Some people living in the North of England don’t fully appreciate the distinction between the two Cross Rail projects and EuroRail and the creaking transport infrastructure elsewhere in the South of England. By the same token some in the South assume that HS2 will solve all of the transport problems in the North of England. The true picture is very different with major gaps in both the North and the South of the country that will not be resolved through HS2 or Cross Rail 2. Sadly the Government is committed to spending in the Capital and a small number of high profile projects such as HS2 because like most Governments before it, it neither understands or cares about what happens to the rest of the country and they have neither the time or interest to support relatively small cost, high value schemes because the political gain is much lower in their thinking.
One of the reasons why the South is destined to miss out in the calls for a more effective transport system is that the power of the directly elected Mayors in the North, specifically in Liverpool and Manchester is beginning to gain traction. Next year when Sheffield joins the party and assuming that it too has a Labour Mayor, the three major conurbations led by Labour Mayors, along with the more conventional Councils of the North will be heard in a very clear way in Westminster. By comparison the need for more effective transport in Surrey and Sussex and even Kent will become even less pressing on the Government with is tiny majority and no strong voices to be raised in the debate. As this article points out the demands are growing in the North for a body referred to as Transport For the North to match Transport For London. This call is bound to force the Government to do a U turn on its refusal to electrify the Trans Pennine route but there are no comparable calls in the South for the electrification and indeed the extension of the Uckfield ‘branch line’. As I wrote just over a week ago, Chris Grayling is happy to meet individual MPs and even those willing to help fund such plans, but he does not want to meet activists and campaigners. However he will not get a choice about being summoned by three Mayors to a meeting on their terms and to their timescale. The reality is that the lack of meaningful devolved governance in the South where the Council leaders don’t want to lose their individual levels of authority to one more powerful Mayor who will be elected by ordinary voters. This will ultimately lose us a great deal of influence and impact in the new political landscape. The suggestion by Warren Morgan, the leader of Brighton & Hove Council for some form of regional transport body is clearly a good one, but his own purview is very limited due to the way in which party politics operates in the South East. What we need is an a-political solution that improves the lot for all the residents in our 4 Counties.