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My experience of living and working in the North is that transport is a huge issue. None of the economic areas outside London/SE are as large as London, which means sooner or later you're going to need to do business with someone either from a different city.

Half the time in the Midlands, that involves travelling via London.

In the North, it's just painful to realise that Leeds to Manchester is a grand total of 36 miles and it takes roughly an hour on the train.

The final insult is the total lack of cross-London rail lines and links. There's a substantial concentration of multinational companies in the Thames Valley and the main way you get there from the North is... train to London, tube to another part of London, train out to Reading/Slough/etc.

Freight is an even bigger problem - the natural advantage of places outside the South East is space for big manufacturing enterprise. But the lack of investment in freight rail means that transport costs on ever more clogged roads just go up and up.

To be clear, up to now, none of this is really about HS2.

I do believe in some kind of HS2 project - some say other investments are a better payback, but I think that concedes too much. If we actually want to get people out of the SE, we need to do the cross-regional projects and HS2.

And it's not all about HS2 tracks - we're still waiting for direct trains to Paris/Brussels. It's 2 hrs from St Pancras to Brussels by Eurostar. In principle that's 4-5 hours from Leeds to Brussels by train. That competes with air travel and makes a business relationship with that part of Europe easier, without moving to Buckinghamshire.

Of course it would be nice if Britain were not so centralised around London, if some radical government in 1970 had made a change... but starting from where we are, some things have been moved (parts of the BBC to Salford, DWP to Leeds) - and what makes or breaks the deployment is the ease of continued access to London. If those things work, then there's the potential to get some critical mass going.

All this is predicated on the notion that the convenience of the managerial class is the defining factor. But I think that's realistic. It's never stopped being cheaper and better for access to good graduates to base a business in one of the good university cities of the North - but it's rarely happened.

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Wed Jun 1st, 2011 at 03:02:33 AM EST
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