Sim Chris Grayling: What else could Britain's transport secretary build if he cancelled High Speed 2?

Imagine you are this man. No, don't click away, it's a good article, I promise! Image: Getty.

Good morning, Chris! Here are your briefings – there’s an important one in there about HS2 there, with a memorandum attached from Theresa and Philip.

What? No! Yes. It’s like the worst-ever iteration of Freaky Friday you could think of. You’ve woken up as Chris Grayling, longtime stalker of the shadows of darkness and erstwhile Transport Secretary.

Tentatively, you open the red ministerial box that the staffer (who weirdly seems to be in your bedroom) has brought you. The top paper lists different possible cost projections for High Speed 2, a seven-year-old’s notion of building a new train line (“Darling there’s already a train line there” / “Yes, mummy, but this one is faster!”).

Estimates from back in June 2013 revised the expected cost upwards, from £33bn to £43bn. The November 2015 Autumn Statement then put the estimate of how much it might cost at more than £55b.  But so-called “Treasury insiders”, as cited by the Sunday Times, are talking about the project with a £73bn price tag attached. (And so-called experts, of whom this country has had enough, have said the entire jolly could rack up £90bn bills by the time it’s all over. )

But what’s this? A note from Theresa May and Philip Hammond, saying the prime minister wants it cancelled, but the chancellor still wants to spend the money on transport infrastructure to show Britain means breakfast?

So. You’ve got somewhere between £33bn and £90bn to spend, and barely any time to work out how to do it and fire off a response to Philip and the team. Whip out your calculator…

The Varsity Rail Link – Cost: £530m

The train link between Oxford and Cambridge – two of the fastest-growing cities in the country with rocketing house prices and burgeoning job growth – has been on the cards for decades, almost ever since services chugged to a halt in 1967.

 

The technical name for the project is the “East-West Rail Link”, and the plan as a whole is to link Oxford with Cambridge via Bicester, Milton Keynes, and Bedford, with the possibility of spurs heading onto Ipswich and Norwich. While it’s hard to get hold of all that many decent estimations of the cost, the reckoning seems to be about £530m of your English pounds for the privilege of saving thousands of beleaguered science and tech types from enduring either the X5 bus between the two (don’t even), or the current three-hour journey on the train via Paddington and King’s Cross.

A good, dependable, “white-heat-of-technology” addition to the expenses claim.

Northern Hub Rail Links – Cost: £560m

Yes, George Osborne has been put on the naughty step, but in fairness to him the idea of actually, like, investing in infrastructure outside of London and the South East was one of his finer moments.

The Northern Hub project isn’t one of the sexiest in the books – it mostly involves electrifying lots of bits of line, sprucing up some seriously-in-need stations, putting in a couple of corners of track, and making things generally faster, better, and more efficient by very small and wonkish improvements. Like Hillary Clinton, but in rail project form.

The cost is estimated at around the £560m mark, but the benefits are thought to be pretty significant. Faster trains, more of them, and (allegedly) at least £4bn in economic rewards to be reaped. Plus, if Theresa fancies a flashback to the ancien régime, loads of opportunities to stand on building sites wearing hi-vis and a hard hat.

Boring but important. An exemplification of this government’s personal brand.

Total cost of all projects so far: £1.1bn

Crossrail 2 – Cost: £32bn

At the end of the day, being Transport Secretary is only fun if you can play Mini Metro but in real life and with actual trains and all that. If you enjoyed the Elizabeth Line, née Crossrail, just wait until you see the sequel! Spiralling from somewhere south-west-London-ish, like Epsom (my seat! Hurrah!) through transport-connection-starved places like Balham, Clapham Junction, Victoria, King’s Cross, St. Pancras, and Euston up towards Hackney, Enfield, and Southgate, it’s a big-bucks investment.

Click to expand. Image: TfL.

It may seem like London has far too many lines and way too much money poured into its infrastructure already, but when you think about the fact that the Elizabeth Line, née Crossrail, will be almost entirely choc-a-bloc within just a few years, it’s probably worth doing some future-proofing.

And if I’m still around by then, I might even get to name it. If Elizabeth gets her own line, why can’t I? “The Chris Grayling Line” – I can just see it now. Or if the future king wants his own, you could get punny and call it The Caro-line. Because niche linguistic banter is the best kind of banter.

Expensive, but chaos-averting. Plus, makes my trips into Soho much easier

Total cost of all projects so far: £33.1bn

At this point, we’ve done great things, and only spent around the £33bn mark – the lowest estimate of the cost of HS2, from back in the innocent days pre-2013. There’s more.

Extending the Bakerloo Line – Cost: £3bn,

The Bakerloo Line extension is a tale as old as time, and it’s really only down to a managerial oversight that it wasn’t included in the Brothers Grimm’s fairy tale collection.

