20 November 2021

Is the Northern Powerhouse a Casualty of Brexit?

Author Cnbrb Licence  CCO 1.0 Source Wikimedia Commons

Jane Lambert

The announcements in the Department for Transport's Integrated Rail Plan for the North and Midlands of the cancellation of HS3 and the spur of the HS2 to Leeds and Sheffield were as predictable as they were regrettable. It would appear from Helen Pidd's article Government planning ‘to put HS2 on stilts through Manchester’ in The Guardian on 19 Nov 2021 that even the western spur is to be constructed on the cheap. The reason for the announcements is that the current government regards the Northern Powerhouse project as an exercise in regional development, not unlike similar projects of the last 100 years, rather than the construction of a conurbation of 6 million people to serve as a vibrant industrial, commercial and cultural counterweight to London.

As I said in Northern Powerhouse in 2017:

"The Northern Powerhouse was conceived in the days of the Coalition by the former Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, and the former Chancellor, George Osborne, as a strategy to stimulate economic growth in the North of England by developing the principal cities of the North of England into a counterweight to London through improving transport links and investing heavily in science, technology, the arts and education (see the speech by the Rt Hon George Osborne We need a Northern powerhouse 23 June 2014)."

I added:

"Sadly, the present Chancellor, Philip Hammond, lacked his predecessor’s vision. His Northern Powerhouse Strategy has diluted and downgraded the idea of an integrated Liverpool to Leeds conurbation as a viable counterweight to London to a general regional development programme like many others before it for the area north of the Humber and Mersey to the Scottish border."

Hammond has been replaced by Sunak but his vision appears to be just as limited. 

In more than one sense, the Northern Powerhouse is a casualty of Brexit.   Osborne literally as he was removed from his post by May. Clegg lost his seat the year before the referendum but it was pressure for a referendum that swept the Tories back to power with a sufficient majority to govern alone.  However, maybe the idea of a mega-city in the North of England makes less sense when the domestic market suddenly shrinks from 510 million to 67 million.

Before Brexit maps of Britain showed the spurs of HS2 extending from Manchester to Glasgow in the west and from Leeds to Newcastle and Edinburgh in the east but what is the point if Scotland secedes?  The thought that the future boundaries of the state will run from Berwick to Carlisle may well have coloured the decision to abandon a tunnel to Piccadilly and run the new trains into the centre of Manchester on stilts,

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