Railways U-turn highlights Westminster’s contempt for the north

People in the north of England have every right to feel angry about the railways (Labour attacks ‘Whitehall power grab over Northern rail policy’, 19 November). Here in Oxford there has been a welcome but embarrassing level of investment in the railways, and more is planned. In 2015, the brand new Oxford Parkway station was opened just outside the city, on a new route to central London using mainly existing lines.

The track infrastructure around Oxford railway station itself has seen significant investment recently, and last week I attended a briefing on a planned expansion to make the station “fit for a world-class city”. According to Network Rail, the station is almost at full capacity and needs to be increased in size to accommodate planned new services. Yet the through platforms at Manchester Piccadilly were at capacity for years, with dangerous overcrowding.

Here we have world-class manufacturing, but then so does the north of England. And we have excellent academic and research facilities, but so do the cities in the northern powerhouse corridor. So what’s the difference? Snobbery. Down here, we are seen as posh. But however prosperous cities such as Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool become, it seems that, for some policymakers at least, it’s grim up north.
Tim Treuherz

Binning plans for the Northern Powerhouse Rail line between Leeds and Manchester and, in the process, sidelining transport for the north, highlights yet again the contempt that Boris Johnson, Rishi Sunak and their colleagues have for the people of the north of England and their political leaders.

They are able to treat the north in this way because the region has little real political or financial power. In this sense, current forms of devolution to the north’s sub-regions – in the shape of elected mayors, for instance – simply don’t cut it.

Had the north (the north-east, Yorkshire and the Humber, and the north-west) had its own regional government – as part of a Britain reformed as a modern federal state – then other options could have come into play. With the high levels of financial autonomy and control typically associated with regional states, the north could have waved the proverbial two fingers to the Westminster government and opted to fund the rail line itself.

Until the north has the autonomy and control that a federal state would provide, the idea of “levelling up” will remain a joke.
Prof Jeffrey Henderson
Hannah Mitchell Foundation

Your report on the cancellation of the eastern leg of HS2 and the new line between Leeds and Manchester (‘A betrayal of the north’: Tory MPs frustrated at downgraded rail plan, 18 November) makes reference to a Treasury source expressing “surprise at how badly the announcement had been received”.

In that one metropolitan utterance lies the most compelling case yet for moving the Treasury to Sheffield, Leeds or Bradford. Were that to happen, the north would suddenly find itself with more cash than it knew what to do with.
Glyn Turton
Emeritus professor, University of Chester

For some months I have tried to work out the meaning of “northern powerhouse”. I think I now understand – it’s a typical Guardian misprint. It should be “northern poorhouse”.
Lyn Summers

Comments are closed.