Conflicting views of how to use HS2 well.
There will always be conflicting views of what’s best, here I discuss what seems to be the dominant threads.
Birmingham has foregone the opportunity of creating good connections at New St. station. New St. is a very important interchange station, so this is a disappointing decision. This needn’t be the case, all trains through New St. must pass the new Curzon St. station, and it would be workable to create a new set of platforms on that track parallel to the platforms of Curzon St. thus providing good connection. It would be unorthodox to stop trains twice within so short at distance, but it would be workable. But Birmingham has chosen not to do so.
Birmingham’s hopes seem to rest on the vast new “Eastside” shopping development. Can a city become great on shopping? It is still a dead-end branch from London.
Stoke desperately wants a station on HS2. At least it has a clear idea of what it wants.
Manchester has a confused stance. It still hankers after the idea of HS2 leading southwards out of Piccadilly station before bending round to go north to Scotland, even though HS2 declared in February 2015 that it was abandoning that idea because it no longer made sense. It likes the idea of the station being at Piccadilly rather than Victoria station because there is an available site at Piccadilly. It wants there to be a route across the Pennines, but not a high speed route, and is undecided whether it should be to Leeds or Sheffield.
Leeds has persuaded HS2 to move their station a few hundred metres northwards so that it now connects with Leeds City. But it still lies north-south and the route to the north-east and Scotland comes southward out of that station before it bends round to go north.
Sheffield is campaigning hard for the HS2 station to be moved from Meadowhall (4 miles out of town) to the city centre.
Nottingham cares much less about the HS2 station being in the town centre, Nottingham is mostly willing to let the HS2 station be 4 miles away at Toton, believing that the benefits of HS2 will spread out naturally, and include Nottingham. Fast connection to Toton is not a high priority! I am told that tunnelling under Nottingham is easy. The station is to be at Toton, shared with Derby. It seems a fair deal, but it’s not a zero sum game. If the station is at one of the two towns, it will gain more than the other would lose because a station stop would give a town a lot, but it makes little difference to the other whether the tram ride from Toton is 10 minutes or 20 minutes away, it is still “away”. To have both Sheffield and Nottingham/Derby connected to HS2 via a tram shuttle would leave the classic rail route still the fastest route between them. Do we want this?
George Osborne wants HS2 to be good for the economy – it’s his job. But he wants to deny the truth that we all, including politicians, acknowledge, that wealth = power. In that sense we are all Marxist now. He wants “The North” to be the cow, not the farmer.
In mid 2014 George Osborne imagined “the Northern Powerhouse” consisting of Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Middlesbrough, Newcastle. I write as a Tynesider, but from any point of view that seems an unnatural grouping. Quite outside his job description as Chancellor of the Exchequer he is setting up the various local authorities along the way with different kinds of powers – a sure way of making sure they don’t cooperate well.
He must have expected the Midlands to complain that they were being shut out of something valuable, and indeed they did, so in December 2015 he imagined the “Midlands Engine” stretching from the North Sea to the Welsh border, but obviously centred on Birmingham. And once again local authorities with powers that don’t match.
The elephant in the room which Osborne is trying not to see is surely the ring of towns around the Pennines, a ring which is there because the coal outcropped there, and a lasting fact. The main meat of the British population lives there. Pulled together, it outranks London. And that is what Osborne wants not to happen.
After all that conflicting and negative thinking, we need new thinking. Look at this photo of Britain and Ireland by night from space.
Look at that ring around the Southern Pennines It seems to be a natural unit.
I call it Ringby.
I call it Ringby.