The art and the folly
On 11 August a blueprint for ‘how £13 billion of government investment in transport will help create the Northern Powerhouse’ was unveiled.
[Government boost for Northern Powerhouse, gov.uk, 11 Aug 2015]
[…] The Northern Powerhouse is a one-nation drive to close the economic gap between north and south by helping the region unleash its full power and create a balanced, healthier economy.
Making transport better by improving the links that bind the north together is integral to this enterprise. It will bring cities and regions closer together and strengthen connections – Liverpool to Hull, the north west to Yorkshire, the north east and the Midlands – making it easier for hard working people and businesses to access markets or deploy their skills. The blueprint shows how transport links across the north are being transformed by government investment.
As James Quinn mentioned in his Telegraph article ‘Four reasons why the Northern Powerhouse won’t happen‘, while transport links between London and the regions are strong, transport between the regions is not. The train network in the north of England is “unloved, out of date, and in need of a major overhaul”, but the list of projects provided by gov.uk suggest the Northern Powerhouse is primarily about Manchester, rather than the North of England as a whole.
With the government having prioritised funding of the HS2 vanity project, and “paused” even the limited Transpennine electrification, there is little chance of Leeds and Manchester getting local transport of the quality seen in Munich or Duesseldorf.
[Is chugging along enough after railway upgrades put on pause?,
Gwyn Topham and Victoria Finan, The Guardian, 12 August 2015 ]
While [new Network Rail chairman Peter] Hendy considers the art of the possible, Dame Colette Bowe, a board member at the Department for Transport, will be examining the folly of botched [rail] planning. The remit of this second review, according to McLoughlin, is “to look at lessons learned and to make recommendations for better investment planning in future”, widely read as identifying who got what wrong.
Network Rail itself will obviously top that list, its problems underlined this week when it was fined £2m by the rail regulator for mishandling upgrades at London Bridge station. Speaking in June, McLoughlin was clear that Network Rail was making too many errors across the board, even as he acknowledged that the engineering challenge was fiendishly difficult. “But that is no excuse. All of these problems could and should have been foreseen by Network Rail.” While the chief executive, Mark Carne, only came into the organisation after a £38.5bn, five-year works programme was rubberstamped, he may not escape the flak. Some have questioned the wisdom of appointing a boss from outside the rail industry – and the recent influx of rail veterans onto the board has reinforced the impression that the former oil industry executive needed support.