Rail figures indicate need to reduce London’s dominance

SO, technically, one of Britain’s worst double-dip recessions has come to an end.  But that shouldn’t be a surprise to rail managers and rail economists, as the evidence was clearly presented by the Office of Rail Regulation in its last quarterly passenger journey statistics published on 13 September.

The ORR’s figures for April-June 2012 — before any anomalies were created by surging passenger numbers due to the Olympic and Paralympic Games — clearly showed a significant growth (5.4 per cent) in London and South East passenger numbers compared with the spring quarter in 2011.

But economic commentators are already saying that the latest recovery is London-based, not UK-wide. Again, the rail passenger statistics for April-June support this view — with passenger numbers on regional services outside London and the South East increasing by only 0.4 per cent, compared to 5.4 per cent in the former Network South East area.

On long-distance services, which with the exception of CrossCountry are focused on London terminals, passenger numbers were up by 4.1 per cent compared with the spring quarter last year.

So all the signs are that, once again, there is a significant difference in economic performance between London and the South East and the rest of the country.  Yet it is generally agreed — whether, domestically, by the present Coalition Government, or internationally by the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) — that the British economy must become less reliant on L&SE and its concentration on the financial services sector that caused the economic crisis that started in 2008.

As we reported in a special feature in Railnews in September 2011: “The Northern Hub, Trans-Pennine electrification and High Speed Rail can be the catalysts for an economic transformation which, according to a leading economist at the OECD, needs to be driven by northern cities so that the country’s development does not again rely too much on London-based financial services.”

Since that news feature appeared in Railnews, the Government has given the go-ahead for the full Northern Hub project as well as electrification of the North Trans-Pennine route, between Manchester, Leeds and York — not to mention electrification of the Midland Main Line as far north as Sheffield.

Earlier this month, the newest Transport Secretary, Patrick McLoughlin, stressed his desire to press on with a Parliamentary bill to enable construction of the first stage of High Speed Two as soon as possible.

As I wrote in a previous blog, Greg Clark MP, the Financial Secretary to The Treasury, recently pointed out that seven of Britain’s Core Cities  — Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield — under-perform economically compared with London … even though, together with the eighth, Bristol, they already contribute 27 per cent of Britain’s GDP compared with London’s 22.5 per cent.

And all seven of the ‘under performers’ — Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester and Sheffield — would be served directly, or indirectly — Liverpool, Newcastle and Nottingham — by HS2.

According to last year’s report for the Core Cities by Arup and Volterra: “The Core Cities are the main drivers of the country’s economy outside of London and the South East and need to continue to be productive city centres, achieving the highest levels of future growth possible and closing the gap in performance between the South East and the rest of the country.

“In 2009 the Midlands, Northern and South West regions together contributed £510bn, or 41 per cent, of total GVA (gross value added), to the UK economy. Scotland and Wales contributed a further £147bn, or 12 per cent.

“The Core Cities Local Economic Partnerships (LEPs) contributed an estimated 24 per cent of England’s GDP, compared to 18 per cent in London. Whilst, the primary urban areas of the Core Cities contribute 27 per cent, London contributes 22.5 per cent.

“Investment in transport infrastructure is a key factor in their continued ability to grow and prosper.”

Thus, it seems to me, the latest British economic developments strengthen even further the need to get on with building HS2 — and, if at all possible, to extend it to Manchester and Leeds at the same time the present phase one is planned to reach the West Midlands, in 2026.

2 thoughts on “Rail figures indicate need to reduce London’s dominance

  1. Probably the Great Western Main line from Paddington to Swansea was the first ‘High Speed Line’ in the UK when the HSTs were introduced. Did they produce any benefits to South Wales for example ? In my experience (and I have no facts here apart from being a frequent traveller on the line between Reading and Cardiff) they did not create any jobs in South Wales. The opposite seemed to apply and my job was to visit a centre in Cardiff to prepare for its work to be moved to a centre nearer London. The HST also enable more people to daily commute to London from Swindon and Didcot probably removing jobs from those localities. Maybe the proposed HS2 line will not bring any benefits to the regions only remove jobs again to the South-East. The best way I suggest to improve the regions is to build better commuter lines around and into the big cities. I know this is to some extent already happened with Tram Systems but my experience of commuting in the West Midlands is that their commuter trains are slow and not very convenient.

  2. Arup-Volterra tell us “Investment in transport infrastructure is a key factor in their continued ability to grow and prosper.” If that investment began & ended with HS2 it would be too little, too late; but there is also the Northern Hub project, which will we hope deliver benefits sooner, though because it doesn’t affect London our media haven’t noticed.

    For all I know there may be similar projects elsewhere, but the media haven’t noticed them either. When politicians spend our money, the first thing they ask is how many votes will it buy. If media don’t notice, the answer is zero, hence HMG’s South-East focus.

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