More Select Committees

Following on from yesterday, when the House of Commons Transport Select Committee interviewed David Higgins, the House of Lords Economics Affairs Committee will be holding another session this afternoon into HS2.

In an effort to take democracy to the people, the Transport Select Committee met at the University of Manchester. However in line with the transport industry’s view that digital technology means people travel more, the Committee’s proceedings were unusually not broadcast over the internet.

In contrast, not only will the House of Lords session be viewable on the Parliament TV website (watch here), they will also be taking evidence from Emile Quintet in France via videoconferencing.

Stop HS2 will be retweeting, along with @Penny_Gaines and @joerukin.

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One comment on “More Select Committees
  1. Who does not think right about the problems in the UK

    Is Rail, road and bus spending the way to bridge the north-south divide

    While London provides a model of integrated investment, elsewhere growth is slowed by fragmentation and bottlenecks
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    Gwyn Topham and Dominic Smith

    The Observer, Sunday 23 November 2014

    Jump to comments (57)

    A Metrolink tram in St Peter’s Square in Manchester. Photograph: Christopher Thomond for The Guardian./Christopher Thomond

    ‘Vomit trains, I call them. They’re very rattly and unpleasant. The seats are like park benches.” The disparaged carriage is well known to rail users in the north of England: this is an ageing Pacer train, wheezing its way into Manchester Piccadilly station.

    Raising his voice above the screeching of brakes, Alan Bryson, 40, a researcher from Sheffield, adds: “I think if London commuters had to get on those every day they’d have got rid of them by now. It’s about money, isn’t it?”

    That suspicion is shared by Bernard and Janet Saxton, 74 and 66, waiting on the Piccadilly platform for their evening train home, just back from a trip to London. Down there, says Janet, “Oh, they have beautiful trains. Lovely.” The Saxtons single out the Chester line as a source of particular suffering. Bernard adds: “I’ve just seen that train go out now and it’s clapped out. It doesn’t go frequently enough, it’s full to the brim.”

    The gap between the north and London in quality of transport has found a totemic symbol in the Pacers. But the problem goes beyond the rolling stock. Money has not flowed into infrastructure in anything like the same way. An infamous study by IPPR North in 2011 drew howls of protest from the embarrassed coalition by pointing out that the national infrastructure plan would see £5 per head spent in the north-east, compared to £2,731 in London and the south-east. If that was an extreme example, more recent analysis of Treasury figures by PTEG, the group of city transport bodies in the north, showed the total subsidy for London in infrastructure and operations is over 2.5 times more per head than in the regions.

    There are examples of major improvements around the country: Nottingham’s extended tram network, the Manchester Metrolink now reaching the airport and the overhaul of Birmingham New Street among them. But these pale beside the money spent on Tube upgrades, Crossrail, and revamping stations in London, and the regions can only look enviously at the regulated bus service, fully integrated Oyster smartcards and rejuvenated overground commuter lines.

    Even if you grant a capital city special treatment, transport executives in the north point out their networks fall far short of comparable regions such as the Ruhr area of Germany or the Dutch Randstad conurbation.

    The north’s grievances are felt in the Midlands too. Birmingham city council leader Sir Albert Bore says: “The spending per head is a fraction of London’s. The level of funding has been pitiful.” The city is struggling with traffic, he says: “It’s not just peak hours, it’s all-day congestion in some areas. Birmingham’s congestion could potentially throttle off economic growth – if investment doesn’t come, Birmingham will not be the economic honeypot that it looks to be becoming.”

    His blueprint to get the basic infrastructure of a continental European city has a price tag of £4bn. “Even over 20 years, that’s well beyond the sort of money we’ve had in years past.” He is searching for private finance but says it will only come if long-term government funding commitments do too.

    Yet the tide appears to be turning. A key government argument for HS2 has been the potential rejuvenating effects of high-speed rail for the north, even if sceptics claim the benefits will flow the other way, to the capital. To much fanfare, both George Osborne and David Cameron appeared on a stage in Leeds last month to announce their commitment to a so-called HS3, tunnelling through the Pennines to slash journey times across the region.

    Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle and Sheffield gathered under the One North banner in August to unveil a £15bn transport plan, predominantly rail but with some road and port improvements, which the chancellor appeared to endorse. There is widespread anticipation that Osborne will back up his words with a firm pledge of money in December’s autumn statement.

    Historic underinvestment in the north is at long last being recognised in Westminster, says Louise Ellman MP, chair of the transport select committee. “I’m hopeful we’re at the beginning of a process, but I won’t feel confident until it is translated into a timed programme and investment made available.” In her Liverpool constituency, she says, people don’t feel sufficiently connected and journey times are holding back development. Electrification of regional lines and station upgrades in the programme known as the Northern Hub will, Ellman says, make a difference. “But it’s not enough. It’s important that local authorities keep together and campaigning.”

