It’s time to campaign for a Crossrail for the north

Given the pressing need to improve east-west transport links in the north of England, it’s time for a relentless campaign for a ‘Crossrail for the north’, argues Paul Dimoldenberg.

The recent IPPR North report, Paying for our Progress, sets out the case for rebalancing transport investment in the UK in favour of the north. The report shows how, through Transport for the North, we could fund a new high-speed rail service between northern cities, including by new northern infrastructure bonds.  The benefits of investment are already paying dividends - under their new franchises, Trans-Pennine and Northern Rail are investing significant sums in rolling stock and station facilities which will drive improvements to our experience of travel in the north.

Key figures such as John Cridland, chair of Transport for the North, have been calling for vastly improved east-west transport connections. In September 2016, Cridland told the New Statesman, there are major new investments across the north, from Sheffield and Manchester to the ports of Liverpool, Teesport and the Humber, which could, if connected, offer a “multiplier effect”, allowing businesses to share resources and expertise. “East-west links could liberate travel patterns for citizens to get to higher-quality jobs and for entrepreneurs to seize economic opportunities, because they’re filling a real gap. It’s the east-west links in the north of England that are poor”, he argued.

More recently, shadow chancellor John McDonnell has echoed Cridland’s call. “Labour is absolutely committed to delivering HS3, a Crossrail for the north, connecting the great cities of the north of England,” he said. “It’s at least a £10bn commitment from Labour to invest in the north. It means the journey from Manchester to Leeds will take just 25 minutes, instead of close to an hour. Or you could get from Liverpool to Manchester in 25 minutes. Crossrail for the north will become the foundations for a transformed northern economy.”

These are all fine words which few in the north would disagree with. But turning fine words into real deeds will take more than media interviews and political soundbites. What is really needed is a relentless, focussed and effective campaign to force ‘Crossrail for the north’ on to the national political agenda and to keep it there until government agrees to the necessary funding and powers to make it happen.

So, how can this happen? The campaign needs to be led by a private/public sector partnership with cross-party support and reaching out beyond the narrow confines of Westminster and Whitehall. The ‘Crossrail for the north’ campaign should be the ‘beating heart’ of the UK’s post-Brexit future, bringing new opportunities, new promise and new hope for many northern communities. It will need to be one clear message echoed by a thousand voices.

Timing is often critical in these policy and political matters. With the Northern Powerhouse as a key part of the UK government’s economic growth arsenal and firmly embedded in the Treasury and the developing industrial strategy, the mood music is right. Transport for the North should become a statutory body this year providing a regional enabling body to bring forward the funding and technical case for its delivery.

But still the case needs to be made. What might a ‘Crossrail for the north’ campaign look like?

  • A powerful ‘case-making’ document setting out the economic benefits that ‘Crossrail for the north’ would bring, including local versions setting out how individual towns and cities would benefit
  • A strong and convincing analysis of how ‘Crossrail for the north’ can be financed
  • A coalition of private and public sector business leaders, politicians, academics, cultural leaders and media personalities endorsing the campaign
  • A group of respected spokespeople from the north acting as the ‘public face’ of the campaign
  • A series of local campaigns involving a wide coalition of business, political, community and public sector interests calling for their town or city to be linked by ‘Crossrail for the north’
  • A ‘Crossrail for the north Petition’ supported by the regional media
  • A social media campaign involving Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other digital outlets
  • A letter-writing campaign to cabinet ministers and the national and regional press
  • A series of polls to track public sentiment and demonstrate growing support

It’s time to get serious about ‘Crossrail for the north’. We cannot afford to let this necessary infrastructure be delayed any longer. We need start the campaign now.

Who wants to help us get the campaign started?

Paul Dimoldenberg is chairman of Quatro, a communications and public affairs consultancy for the planning, property and energy sectors.

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