That’s close enough!

Supporters of the high-speed railway line are keen to bring London closer to Birmingham but Alan Clawley argues that it’s already close enough.

rail travelWith a faster rail link Birmingham’s status as a suburb of the capital will only be enhanced. Having studied, lived and worked in London for a decade I know how invisible Birmingham is from the south. Londoners look, drive, fly and ride straight past Birmingham to the northern cities because those cities are, at present at least, clearly NOT suburbs of London, as Birmingham already is. Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Sheffield, Bristol, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Belfast attract attention because they are independent and distinctive. And they are far enough away from London to exert a magnetic attraction of their own.

In his latest book ‘A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain’, Owen Hatherley, who is described on the dust cover as the Pevsner of the PFI generation, writes about his visits to Southampton, Milton Keynes, Nottingham, Sheffield, Manchester, Tyneside, Glasgow, Cambridge, The West Riding, Cardiff, Greenwich and Liverpool, but his only references to Birmingham are in the Introduction, pages xvi and xxxiii, and then only in passing.

The closer Birmingham gets to London the more Birmingham will be absorbed into London’s economy. The eventual extension of the railway to the northern cities will have the same effect on them.

London is of course a wonderful city and there are many Brummies who look forward to being sucked ever more closely into its vast maw. But I don’t hear Birmingham’s civic leaders talking along these lines. The promise of millions of pounds and thousands of jobs for the West Midlands economy seems to be enough to satisfy them.

Westminster politicians urge us to get behind the scheme ‘for our own good’, but we see from the Scottish experience that the government in London does not willingly give away chunks of the capital’s economy to the regions. They say they are making a difficult decision, one that will upset many people who normally vote Conservative along the route of the railway, but which is the right one for Birmingham and the West Midlands. They say it has our overwhelming support but ignore those who call for money to be spent on local transport instead.

If Birmingham is to avoid becoming increasingly subservient to London it should argue instead for a high-speed railway from Birmingham to the smaller cities of Manchester, Bristol and Leeds. This would have the effect of making them suburbs of Birmingham which would then suck in economic and social activity that would otherwise go to London.

But we’re not in a position to dictate economic policy to Westminster are we?