Why we should be Very Cross (Rail)

Posted by Paul Cherpeau

Head of Business Engagement & Communications at Liverpool & Sefton Chambers of Commerce

Fri 28th, Jul

The announcement of the Government’s £30bn investment into Crossrail quite rightly provoked indignation across the North this week, coming mere days after the postponement and cancellation of critical electrification schemes across the wider UK network.

Deeply concerning to businesses in Liverpool City Region is the current state of infrastructure in the North West which is essentially having to run to stand still. A lack of additional capacity on the West Coast Main Line has inhibited freight transport for many years – the arrival of HS2 (eventually) will only partially alleviate this pinch point, particularly from a start-end point of Liverpool. Until then, the speed of freight mobility along the line will be glacial at best.

The Government has previously talked a very good game in its various iterations since 2010, proclaiming the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ with its commitment to improving connectivity, as an essential requirement to “rebalance the economy” (which remains the key, fundamental argument for the HS2 business case). There had been some progress, following substantial lobbying from local authorities and business groups, with the real prospect of East-West connectivity improvements from Liverpool to Hull/Newcastle. The creation of Transport for the North was also a vitally important statement of intent and Northern Powerhouse Rail (“Crossrail for the North”) began to seem possible. And now this.

This isn’t about the North v the South. There is no doubt that Crossrail 2 is an important piece of infrastructure for London. However the figures quoted, in proportion to the level of investment outside the South East, make dismal reading and simply serve to undermine the commitments previously made as part of the ‘Northern Powerhouse’.

The cancellation of the electrification of the Great Western Railway also has a knock on effect on the rest of the network as rolling stock earmarked for the North will now not be available – this surely puts some of the infrastructure work scheduled for the Transpennine route in danger of either not happening, or not being worth the effort. 

It is encouraging that our politicians appear to be saying “enough is enough”, as reflected in the statements issued by Mayors Burnham and Rotheram in response to Chris Grayling’s announcement. Our Chamber members share that sentiment.

It is now time for Chambers and other business groups in the North to reinforce our commitment and determination to ensure that the region not only has the investment in infrastructure we need to enable a positive future for our economy but also to make sure that the government fully understands the impact that future investment decisions will have on businesses across North.

Anything less and we have failed in our responsibility.

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