High speed 3: vision for the North or vanity for Osborne?

Driving northern economic development requires more than just transport connections.

Driving northern economic development requires more than just transport connections

The chancellor’s announcement on an additional high speed line between Manchester and Leeds may have come four years too late but it is welcome all the same.

Alongside previous announcements of £600m investment in a myriad of local improvements which go under the banner of ‘Northern Hub’, Trans-Pennine electrification to York, and the advent of Rail North – a rail body established to negotiate new northern rail franchises – there is finally some momentum behind efforts to turn our third world northern transport infrastructure into something which will one day approach what we already see in most other OECD nations.

It harks back of course to John Prescott’s ideas of a Northern Way, but as in the past there is little practical detail. No idea of cost or timetable. No clear plans as to whether it might run to Liverpool or Sheffield. No clarity about its integration with HS2. And a worrying sense that the North East is somehow peripheral to ideas of a northern ‘supercity’.

But the ambition is right and politicians need to get behind councils, businesses and universities who have come out in its praise.

But driving northern economic development requires more than just transport connections. In the report of the Northern Economic Futures Commission, Northern Prosperity is National Prosperity, we identified five ‘pillars’ for northern economic growth, of which infrastructure is just number three. According to the OECD, enhancing our skills base and investing in innovation are both more important for sustainable long-term improvement.

And on the latter the figures look woeful. Government currently spends over two-thirds of the government R&D budget in London and the South East and Osborne indicated that there would be no change in the process for distributing it in the future.

Government R&D spend by region, 2011 (£m)

IPPR Osbornej

Alongside transport and innovation announcements, he praised the way in which northern cities had used the arts and culture to drive regeneration and name-checked several projects but his message was clear that world class arts will be developed “not at the expense of our capital city’s great institutions but as a complement to them”. As IPPR analysis makes very clear, any rebalancing will face quite a challenge.

Arts and culture funding by region and by source

IPPR Osborne 2j

But perhaps his most bold announcement was also the most vague: elected mayors for city regions with the powers of the Mayor of London. When questioned by Joe Anderson, the elected mayor of the city of Liverpool, it was clear that it was up to the cities themselves to bring forward the kind of ‘deal’ they might like to strike between new forms of local democracy and greater freedoms from the centre.

Fortune should favour the bold, for it is indeed ironic that when it comes to England’s great cities it requires the chancellor to come and have to make today’s announcements. In a mature, progressive democracy decisions about transport, skills, innovation and culture would be the preserve of city-regional leaders in the first place, backed with the fiscal powers to pay their own way to support economic growth.

Some will say that this is too little too late, and for that reason lacks credibility and authenticity, but the onus is now on Andrew Adonis to deliver a Growth Review for Labour that marries both ambition and grist.

Ed Cox is director of IPPR North

4 Responses to “High speed 3: vision for the North or vanity for Osborne?”

  1. Chilbaldi

    HS3 in the north is a great idea. The only problem is that it should be prioritised ahead of HS2.

    Arguably it shouldn’t be between Manchester and Leeds initially, but Manchester and Liverpool. Those two cities are already more connected, already trade more commuters between them every day, and rely on each other a great deal. Improving transport links from the current pitiful arrangements whereby it is quicker to drive between them than train it should be a priority.

    You also have the space between Liverpool and Manchester – a mixture of barren land, small towns and IKEA. It is ripe for development and if either city grows, it will grow out towards the other and into that space.

    A Liverpool to Manchester HS line, with a stop in Warrington, similar to London’sCrossrail I guess, would make perfect sense.

    Ideally though, there should be HS all the way from Liverpool across to the north east.

  2. johnbax

    Why HS over such a short distance? Surely a grandstanding irrelevance. Also an A to B line excludes those not on the line, in this case Sheffield. What needs improvement is the whole Lancs-Yorks network, not just Manchester-Leeds. More could be done, sooner and cheaper, to consolidate this huge urban region. But what is Labour saying about this? Why let Osborne make the running?

  3. Alan

    We all want to see a northern high speed cross country link.

    However, the tories/new labour/libdems won’t deliver it unless their chums in the financial institutions make a killing. And most northern MPs are useless – witness economic destruction of the north started under Thatcher 35 years ago.

    Moreover, if it goes ahead it should start simultaneously from each coast, then inland from Liverpool and Hull. The Manchester-Leeds leg should be the last priority.

    But it won’t happen anyway. Osborne is simply trying to scrape a few extra votes in an election year.

  4. Baldassaro

    You refer to “R&D” and “innovation” almost interchangeably, but in reality they’re very different things. The Government pays for a lot of research through the university system, the research councils and its own research institutions. One can have a discussion about the relative priority which should be given to research excellence and geographical balance, but I’m not aware of anywhere where basic research would be “the preserve of city-regional leaders”. I’m not sure what you mean by “development” in the sense of Government spending. Assuming you’re not just using “R&D” as a prefabricated way of referring to research, I assume most of the “D” Government does is in the defence field, and again wouldn’t be a matter for local leadership. I think city-regions do have a veery real role in creating a helpful infrastructure for innovation in their areas, but don’t think that there’s any direct or simple line which can be drawn between Government spending on “R&D” and the innovative performance of places. I’d urge you to think more about this.
    And, although you don’t do it this time, please stop using the rather facile comparison of transport spending per head, unless you can find a good way of accounting for the vast numbers of people from outside the city (and often from outside the UK) the transport system in London needs to deal with.

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