TRANSPORT in and around our region is becoming an increasingly greater problem, and one that needs a much more central position in policy discussions than it currently has.
The focus is far too much on the routes being added or removed from Liverpool John Lennon Airport and the quality and frequency of trains to London, as if everyone’s travel itinerary reads Westminster, Barcelona, Riga, Islington, Amsterdam and Tottenham. In reality, it’s more likely to read Birkenhead, Southport, Manchester, Huyton and Chester.
I’m writing this column at home, thawing out after spending an hour and 20 minutes waiting in vain for a train to Lime Street from a station on Merseyside’s eastern front, which sits on the Manchester-Liverpool line.
It was a frustrating experience, made worse by the contempt with which passengers are treated by Northern Rail.
If I’d have stubbornly stuck it out, and got the train when it arrived, it would have taken me more than two-and-a-half hours to travel 19 miles. In a Top Gear-style challenge, the train would have been marginally quicker than my partner with a pair of trainers.
Anyone who commutes, whether by train, car or bus, has their own personal anthology of war stories, but there is a much more important issue lying behind these tales of transport misery.
As a business we find it easier to work with companies based in London than in Leeds or Leicester or Lincoln because of the massive difference in transport infrastructure. They can be reached reliably and with a reasonable level of comfort, while their counterparts across the North and Midlands cannot.
Of course, what is true for us is also true for them. All of those businesses in the towns and cities in regions including the North East, East Midlands and South Wales will all understandably think it is easier to do business with people whom they need to meet at least occasionally if those companies are based in London.
But we neglect inter-regional trade at our peril – and it is foolish to think we can trade with Shanghai on any significant scale if getting to somewhere like Sheffield creates a logistical headache.