Betrayal of the North – an opportunity for change?

The HS2 Integrated Rail Plan (IRP) for the North and Midlands has rightfully resulted in a furious backlash from Northern politicians, of all colours, for many reasons, most of which will be the subject of countless commentary over the coming weeks.  There’ll be analyses on the relative spend between the “North” and the “South”, the broken promises, how this decision fits with the “levelling up” agenda and much, much more.

But let’s not talk about the Government’s fixation with journey times, nor about the routes that will (or will not) be delivered, or whether guidance from experts has been ignored. 

Blah, Blah, Blah

Let’s talk about how they feel, those Northern leaders, who are, justifiably, very, very angry, about this “betrayal of the North3”!

Like the brochures produced to justify unsustainable development, there is lots of blah, blah, blah in the IRP about the benefits to commuters and communities of the Government’s “woefully inadequate1” plan.

Transport for the North (TfN) have asserted that the leaders of the North, from across the party-political divide, “have worked hard to come up with an evidence-led plan to help reverse the chasm of under investment1”.  

Many campaigners have done that too, putting lots of effort into developing evidence-based Alternative Strategies for our areas (one example from the Friends of Carrington Moss can be found at this link), and many of us have had those inputs, that are created in our own time, with our own money, totally ignored.

Cutting out local people

But the slashed route plans are not all.  My reading of the document suggests that the Government plans to exclude the Northern leadership from decision making and programme direction.  

The report states that:

One key lesson from other projects of this scale is the vital importance of leadership, clear accountabilities and simple client relationships. Splitting these roles in delivery risks failure. TfN is also a relatively small and young organisation with no experience of clienting a project of this scale through detailed development or delivery, and little or no ability to bear financial risk”.2

A stark stigmatisation of the capability of TfN, something residents from the vast talent pool involved in the planning ecosystem face regularly from a range of commentators who do not value contributions from citizens, whatever expertise they may have.

The document goes on to say the HS2 delivery partners will be managed by a single team, answerable to the Secretary of State, to whom Northern leaders will continue to have “direct and regular access”! 2 

A huge blow for those who feel (quite rightly) that Northern leaders should be driving the initiative in their area.  They are, though, still considered to be a sponsor, albeit with very little power and, seemingly, no influence.

Community groups feel the same

We, who don’t even have a seat at the table in local discussions, totally understand their frustration.  In our areas, we are the ones with local knowledge, we are the ones who fully comprehend the impact (both environmentally and economically) and we are the ones who will be most affected by the plans. 

Yet some politicians have repeatedly denied we are key stakeholders, have refused to engage with residents in a genuine and meaningful way, denying us the opportunity to input to plan-shaping and relegating our role to reading and reviewing copious documents, filled with jargon, misleading information and missing data. We are lucky to even get a response to our emails and our pleas to be involved are continuously ignored.

Comments from politicians of all Parties confirm how “bitterly disappointed3” they are, how “completely shortchanged3” they feel.  With academics also suggesting the revised plans leave the North with “the worst of all worlds3”, the echoes of our own protests are bellowed back at us in remonstration.  Greater Manchester’s Mayor stated “what about the people’s grandchildren and great grandchildren4”.  What indeed?  The Save Greater Manchester’s Green Belt group has been asking exactly that question given his plans to unnecessarily release over 2,430 hectares of green belt in the region.

Absolute Power – it isn’t just a northern problem!

So, it is clear, we within the Community Planning Alliance, comprising more than 530 community groups, all campaigning against inappropriate development, can fully empathise with the emotions of these enraged politicians.

But, will the experience of this, the opposite of localism, help THEM recognise the trauma and torment we feel every single day, exhausted by the lack of power, influence and voice citizens have within the planning ecosystem?

More importantly, will it make any difference?  

The Community Planning Alliance hopes they are listening and will continue to lobby for change!

Links:

  1. Councillor Louise Gittins, Interim Chair of Transport for the North (TfN newsletter 19/11/21)
  2. Integrated Rail Plan for the North and Midlands page 150
  3. Guardian article 18th November 2021 Betrayal of the North
  4. BBC article 19th November 2021 HS2: New plan a betrayal of the North, say critics

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