    Sir Howard Bernstein, deputy leader of Manchester city council, agrees. London transport flourished through making its case with a unified voice, backed by business, he says: “I believe the One North perspective is as powerful as the London perspective in the context of the bang for buck we’d get for the greater levels of transport spending.”

    London is making common cause with Manchester in particular to push for greater devolution. According to London’s transport commissioner, Sir Peter Hendy, such control is integral to creating a successful system and a thriving city, even if the capital “got the powers by accident”.

    London’s first mayor, Ken Livingstone, according to Hendy, “was actually given transport because in 2000 nobody else much wanted it. The difference in Manchester is that Richard [Manchester council leader Sir Richard Leese] and Howard [Bernstein] and all the other council leaders have identified rightly that transport is an integral part of creating economic growth.”
    Work on Crossrail in London is proceeding apace.Photograph: Graeme Robertson/The Observer
    Osborne has pledged some measure of devolution, going so far as to say a mayor for Manchester could regulate buses – reversing one of the Thatcher government’s first measures in privatising the industry. Now, though, the rallying call is financial freedom for cities: Hendy joined counterparts in Manchester last week to herald a report commissioned from economists Volterra to show that devolving more powers would tackle “damaging underinvestment” and bear fruit in economic growth and jobs.

    The HS2 high-speed line, due in 2033, is helping to drive debate over the future shape of northern infrastructure. Sir David Higgins, the chairman of HS2, warns that its benefits will only accrue if it is fully integrated into the wider network, and specifically highlights the paucity of existing northern links.

    Cities on the route have high hopes, inspired by a report from the Independent Transport Commission that highlights the catalytic regeneration effects high speed rail has had around stations in Europe. Speaking at a conference suite in the new King’s Cross-St Pancras development in north London, Higgins said he loved the fact that the building now had a higher rental yield than ones in the City. “It shows how much mass transport and mass transit underpins development.” According to Bore, Birmingham’s premium office space is being snapped up in anticipation of HS2.

    In the planners’ most optimistic vision, a new rail spine will fuel growth across England, if not beyond, and, as Higgins puts it, “rebalance” Britain (echoing the call from the CBI and politicians of every hue). That might finally end what Hendy calls “a barren argument” over north versus south: “If what you want is growth in the UK economy, what you want is for every British city to do well … We’re not arguing that they should have a bit less and they should have a bit more.”

    Furthermore, he says, the money poured into the capital’s infrastructure is fuelling not just the city’s own economy but the national one: “One reason is that London drives it; and the other is London has created almost 60,000 jobs in the rest of Britain doing things that we need in London.”

    That line might sound like scant consolation without direct, substantial investment in the north. The very day after the PM pledged to back HS3, London mayor Boris Johnson announced that the Treasury had pledged to half-fund Crossrail 2 – at a price far outstripping the sums designated for the trans-Pennine links. While the government forecasts more austerity, will there be a hard choice ahead?

    Patrick McLoughlin, the transport secretary, says: “I don’t think it’s a matter of taking it away from London – it’s a matter of ensuring the overall infrastructure is right across the country. For instance, you might include Reading in the London investment; but it’s actually very important to the south-west, to open up the throat of Reading for services going down to the south-west. What is done here increases capacity in other parts in the country. London is always going to be an economic centre, but I don’t want to see cities in the north held back.”

    Even without a firm commitment to HS3, McLoughlin says, “there will be other improvements sooner: the electrification going on, the money we’re spending on [Manchester] Victoria station, it’s all part of the infrastructure.”

    And what of the Pacer trains, those daily reminders to northern commuters that their southern cousins are more deserving? “Their time is limited,” McLoughlin says, “but there may be areas where they can play a role. But on the main routes, they’ve had their time.”

    ON CITIES’ WISH LISTS

    MANCHESTER
    In the pipeline: a new £350m Metrolink line to Trafford Park; more work on the Northern Hub rail scheme, including Network Rail’s Ordsall Chord scheme, a route linking Victoria and Oxford Road railway stations and enabling trains to cross the city.
    The pipe dream: fuller fiscal powers to enable higher transport spending; introducing light-rail tram-trains.

    BIRMINGHAM
    In the pipeline: extending the Metro tram route into the city centre, as far as New Street station.
    The pipe dream: three new Metro lines, including one linking the centre to planned high-speed railway stations and the airport; express bus routes with priority lanes and signals; rerouting the A38 motorway in tunnels under the city.

    LEEDS
    In the pipeline: a proposed trolleybus scheme called New Generation Transport.
    The pipe dream: a rail link to Leeds Bradford airport.

    GLASGOW
    In the pipeline: improving the Edinburgh-Glasgow rail link; upgrading the M8, M73, and M74 motorway networks; further redevelopment of the city subway.
    The pipe dream: a high-speed rail link to Edinburgh.

    NEWCASTLE
    In the pipeline: reregulation of private bus services.
    The pipe dream: further development of Tyne and Wear Metro system, starting with replacement of the train fleet and exploring potential for new lines; widening the A1 north of the city.

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