If you’ve ever tried to travel from one side of the north to the other then you’ll understand the thinking behind the plan announced today for a high-speed line across the Pennines. While Britain’s intercity network can get you to London from most places in a reasonable amount of time, getting from anywhere in Yorkshire to the north-west, even between major cities, is an unbelievably frustrating experience.
Today, the Government has thrown its weight behind plans to address this, starting with a high-speed link, dubbed HS3, from Leeds to a Manchester. At present, a train covering the 30 or so miles between the two cities, arguably the north’s most important hubs, takes 55 minutes, often in cramped, sardine-esque conditions. The new line could more than halve that to as little as 26 minutes, as well as slashing east west travel times across the north, from Liverpool to Hull.
After decades of neglecting the transpennine route, the Government's announcement comes just sixth months ahead of the next general election, as the Conservatives seek to woo voters in the north.
‘Our northern cities are on the brink of an economic transformation and today’s report underlines how we can secure this by bringing those cities together to maximise the benefits of good transport links,’ said transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin.
‘It is only through linking the east and west of the region that we can really unlock these benefits, not just along the route itself but right across the north.’
Northern infrastructure has been a contentious issue of late as anger has grown about the level of transport spending in London versus the rest of the country. The capital will soon complete the construction of its shiny new £15bn Crossrail line, which will stretch from Reading in the west to Shenfield, Essex, in the east. Critics of HS2, the high-speed line which will connect London with Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds, have suggested it will be of more benefit to the south than the north.
In June, chancellor George Osborne called for the creation of a ‘northern powerhouse’ to compete with the south. In August the five biggest northern city regions, Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool, Newcastle and Sheffield, jointly called for the adoption of its 15-year ‘One North’ infrastructure plan, which included ports, roads, rail and airports in its scope. Today’s news will be welcomed by them, but given the project is unlikely to be completed before 2030 they probably shouldn’t get too excited just yet.