REACTION to plans to vastly improve connectivity across the North of England, and turn the region into an ‘economic powerhouse’ countering London and the South East, has been intriguingly diverse – ranging from strong support in some Northern areas, much criticism in other Northern districts, and London-centric commentators drawing attention to ancient feudal and cultural differences between Northern towns and cities and, even, the Wars of the Roses.
Support for the plans, involving rail, roads and waterways which would cost up to £15 billion over the next 15 years, has come mainly from the ‘city regions’ with ‘combined authorities’ – Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Sheffield – that worked together to produce the proposals . . . while criticism has come mostly from other parts of the North not within city regions and not having combined authorities, such as Hull and Middlesbrough.
Further south, where many commentators remain ensconced in London, there has also been some incredulity that there is anything but diversity and adversity among Northern areas.
Certainly there has been a failure to recognise (even in some parts of the North, in my view) that the potential for Northern England can be compared with the economic powerhouses of mainland Europe – such as the Rhein-Rhür region of Germany (Köln, Düsseldorf, Duisburg, Essen, Dortmund) with which I drew comparisons in my ‘Long View’ column in the May 2014 edition of RAILNEWS.
Now it is reported that one of the main groups campaigning against any new North-South high speed rail link, StopHS2, reckons that not only is HS2 unnecessary but so is a high speed link across the Pennines (HS3) – all that is needed, its campaign manager Joe Rukin is reported in Sheffield as saying, is to reopen a couple of closed lines: “Instead of spending £5 billion on one new Trans-Pennine route, you could spend about a tenth of that amount and reopen two of them by restoring 27 miles of railway, reopening the Woodhead line and the route between Colne and Skipton,” he said.
But Mr Rukin seems unaware that it is not possible to reopen the Woodhead tunnel because it is now owned by National Grid to be used as a means of carrying high-voltage power lines beneath the Pennines.
In November 2013 Stephen Hammond, then a Transport Minister, rejected suggestions that the former tunnel (completed in 1953), should be retained, saying that if an additional rail route across the Pennines was ever required the best solution would be construction of a new tunnel.
The proposition – ‘to double the benefits of HS2’
AND that is exactly what is at the core of the proposition, put forward now by the North’s city regions under the banner ‘One North’. But it is not proposed as an alternative to north-south high speed rail plans, as StopHS2 suggests, but as a complement to HS2.
One North says European examples, including the Rhein-Rhür and the Netherlands’ Randstad regions, “show there is no fundamental reason why the North’s economic performance cannot be uplifted dramatically” and reckons that the new plans would double the benefits HS2 will bring to the North: evidence from earlier studies, it says, is that “improving east-west connectivity in effect brings to the North about the same benefit as does HS2.”
The nucleus of One North’s plan is a new 200km/h railway linking Greater Manchester (both the central business district and the international airport) beneath the Pennines to a delta junction with HS2, which should be built earlier than currently planned between Sheffield and Leeds – effectively a 21st Century version of the original Manchester, Sheffield and Wath (MSW) Railway.
To the west it would be extended to Liverpool (and possibly Chester). To the east, as well as Leeds and Sheffield, it would extend to Hull and south to Nottingham. And to the North it would join up beyond Leeds with the East Coast Main Line to York, Teesside and Newcastle – including a new line, with a speed of at least 225km/h, to relieve the existing ECML between Darlington and Newcastle to free up capacity for local and freight services around Teeside and Wearside.
This One North ‘proposition’ for passenger rail developments is just part of more ambitious proposals that include improving the North’s east-west motorway and trunk road system and – especially – east-west rail freight capabilities, including the key ports of Liverpool, Hull and Teesside.
The problem, I fear, is that critical commentators, including some politicians, have failed to read One North’s proposition in detail (at just 19 pages, it can be downloaded from http://www.westyorks-ca.gov.uk/uploadedFiles/Content/News/Articles/One%20North.pdf ).
When they did so, they will see the proposals are developments to follow on from the £1 billion Northern Hub projects already underway, due for completion around 2019 – although, perhaps, even now not fully understood by all in the North – which include completing electrification of the North West Triangle (Manchester/Liverpool/Blackpool) and the Northern Trans-Pennine route (Liverpool-Manchester-Leeds-York/Selby) – and completion of Midland Main Line electrification from the south to Sheffield.
