Long overdue rail investment in north vital in country with “biggest regional disparities in Europe”

The Government’s new commitment to create a high-speed rail link between England’s northern cities must be given as high a ranking as HS2 if ministers are serious about narrowing the north-south divide, Britain’s leading planning charity warned today.

The Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) said work on the fast northern line, linking Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool, must go hand in glove with HS2 – and serious planning should begin before next year’s general election with the creation of a dedicated team of professionals drawn from councils and the private sector.

It added that serious consideration should also be given to starting work on HS2 in Manchester, rather than in London, to boost northern economies and underpin the government’s commitment to bridge the regional divide.

Plans for the northern high-speed line were first proposed by the TCPA’s late president, Sir Peter Hall – who died last week – in a detailed analysis in the Association’s monthly journal last April. In his analysis Sir Peter, the country’s foremost planner and geographer, former senior government adviser and a leading international rail expert, warned that long-overdue rail investment in the north was vital in a country with “the biggest regional disparities in Europe.”

He noted that Sir David Higgins, on taking over the chairmanship of HS2 in March, warned that “poor (rail) connectivity in the north” was one of the greatest transport challenges facing the country.

Sir Peter then cautioned:

“If our national economy is to be rebalanced we must create an economic counterweight to London which can offer the conditions for growth and the vital agglomeration of economies currently only found in the metropolis.”

With considerable foresight, he added that this counterweight could only be achieved by bringing together the economies of northern cities “through better and much faster transport links, creating a mega-city rivalling London in scale.”

It is no coincidence that his plan was studied by the Treasury and, subsequently, adopted by the Chancellor George Osborne – a fitting tribute to the academic, TCPA activist and Bartlett Professor of Planning and Regeneration at UCL.

Kate Henderson, TCPA chief executive, said that Sir Peter’s contribution to the northern “mega city” debate was considerable and far-sighted.

“Sir Peter was ahead of the game, as was so often the case, in advocating the opportunity for a new high-speed rail link connecting Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds, believing that it would help unlock a northern global powerhouse, allowing these great northern cities to ‘take on the world’.”