Connect the northern regions to each other instead of London - Michael Edwards

THE Government’s decision to scrap the eastern leg of HS2 has been causing chaos for over a week now, and quite rightly too.

How on earth we are expected not to be concerned about the shoddy excuse for alternatives is beyond me – it’s very clear they do not suffice.

It’s not only the fact that once again, northern regions are being left behind but it also reinforces that the promises of ‘levelling up’ were in fact just empty promises formulated as part of a PR stunt to obtain more votes.

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I, for one, am riled by the ongoing carrot dangling that the North has faced over the last few years.

Leeds Station.

Scrapping the HS2 connection for Leeds, a city which has built plans around new levels of connectivity, is hardly something to be joyous about. What it does prove, however, is that we need to stop holding out for support to close the North-South divide.

The first place we can start is to get rid of the obsession with getting to London 12 minutes faster. Twelve minutes being shaved off a trip to London is completely redundant when it is still taking hours to travel 20 or 30 miles by train to major northern cities. Why should we want to push people toward getting out of the North? Why not make it easier for them to visit other northern cities without the morning hassle we’re oh so familiar with in the North.

Travelling from east to west here is dire – and the truest reflection of the issues with our public transport. Liverpool and Leeds are 75 miles apart, and the time taken to travel by train between the two major cities takes almost two hours (one hour 50 minutes).

Yet it takes only an extra 25 minutes to travel from Leeds to London, a journey twice as far, at almost 200 miles. How has this not been rectified yet? There is no wonder connectivity and collaboration between businesses is harder up north; we don’t have the luxury of time.

The roads aren’t much better either. The M62 is one of, if not the most dangerous, motorways in England. With hazardous winds and weather conditions in winter – and the high levels of congestion – it is often at a standstill. It’s known as a corridor for a reason, being the only major road connecting regions between Hull and Liverpool.

Similar issues arise for shorter commuter journeys too. Down south, the 24-mile commute from Oxford to Reading takes 23 minutes. A mile a minute, a reasonable commute time for many.

The slightly shorter journey of 22 miles between Sheffield and Huddersfield up north takes one hour 16 minutes. Over three times longer per mile. Have I made my point yet?

Of course these issues aren’t just about speed and time as separate elements, the issue is the effect of quicker travel times on our economy. We know this, and so does the government. If connectivity didn’t improve the economy, why would the government forecast to spend over £100bn on HS2?

So what’s the solution? Connecting northern regions, properly. That’s the key to ensuring prosperity up north. We cannot be surprised that our northern talent is migrating south if we’re putting all our eggs in fixing the North-South divide basket.

Creating reasonable travel times between our northern regions is a huge way we can retain talent up north. Allowing ease of access between localities allows for those working under hybrid models to get to work when they need to much more easily, as well as allowing those needing to travel between cities for meetings and collaborations much more efficiently.

Students, for example, are likely to head to London after graduation to revel in opportunities. Connecting northern regions can open up endless opportunities because accessibility would no longer be a barrier.

This is beneficial not only for those seeking work opportunities but for business owners who would be able to cast a wider net, busting open the talent pool, attracting even more star talents to their place of work.

The knock-on effect of that for businesses is huge – enabling quicker growth, and as such more success. In return, the northern economy gets a boost and no longer feels like an outsider. Perhaps then, the Government may sit up and take notice of our once forgotten region.

The North-South divide is stark, there’s no denying it. But I once again reiterate that it’s time to move on; time to end the fascination with connecting northern regions to London and instead do what we can to connect northern cities to one another.

Michael Edwards is the founder of The Northern Affinity, a collaboration of dynamic businesses.