The North Flexes Its Muscles (or starts to)
Amid the continuing Brexit saga - one storyline yet to reach its conclusion - there is also the strengthening undercurrent of resentment at London centric politics which dominate this country's condition : economic, social, financial, transport infrastructure, investment, cultural and much more. The much heralded 'Northern Powerhouse' launched by a previous administration with promise of a seachange in investment and development priorities - has yet to resonate beyond a handful of highlighted schemes around Manchester, Liverpool and possibly one or two other northern urban centres.
This past week has seen a combined Page One Headline banner campaign launched by most newspapers serving towns and cities in the north of England - demanding political actions which finally favour the population north of Birmingham as far as Carlisle and Berwick. Of great importance in this push on westminster bubble politicians is the transparent need for strengthened east west road and rail infrastructure that connects England's east and west coasts and ports through new efficient and upgraded access.
The M62 was the last capital scheme intended to alleviate lengthy cross Pennine road journeys - way back in time pre-Thatcher; and many other Premierships. Whilst City of London interest in a high speed rail link running north south has gained apparent support from the DfT and other London centric interests - an enhanced road and rail corridor that links Hull and Immingham (and other east coast ports to Scandinavia and the Benelux) with the vital port of Liverpool and its Mersey neighbours facing across the Atlantic to North and South America has even higher economic potential. Both freight and passenger services require sustained capital investment on equal measure to the ever demanding insistence of London with its continuing need for more and more rail infrastructure even before Crossrail is even completed and opened. The latter being the largest capital transport scheme in western Europe at its peak.
While France has opened nearly thirty brand new urban tram and light rail systems in the past twenty odd years - and continues on enveloping Paris with a joined up tram network - the UK has managed to sustain new lines in Manchester, Edinburgh, Nottingham, Croydon, Birmingham and Sheffield. Newcastle's excellent heavy rail to light rail network is now due to be re-equipped whilst Blackpool's traditional coastal line was overhauled to modern standards and is only now on the cusp of completing a very short on-street extension to its main railway station (or so we are led to believe). Naturally London Docklands light rail has gone from strength to strength with extensions and additional new rolling stock - but the North of England and the hapless 'Northern' operator continues to make do with polluting 'Pacers' - albeit in fast diminishing numbers thankfully. New rolling stock has appeared (built in Spain or some other EU source but definitely NOT in the UK).
England's motorway network struggles to handle and contain inexorable increasing traffic flows on main routes ie : most of them. The M62 continues to be the sole cross country east west motorway north of Birmingham all the way to the Scottish conurbations of Glasgow and Edinburgh. Clearly demand has outstripped supply in terms of road space for cars and freight traffic. An ever limp wristed response to these pressures continues to emanate from the bunkerlike mentality of the Department for Transport for whom most demands on time that do not emanate from within the Home Counties are at best an irritating sideshow. Moving that Department lock stock and their last beancounter to Leeds, Liverpool or Manchester would be a good start in gaining a level playing field for the North.
Britain's rail system is in the hands similarly of London based players and political influencers at Westminster : whilst at least Scotland (and Northern Ireland) have broken free from the constraints of an ill advised privatised set up post British Rail - thank you for all this John Major. Many of our train services are operated by foreign companies with discrete ownership - which have as the first and last resort a need to observe the priority call on profits from home hq wherever that happens to be : usually in The Netherlands, Germany or France. Even our much lauded long distance operator, Virgin Trains, runs at the behest of a corporate machine controlled from a Caribbean island; or so it would seem.
Of course much of this came to a head last year with the timetable revisions launched to the detriment of passengers, operators, the Government and the Department for Transport - in that order. Much of the resulting malaise fell on long suffering users of Northern Rail bedevilled with old time expired rolling stock, shorter trains (ie less capacity), and ill connected synergies with Network Rail and fellow operators. As usual the rail 'industry ' trotted out the usual flack for media interviews - offering predictable tedious explanations always ending up promising fast and better trains in the future; for short term pain today.
There is only so much of this pr claptrap that the public are ready to stomach over their rushed morning breakfast; should they can actually devote time to eating a meal before setting off on a god forsaken commute into the depths of Leeds, Sheffield, Liverpool, Manchester, Preston (pick a destination). And so to this past week when parallel disquiet on a much broader front by the public - points now to turmoil at the polls when they finally come to pass with essentially a plague on all political brands. Not too dissimilar from an earlier rise of discontent in France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Scandinavia; and of course the USA - with consequent upheaval of timeworn parliamentary treadmills in those capitals. Lessons need to be learned in Westminster before it's too late - but then it is.
Northern media made their collective pronouncements aimed at Westminster politicians this week - all Parties, all politicians. There is a growing expectancy of change permeating the country - if not outright demands that words alone don't work anymore. Politicians cannot be trusted. I wont get started on the sclerotic condition of local government on the Fylde coast riven as it is with aged timeservers and worse and have to save this for another Blog once the current round of Conservative Party defenestration runs its course on or by 31 October.
Once Upon A Time This Was A Proud Totem.