If you were to form your opinion based solely upon the manner in which this morning's HS3 story was reported, you would be expecting to see legions of diggers filing dutifully westbound along the M62 in the next few months to connect the main cities of the northern regions with new, shiny rails carrying futuristic trains at speeds upwards of 180mph. Sadly, as with anything transport and planning related in the UK, any inception of the project into operational reality would take decades. The notion of a third high speed line is little more than a daydream in the mind of the current chairman of HS2, Sir David Higgins, and will likely go the same way as the road upgrades of which the Humber Bridge was to be the spectacular kingpin, and the Regional Eurostar project, with its fleet of instantly redundant sleeper coaches, and platform signage blanked out with cheap sticky tape at some of the north's largest stations.
Cynicism aside, it is telling that the HS3 proposal is garnering support from those who normally thumb their noses from the safety of the Home Counties. The Tories have done nothing during their tenure to change their position as "enemy of the north", but are haemorrhaging support in all directions. It is hardly surprising that they would throw cardboard support behind a project that they will probably not be in a position to implement for at least a generation. Sir David Higgins, meanwhile, is a shrewd operator who sees that the big flaw in HS2's armour is that it is simply not inclusive enough. HS2 needs to serve the entire country, running from the southern coast into Scotland if it is to have a hope of long term economic viability. Funnelling even more revenue and employees southwards from the midlands to the capital only serves to reinforce the fiscal imbalances that continue to embed the inequalitable advantages of the richest few. I think that Sir David sees this. He is not a stupid man, so to call for what is essentially an 'add-on' to the project he is overseeing in a bid to widen its popularity, viability, and importance in the face of what will probably be a shifting governmental powerbase is a masterstroke.
As much as HS3 is a wise promotional manoeuvre, and a welcome opportunity to highlight the criminal inequalities between the south east and the north, it also highlights the limited sight with which the metropolitan elite see the northern case for investment. Comments on HS3 focus on the usual suspects; Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Newcastle. Manchester already has Network Rail's 'Northern Hub' development, cementing its position as the major interchange after Birmingham New Street for generations to come. Liverpool has had massive investment in its rail infrastructure, and has an underground style metro, as has Newcastle. Sheffield has a much loved light rail network, set to expand. Leeds has one of the largest UK stations, thanks to infrastructure remodelling that has transformed the connections available.
There are however, northern locations that have had virtually no funding to even sustain the networks they have. My home city, Hull is in desperate need of rail investment. We are growing rapidly, with blossoming tourism and leisure industries, massive port complexes on the cusp of a revolution in renewable energy, and we are the 2017 UK city of culture. First Hull Trains secured the majority of money required to electrify the mainline into Hull, so as to increase speeds and connections, and lower emissions, leaving only a relative pittance for the government to stump up, yet still the treasury prevaricates on whether the moth ravaged wallet will be opened to finally allow our sleeping giant of a city to connect to the 21st century railway that lies beyond Doncaster. The South Humber railways are 19th century relics, stumbling under the threat of cuts to services, yet instead of widening the reach of modern efficient railways, we are seeking to exclude some of the areas that need them the most.
The railway is more than a political football. It's an agent of change. If HS2 were implemented with unblinkered vision, it could bring an economic revolution. The north is more than half a dozen cities designated by Barbara Castle as deserving of a transport executive in decades long passed. It is a warm, welcoming, dynamic and inspiring place where some of the brightest, most innovative and passionate people live and work. One thing that the north has consistently been, since the demolition of British manufacturing, is an open wound pumping blood needlessly from the veins that make up UK fiscal output. If politicians from suburbian Oxfordshire, and leafy Kent could see how many deserving places we have up here, they could perhaps order the Matron at HM Treasury to put on her glasses, and stop being quite so stingy with the bandages, because stopping the loss of financial blood, and ideas from the north is a must, if the UK is to become the fairer country, and economy that we so desperately need.