“Imagine for a moment a giddy, ridiculous tower dominating Paris like a gigantic black smokestack, crushing under its barbaric bulk Notre Dame, the Tour Saint-Jacques, the Louvre, the Dome of les Invalides, the Arc de Triomphe, all of our humiliated monuments will disappear in this ghastly dream.
“And for twenty years we shall see stretching like a blot of ink the hateful shadow of the hateful column of bolted sheet metal.”
These were the words contained in an 1887 petition from prominent French artists against the construction of what we know today as the Eiffel Tower, one of the most visited and instantly recognisable structures in the entire world for well over a century.
The hatred for the planned structure at the time was visceral. The legendary French writer Guy de Maupassant apparently ate lunch every day in one of the tower’s restaurants so that he would not have to look at the structure while dining.
The distaste for the building came from some of the country’s most respected and revered writers and thinkers. These dissenters were not Luddites, merely caught in the inescapable whirlwind that accompanies any large-scale development project.
That same reactionary attitude is seen time and time again with regards to the HS2 project.
The scheme was back in the news this week with a Dispatches report into its viability. Much of the bulletin concentrated on the preference for passengers in the North to have the local infrastructure improved ahead of faster services to London.
Specifically there was a clear attempt to show that, when asked, most Northerners would prefer to travel east to west more rapidly.
This viewpoint is entirely acceptable. I agree with its basic sentiment.
Services between the North’s cities are embarrassingly poor in terms of journey times, comfort and connectivity. When you compare it to what other parts of the country enjoy it is a national disgrace.
However, as has been demonstrated time and time again by people far smarter than I, to simply look at HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail as binary choices is quite literally a false economy.
As top Arup boss Tom Bridges tweeted this week: “Building Northern Powerhouse Rail but not HS2 would be like building the M62 without the M1 or M6.”
High speed rail is about having an interconnected network. The HS2 routes from Manchester to Liverpool and Sheffield to Leeds would be part of this network.
Opposing big infrastructure projects is almost as big a part of our national DNA as cricket or fish and chips.
When the Olympics was first successfully delivered to London for 2012 there ensued a never-ending cavalcade of negative stories on how much extra it was costing the taxpayer.
The Channel Tunnel was first mooted prior to the construction of the Eiffel Tower yet it was mid 1980s before it was completed.
The London Underground, most of the nation’s major airports, the motorway network are also examples of projects which faced significant opposition in the run-up to their being created. They are now all part of everyday UK life.
In the North we have been underserved by successive Governments when it comes to our infrastructure needs, whether that is railways, roads or digital connectivity. We cannot get drawn into a game of divide and conquer on what we need as a nation.
Our two principal airports in Yorkshire, Doncaster Sheffield and Leeds Bradford, are currently engaged in expansion schemes to enhance their future prospects. Next month sees York Central up before planning bosses, a scheme which could bring billions to the region.
The ambition is here in Yorkshire and the North. If we do not embrace and support that sense of wanting to create a better tomorrow we are relegating ourselves to forever being an economy destined to be outside the top tier of those seen in Europe.
And there will be no restaurant table where we can obscure this from our view.