In addition (although not well communicated) the Local Growth Fund deal announced by the government on 7 July included provisional approval for extending electrification from Selby to Hull – so complaints that One North’s proposition overlooks Hull fail to grasp that there are other schemes are likely to help, too.
Any confusion, in my view, is also due to the muddled way in which key issues such as trans-regional transport investment plans currently have to be dealt with at sub-regional level – because we continue to operate with a local government structure, developed by the Heath government in the early 1970s, now supplemented in England since 2010 by 39 Local Enterprise Partnerships, but no longer appropriate for the fast-moving, interdependent world we now live in (see my comments in the ‘Long View’ column in this month’s, August 2014, print edition of RAILNEWS).
The vision to 2030
BY 2024, One North anticipates further electrification would include Scarborough, and the Calder Valley and Hope Valley Trans-Pennine routes, together with new electric train fleets – “in addition to the well evidenced need for more rolling stock generally across the North” – as well as closing “network gaps” from the North East to South Yorkshire and northwards towards Scotland, and a rail/light rail connection to Leeds Bradford Airport.
Within a further two years, in 2026, One North foresees HS2 completed as far as Crewe – as already proposed by HS2 chairman David Higgins – providing additional capacity and capability for onward links to Manchester, Liverpool, Warrington and to inland freight terminals and ports.
Also by 2026, One North proposes a more reliable and speeded-up (225km/h) ECML, including a new Darlington-Newcastle route, plus cross city suburban services for Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, Bradford and Newcastle, all “provided by good quality rolling stock.”
Finally, by 2030, there would be the new Trans-Pennine corridor, based on Channel Tunnel operational practice, supplementing the existing North and South Trans-Pennine lines. This would be “a new 200km/h route, connected to the HS2 lines [either side of the Pennines] and the existing rail network, tunnelled as needed, linking the five city regions together with Manchester Airport and the ports,” says One North. “It will be a facility that will need to be planned for intensive use as a high-reliability all-weather central component in the North’s transport system.”
To the west, the new route would have “direct connectivity with Manchester Airport, Liverpool and Manchester, and to the east connectivity with Sheffield, Leeds, Newcastle and Hull” as well as “recasting HS2 in Yorkshire [to] bring forward the Leeds-Sheffield section in conjunction with the new Trans-Pennine route” In Leeds, One North proposes “to integrate HS2 into the existing Leeds Station” while in the Sheffield City Region it aims to “create connectivity with a HS2 station [the location of which is still being argued about] with east-west capability.”
Overall, the aim, is to achieve “transformed journey times between the five city regions and therefore for the wider North” – such as: Liverpool-Manchester, 20 minutes; Manchester-Leeds, 30 minutes; Manchester-Sheffield, 30 minutes; Sheffield-Manchester Airport, 30 minutes; Sheffield-Leeds, 30 minutes; Leeds-Newcastle, 60 minutes.
Rail freight capacity
IN addition, One North believes its proposals, combined with HS2, would free up much greater capacity for rail freight services, reducing pressure on the notoriously congested Trans-Pennine road network, notably the M62, by providing “a European gauge freight route across the Pennines, suitable for port-based logistics and unitised loads. This could also be used for Eurotunnel style lorry shuttles.”
One North adds: “The new Trans-Pennine route offers this capability as well as the potential for a drive-on facility for road freight, in the style of Eurotunnel. This could offer an all-weather Trans-Pennine freight capability, and transform the freight functionality of the North.” It says this would lead to: – A 65 per cent increase in freight train movements between the north and the south.
– A 60 per cent increase in freight train movements accessing these south-bound corridors from Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield and surrounding areas.”
• One North concludes that its “proposition is intended to be a constructive contribution to a debate which needs to take place over the coming months . . . to develop a strategic investment plan.”
The estimated cost, £15 billion over 15 years, spread over the entire North of England, is no greater than the investment now going into just one project in London.
According to The Guardian’s ‘DataBlog’ on 7 August, analysis with the Institute for Public Policy Research has revealed that “the £14.5bn total capital expenditure planned for Crossrail outmatches the £1.6bn earmarked for [current] rail projects in Yorkshire and the Humber, the North East and the North West by nine to one”.