George Osborne, the Chair of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership (NPP), launched the NPP's first formal campaign: to encourage the Government to commit to Northern Powerhouse Rail.
The letter below was originally published in the Financial Times.
"This autumn we will see whether the government is really committed to the idea of the Northern Powerhouse. Repeating the slogan will not be the same as taking the specific, concrete steps to make it a reality. For behind the slogan lies a compelling economic concept: if you better connect the cities of the north together, the whole will be bigger than the individual parts - and they will attract more business and create more jobs.
"That’s because the cities of the north of England, like Newcastle and Sheffield, are not individually large enough to act as a counterweight to the pull of our great capital city. Put them together, however, and you have a population of around 10 million people - a big enough urban population to attract global interest. There no geographical reason why this can't happen. The distance between Manchester and Leeds is shorter than the length of the Central Line on the Underground. But the transport connections are not there and the habit of commuting to work on the scale you see in the south east doesn't exist. This isn't down simply to a lack of investment. The truth is that there has been a reluctance within these northern cities themselves to work together.
"Then, a few years ago, that all started to change. Local city halls started talking to each other more. These promising signs enabled me, as Chancellor, to turn up at the Power Hall of Manchester’s Museum of Science and Industry in 2014 and commit the then government to building this northern powerhouse. What mattered as much as a Conservative Chancellor giving a speech on the north, was that the Labour civic leaders turned up to listen to it. In an unlikely alliance, we set about working together on three central plans.
"First, we would create new elected mayors in these cities so that - like all great cities in the world - they would have a strong voice. Just three years later many of those mayors now exist, and beyond just the north. Second, we would support the existing strengths of these cities by bringing in new science and cultural institutions. Now the likes of the Henry Royce Institute for Advanced Materials are under development. Third, we would build better transport connections between the cities.
"Then I left office and there was a risk that the northern powerhouse would end with my own political career. It very nearly did. We now know, thanks to the revelations by Katie Perrior, head of media in Number 10, that there was a systematic attempt by Theresa May’s advisors (apparently without her knowledge) to eradicate all mention of my initiative.
"Thankfully, the Northern Powerhouse proved more enduring than those advisers. The Northern Powerhouse Partnership that I formed, on leaving office, has the support of the northern civic leaders and many major businesses. It has resources, a full-time staff, and conducting research.
"Now we are launching our first campaign - we want the government this autumn to commit to building high speed rail links across the north, all the way from Liverpool to Hull, starting with the line across the Pennines. The name of this project is Northern Powerhouse Rail, or what some call HS3. Northern Powerhouse Rail has to be the next stage in the government’s high-speed network.
"Specifically, they should include the planning for the future connections when they set out the design for Phase 2b of HS2 later this year, remodelling four junctions in the North to ensure they are complimentary with HS2, start the detailed planning work on the line itself and allocate a long-term capital budget.
"For this new railway would transform the northern economy. It would bring 7 million more people - and three times the number of businesses - within a 90 minute journey-time of one of our great northern cities. It’s not cheap (I saw estimates of around 7 billion pounds for the Pennine work) - but it’s over many years and the transport budget was set on a rising path to accommodate both this and other key projects like Crossrail 2 in London. I know, I set it. The Northern Powerhouse rail fits with the government’s stated objective of building an economy that works for everyone. If this isn't part of an industrial strategy, then what is?
"Far be it from me to offer advice to Mrs May on how to relaunch her premiership this autumn, but making this big commitment to the north of England at the Conservative Conference in Manchester isn't a bad place to start."
The letter below has been signed by businesses all over the North. To lend your support to the campaign, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Backing Northern Powerhouse Rail
Connecting our great cities of the North with a world-class, higher capacity rail network is not only fundamental to the success of the Northern Powerhouse, it is fundamental to the success of the entire country.
We’re calling on the government to back this success, and back Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR).
In the Industrial Strategy Green Paper earlier this year the government officially acknowledged the historic underinvestment in northern infrastructure and promised to tackle it.
Implementing Northern Powerhouse Rail would be transformational for businesses in the North, driving productivity and attracting 850,000 new jobs to the region by 2050. It would create a transformational legacy of investment for the North of England the likes of which has not been seen before.
We are calling on the government to show its continued commitment to Northern Powerhouse Rail in the Autumn Budget, alongside a step change investment in the wider road and rail corridors which link the key economic assets of the North. This crucial, pan-Northern infrastructure of Northern Powerhouse Rail, our Crossrail for the North, would significantly cut journey times, for example providing a no more than 30-minute commute between Leeds and Manchester and less than 60 minutes between Leeds and Newcastle, and have a dramatic impact on the UK economy.
The government itself has acknowledged and shown the potential improvement in national productivity from this, as well as other policy initiatives. This transformational investment in connectivity, from Liverpool across to Sheffield, Hull and Newcastle, is the long-term solution the North needs.
The current poor connectivity in the North is a major obstacle to encouraging companies from growing in the region and is a barrier to inward investment. According to Transport for the North (TfN), less than 10,000 people in the North can access four or more of the North’s largest economic centres within an hour. This would rise to 1.3 million once is delivered. It would also create fast, frequent connections between the North’s core cities and Manchester Airport.
We urge the government to re-state its commitment to Northern Powerhouse Rail as a matter of priority. Without it the vision for a genuine Northern Powerhouse to rebalance our country’s economy and make UK plc prosper for decades to come cannot be delivered.
We are passionate believers that this is not just a Northern issue, it is a UK issue. It should not be seen as Crossrail 2 in London versus Northern Powerhouse Rail; both schemes are vital for Britain’s future.