Lockdowns, home-working and second waves mean that the 8.49 to Manchester Victoria is more like a ghost train right now.
But, at some point, the trains, trams, buses and roads will be packed again and the need for investment in infrastructure will become even more obvious.
But will this spending be fairly shared?
The north west’s metro mayors don’t think it has been up to now.
Steve Rotherham and Andy Burnham (mayors of Merseyside and Manchester) are calling for infrastructure spending to be ‘levelled up’.
At an Infrastructure Intelligence round table on the role of infrastructure in bridging the North/South divide the pair talked about the disparity in government investment.
But, despite it being an all-Northern panel for the debate, the participants were clear that it wasn’t the traditional North vs South debate – the divide is quite obviously London vs the rest.
Marcus Johns, from the Institute for Public Policy Research North think tank, told the panel that many areas are particularly poorly served by central government in terms of transport investment.
He said: “The spending is up to three times higher in London than other regions and it’s getting worse. We are THE most divided country in that respect.”
Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham said that his ambition is for Manchester to have a modern, zero-emissions, integrated transport system. His hope is for integrated systems across the north of England.
He said: “An east-west railway line should have been built before HS2. The economic boost from linking Liverpool and Manchester then up to Hull and the north east would be huge.”
But it’s not just transport that will drive the growth outside of the M25.
Dr Henry Kippin, Director of Economic Growth at the North of Tyne Combined Authority, said that inclusive economic growth can only come when physical, social and digital infrastructure is given the right investment.
And Debbie Francis (City Executive for the North at global engineering consultancy Arcadis) pointed out that there is a lot of catching up to do.
She said: “For hundreds of years we have underestimated the need for infrastructure in this country. Investing in infrastructure helps to drive economic recovery because so much of the money comes back into the economy.”
The government says it has made it a priority to address the inequality through a programme of infrastructure development, investing in education, skills and scientific research.
But, if the London-based bodies holding the purse strings are going to increase their investment in the north, there may need to be some agreement as to where it is:
Apparently some Londoners think the north starts at Watford…or maybe Aberdeen
With the undeniable case for infrastructure improvements outside the capital there must come a time when London wakes up to the potential of Penzance, Penrith, Perth, Portrush and Penarth.
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