Taking the Bakerloo line further south from its current terminus at Elephant and Castle was first on the cards as part of the London Electric Metropolitan District and Central London Railway Companies (Works) Act, which passed in 1931 but was strangely not acted upon. Congestion on the Metropolitan line diverted attention to extending the line north from Baker Street to Finchley Road (on track now appropriated by the Jubilee Line), and then a big old thing called the Second World War happened and everyone forgot about it.

The mantle was taken up again in earnest by various politicians – including local Camberwell & Peckham MP Harriet Harman – around the turn of the century. Ken Livingstone, the then mayor of London, boldly declared in 2006 that Camberwell would have a tube station within 20 years – he’s got 10 years to not be wrong, and very little power to do anything about it, so we’ll see.

Click to expand. Image: TfL.

A consultation is up and running on extending the Bakerloo line via either Camberwell and Peckham or various stops along the Monopoly-stigmatised Old Kent Road, with a view to ending up somewhere in Bromley, Beckenham, or Hayes, currently serviced by miserable Southern and Southeastern services.  

A chance to shift London’s centre of gravity, even if everyone already hates the Bakerloo line anyway. Why not?

Total cost of all projects so far: £36.1bn

The “New Tube for London” – Cost: £16.4bn

With one of the sexiest transport launch videos in history (if you’re into that sort of thing), the “New Tube for London” programme promises faster and more regular walk-through trains with air conditioning and fancy screens for the three innermost circles of hell – also known as the Piccadilly, Bakerloo, and Central lines. The Waterloo & City line is getting some too, but nobody really cares.

Image: TfL.

The investment in rolling stock is set to be one of the biggest in the history of the London Underground, matched only by the huge roll-out of the S7/8 class trains on the Metropolitan, Hammersmith & City, Circle, and District lines from 2010.

So much cool shiny new stuff doesn’t come cheap, though, and at £16.4bn it’s certainly a pretty penny for the privilege of being able to back slowly but entirely away when you realise you’ve got on the same tube carriage as an ex.

Worth it? Totally.

Total cost of all projects so far: £50.7bn

Fund a 7-day Night Tube for 5 years – Cost: £350m

We don’t yet know exactly how much the night tube in its entirety costs to run, mostly (obviously) because the whole night network won’t be up and running until December. But we do have some figures from before the launch which implied a running cost of £1.5m a month to stump up night tube services two nights a week, Friday and Saturday.

So if you extrapolate those figures, and multiply them by three and a half, you can roughly guess that to run the night tube seven nights a week would cost  around the £5.35m a month mark to run. Put that into an annual context and you get £63m a year. Give it a bit of leeway and bump that up to £70m a year. Times that figure by five and you get £350m, everyone’s favourite political number.

“We don’t really send the EU £350m a week. Let’s fund the night tube for five years instead.”

I’ll buy it.

Total cost of all projects so far: £51.1bn

That takes us to roughly the financial ball-park of the official £55bn estimate. But if “insiders” and “experts” are throwing around other figures, why not keep going?


Bridge Over Troubled Water – Cost: £22bn

Back when Margaret of the House Thatcher sat on the Iron Throne, a plan for a bridge over the English Channel did the rounds. Details emerged when files were released from the National Archives in 2007.

The bridge was ditched because it was thought unfeasible and too expensive, but the plans sketched out at the time estimated cost at £3bn. Hash that through a dubiously-reliable inflation calculator and you get a cost of around £11bn. Double it, because, you know, life is expensive, and you’re on £22bn. Add that to everything else and you’re almost bang on £73bn, the figure those insiders at the Treasury say HS2 is likely to end up costing.

Then we’d have a mainland connection to Europe (sorry Northern Ireland), the glorious world of Schengen could extend direct from John O’Groats to Gibraltar via the great and the good of our European family. Because Brexit means bridge, and we are going to make a dog’s breakfast of it.

Happy Autumn Statement, Philip!

Total cost of all projects so far: £51.1bn

P.S Alternatively wait a few years for Hyperloop technology to get cheaper and then build one of those from London to Birmingham like the one they’re getting in Dubai. Sunglasses emoji.

Yours, The Rt. Hon. Chris Grayling MP.

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Was the decline in Liverpool’s historic population really that unusual?

A view of Liverpool from Birkenhead. Image: Getty.

It is often reported that Liverpool’s population halved after the 1930s. But is this true? Or is it a myth?

Often, it’s simply assumed that it’s true. The end. Indeed, proud Londoner Lord Adonis – a leading proponent of the Liverpool-bypassing High Speed 2 railway, current chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, and generally a very influential person – stood on the stairs in Liverpool Town Hall in 2011 and said:

“The population of Liverpool has nearly halved in the last 50 years.”

This raises two questions. Firstly, did the population of the City of Liverpool really nearly halve in the 50 year period to 2011? That’s easy to check using this University of Portsmouth website – so I did just that (even though I knew he was wrong anyway). In 2011, the population of the City of Liverpool was 466,415. Fifty years earlier, in 1961, it was 737,637, which equates to a 37 per cent drop. Oops!

