go on to Liverpool as part of the initial phase – the extra distance is comparatively short and the population of the Liverpool conurbation should be included in this development. The case for initially including Hull is more difficult – its population is comparatively smaller and the distance from Leeds to Hull is considerably greater than Manchester to Liverpool.

most populous Built-up areas in England and Wales as defined by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), showing all those with a population in excess of 100,000 at the 2011 census with English Regions (Wikimedia Commons) superimposed

Most populous Built-up areas in England and Wales as defined by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), showing all those with a population in excess of 100,000 at the 2011 census with English Regions (Wikimedia Commons) superimposed – reposted from my blog post (on English devolution) of 21 May 2014

Built-up area Population
(2011 Census)
Greater Manchester Built-up area
(Manchester, Salford, Bolton, Stockport, Oldham, Rochdale, Bury, Trafford, Tameside)
Liverpool Built-up area
(Liverpool, Bootle, Litherland, Crosby, Prescot, St. Helens, Ashton-in-Makerfield)
Birkenhead Built-up area
(Birkenhead, Wallasey, Ellesmere Port, Bebington)
West Yorkshire Built-up area
(Leeds, Bradford, Wakefield, Huddersfield, Dewsbury, Keighley, Halifax)
Kingston upon Hull Built-up area
(Kingston upon Hull, Cottingham, Hessle)


It is not entirely clear what he has in mind.

Mr Osborne says a new high-speed rail link should be considered, based on the existing rail route but with new tunnels and infrastructure.

If by “based on the existing route” he means “roughly the current alignment” – rather than say a northern route via Hebdon Bridge I think we would all be in agreement. But if he means mixing 250mph High Speed trains with 70mph local Pacer trains he really needs to think again. Inter running slower local services and high-speed services reduces capacity and makes timetabling more difficult and reliability more problematic. Even saying that you will convert the whole line to a Javelin type commuter service (which would have definite benefits) still has issues if you aim to serve all the intermediate stations*. Either you need very long passing loops (in urban areas and long enough to provide distance for acceleration and deceleration) or you have to accept compromised capacity for “express” non-stop trains. The needs for and impact of freight also need to be considered.

* In addition to Huddersfield and Stalybridge there are 12 other intermediate stations between Leeds and Manchester Victoria

To work effectively it needs to be a substantially new track bed (but with good interchanges at Leeds and Manchester and possibly Huddersfield and Stalybridge).

So do I believe the Chancellor? It’s all a bit “jam tomorrow” – probably some time in the 2040s. If he sincerely believes in his analysis of the problem he has to act quicker than that.



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