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High speed rail and the northern economic powerhouse

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French unemployment by region, 2012

Is Lille at the centre of France’s northern economic powerhouse? French unemployment by region, 2012

Nowhere is the beneficial impact of high speed rail clearer than in the northern French city of Lille, claimed Conservative MP Theresa Villiers in 2009.

[Speech to the Arup Conference on High Speed Rail, Theresa Villiers MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, Feb 2009]

[…] Lille fought hard to ensure that the TGV network served the city rather than taking the shortest route between Paris and Calais. The result was a major influx of business attracted by the city’s new accessibility in relation to
both Paris and Brussels.

Unemployment levels fell dramatically and are now only marginally above the French national average.

And on 5 August 2014, at Manchester’s Beetham Tower, chancellor George Osborne set out ‘the pathway to a Northern economic powerhouse’ in Britain.

[“Responding to the ‘One North’ report, the Chancellor sets out the pathway to a Northern economic powerhouse”,]

I said that if we can bring our northern cities closer together – not physically, or in some artificial political construct – but by providing modern transport connections, supporting great science and our universities here, giving more power and control to civic government; then we can create a northern powerhouse with the size, the population, the political and economic clout, to be as strong as any global city.
In October, David Higgins – who’s here today – will publish the report government asked him to produce on the northern phase of HS2.

He’s taken on board my request to look at a new high speed route across the Pennines. An HS3.

Your work today is, in part of course, a contribution to David’s ongoing work – with your ideas for high speed cross-Pennine rail and bringing the benefits of the existing HS2 proposal to the north more quickly.

I’ve spoken to David recently. I know he is ambitious in his thinking. I know he is working on the new cross-Pennine possibilities.

Let us leave him to complete his task – but I am looking forward to his thoughts on ambitious plans that will bring our northern cities closer not just to the rest of the country, but to each other.

Extension of high speed rail to Lille included so-called connectivity packages (i.e., complementary investment in local and regional transport). But claims that these measures created an ‘economic powerhouse’ effect, are at odds with the evidence.

'Nord Pas de Calais has the second highest unemployment of all French regions'

‘Nord Pas de Calais has the second highest unemployment of all French regions’, DirectLille, November 2012


Written by beleben

September 24, 2014 at 8:54 am

Posted in Great Britain, High speed rail, HS2

Tagged with ,

3 Responses

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  1. The BBC2 programme Mind The Gap, anchored by Evan Davies, concluded that if the North South Divide is ever to be reduced we need to assemble a northern agglomeration of city centre buzz, wider commuter catchments, advanced skills and SMEs well beyond the reach of London’s world-city mass of them:

    The programme saw a beefed-up Manchester as sufficient to do this. But professors of economic geography do not: Manchester and its economy are only of modest size in proportion to London. A much greater economic mass would be needed to counter today’s London-wards tilt of the economy.

    The only possible source of this would be the city centres of the East Lancs and West Yorks urban zones, with a fast crossrail to bring them time-closer. The electrification of the old rail routes through the Pennines will not do.

    The key section of this Northern Cities Crossrail would be a forty-mile fast link from Manchester Victoria to Leeds, joining up the rail systems west to Liverpool and east to York and Hull; with a major spur south into Sheffield and north into Bradford as Crossrail Stage Two:

    The wider Crossrail scheme would set the framework for the development of garden cities (see Wolfson Prize) on either side of the Pennines and for the relocation of Leeds-Bradford Airport eastwards.

    But, if new garden cities were built within the London’s commuter catchment, each would help tilt the UK economy and the SW1 mindset more in London’s favour, sharpening the North South Divide. HS2 would do worse. It would draw central Birmingham to within an hour’s commute of central London, keep Manchester and Leeds apart and set the North South Divide in stone. But, then, HS2 is a London-centric project.

    Michael Wand

    September 24, 2014 at 8:04 pm

    • I don’t agree with Mr Davis, HS3, or ‘One North’. Is a megacity region with a mountain range in the middle, a serious proposition?


      September 25, 2014 at 10:20 am

      • I see it more as a region of fast-connected city centres with scope to extend their commuter catchments, the Peak District on their doorsteps and ease of rail access to two modern airports. In my view that’s a serious proposition, given current talk of devolving power to cities. But I don’t like the idea of a Northern mega-city with a single authority dumped over it and I fear that HS3 will look like HS2 turned through ninety degrees.

        Michael Wand

        September 26, 2014 at 7:10 pm

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