The Core Cities are the economically most important cities outside of London in England: Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield.
Scenario analysis has shown that the Core Cities' wider areas have the potential to create an additional one million jobs over the next twenty years. Realising this potential will require new businesses and investment, which in turn requires better accessibility.
Growth is driven by trade, investment and innovation. Trade needs access to markets of all types and sizes. Investment and innovation go hand in hand but successful innovation also requires market access – it is hard to do when isolated or unable to exploit economies of scale.
Market access means transport, whether of goods or people. Cities have become ever more important in recent decades and more than half the world’s population now live in them. Cities provide the locations where innovation can happen and succeed, and where face to face contact generates new ideas. This proposition was recognised by early economists, but has only recently been incorporated into modern analysis.
This means that connecting cities is a key element in future economic success. In the twentieth century, this meant motorways, but this technology is carbon-intensive and has created city centre congestion. Rail transport offers a successful alternative. Indeed, employment growth and increases in rail trips are strongly correlated, with the regional cities with the fastest growth in employment also showing the fastest growth in rail trips.
So realising potential growth is going to need continued growth in rail use. It has been estimated that the city potential of 330,000 additional jobs will need at least 80,000 additional rail trips into the key northern cities. This will require additional rail capacity – the key West Coast and East Coast lines are already crowded. We need new lines both to increase capacity and to raise speeds.
The current proposal for High Speed 2 has been presented as offering time savings on the route to Birmingham. This is a rather limited view of the benefits and it is not surprising that some have taken a negative view of the project as a result. Indeed Birmingham must only be viewed as a first phase. It is the extension to cities like Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield which will produce the biggest payoff – and in jobs rather than time savings, though these are important too.
Moreover, the construction of a new line will relieve pressure on the existing capacity and make it possible to reinvest in better commuter services – for which there is also a payoff in output and productivity – and in improved freight services. Pressure for better freight services and to get freight off the road can then begin to be met.