In fact, the City of Liverpool’s peak population was recorded in the 1931 Census as 846,302. Its lowest subsequent figure was recorded in the 2001 Census as 439,428 – which represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over a 70 year period.

Compare this to the population figures for the similarly sized City of Manchester. Its peak population also recorded in the 1931 Census as 748,729, and its lowest subsequent figure was also recorded in the 2001 Census, as 392,830. This also represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over the same 70 year period.

So, as can be seen here, Liverpool is not a special case at all. Which makes me wonder why it is often singled out or portrayed as exceptional in this regard, in the media and, indeed, by some badly briefed politicians. Even London has a similar story to tell, and it is told rather well in this recent article by a Londoner, for the Museum of London. (Editor’s note: It’s one of mine.)

This leads me onto the second question: where have all those people gone: London? The Moon? Mars?

Well, it turns out that the answer is bit boring and obvious actually: after World War 2, lots of people moved to the suburbs. You know: cars, commuter trains, slum clearance, the Blitz, all that stuff. In other words, Liverpool is just like many other places: after the war, this country experienced a depopulation bonanza.


So what form did this movement to the suburbs take, as far as Liverpool was concerned? Well, people moved and were moved to the suburbs of Greater Liverpool, in what are now the outer boroughs of the city region: Halton, Knowsley, St Helens, Sefton, Wirral. Others moved further, to Cheshire West & Chester, West Lancashire, Warrington, even nearby North Wales, as previously discussed here.

In common with many cities, indeed, Liverpool City Council actually built and owned large several ‘New Town’ council estates, to which they moved tens of thousands of people to from Liverpool’s inner districts: Winsford in Cheshire West (where comedian John Bishop grew up), Runcorn in Halton (where comedian John Bishop also grew up), Skelmersdale in West Lancashire, Kirkby in Knowsley. There is nothing unique or sinister here about Liverpool (apart from comedian John Bishop). This was common practice across the country – Indeed, it was central government policy – and resulted in about 160,000 people being ‘removed’ from the Liverpool local authority area.

Many other people also moved to the nearby suburbs of Greater Liverpool to private housing – another trend reflected across the country. It’s worth acknowledging, however, that cities across the world are subject to a level of ‘churn’ in population, whereby many people move out and many people move in, over time, too.

So how did those prominent images of derelict streets in the inner-city part of the City of Liverpool local authority area come about? For that, you have to blame the last Labour government’s over-zealous ‘Housing Market Renewal Initiative’ (HMRI) disaster – and the over enthusiastic participation of the then-Lib Dem controlled city council. On the promise of ‘free’ money from central government, the latter removed hundreds of people from their homes with a view to demolishing the Victorian terraces, and building new replacements. Many of these houses, in truth, were already fully modernised, owner-occupied houses within viable and longstanding communities, as can be seen here in Voelas Street, one of the famous Welsh Streets of Liverpool:

Voelas Street before HMRI implementation. Image: WelshStreets.co.uk.

The same picture after HMRI implementation Image: WelshStreets.co.uk. 

Nonetheless: the council bought the houses and ‘tinned them up’ ready for demolition. Then the coalition Conservative/Lib Dem government, elected in 2010, pulled the plug on the scheme. 

Fast forward to 2017 and many of the condemned houses have been renovated, in a process which is still ongoing. These are over-subscribed when they come to market, suggesting that the idea was never appropriate for Liverpool on that scale. 

At any rate, it turns out that the Liverpool metropolitan population is pretty much the same as it was at its peak in 1931 (depending where the local borough boundaries are arbitrarily drawn). It just begs the question: why are well educated and supposedly clever people misrepresenting the Liverpool metropolis, in particular, in this way so often? Surely they aren’t stupid are they?


And why are some people so determined to always isolate the City of Liverpool from its hinterland, while London is always described in terms of its whole urban area? It just confuses and undermines what would otherwise often be worthwhile comparisons and discussions. Or, to put it another way: “never, ever, compare apples with larger urban zones”.

In a recent Channel 4 documentary, for example, the well-known and respected journalist Michael Burke directly compared the forecast population growths, by 2039, of the City of Liverpool single local authority area against that of the combined 33 local authority areas of Greater London: 42,722 versus 2.187,708. I mean, what bizarre point is such an inappropriate comparison even trying to make? It is like comparing the projected growth of a normal sized-person’s head with the projected growth of the whole of an obese person, over a protracted period.

Having said all that, there is an important sensible conversation to be had as to why the populations of the Greater Liverpool metropolis and others haven’t grown as fast as maybe should have been the case, whilst, in recent times, the Greater London population has been burgeoning. But constantly pitching it as some sort of rare local apocalypse helps no one.

Dave Mail has declared himself CityMetric’s Liverpool City Region correspondent. He will be updating us on the brave new world of Liverpool City Region, mostly monthly, in ‘E-mail from Liverpool City Region’ and he is on twitter @davemail2017.