There are three core tenets to the new Respublica report. We’ve read it cover to cover. You should too. Broadly speaking, they are:

LivCoverLiverpool needs to grow.
Liverpool needs high speed rail to grow.
Liverpool can not grow if we leave it to our local politicians alone.

Well, they’ll get no argument from us on the last one. But permit us to chew over the first two.

For Phillip Blond and Respublica – the think tank behind the new report on the city’s future: Ticket To Ride, How High Speed Rail for Liverpool can realise the Northern Powerhouse – it’s all about connections. If we don’t get HS2, and we’re half an hour slower than Manchester (for that subset of people and freight that uses rail) we’re screwed.

But the report also confirms that unemployment in our region has been significantly higher than the UK average for years. Long before HS2 was sketched out on the back of a napkin in the St James’ private members club in Westminster.

So the question arises – should we be focusing on some external aggressor – instead of admitting that, perhaps, we ran out of track before the train left the station. Perhaps the problems lie this side of the Lime Street concourse, not the other. Address them, and we will grow – economically, and in stature too.

Sure, we could have bullet trains and jetpacks, but if we don’t sort our own house out, we’ll still be left in the slow lane. And those fast trains will only hasten our departure. To be fair, Respublica nods to this too. But I’m less convinced of HS2’s role as some God out of the machine resolution. And I’m not buying that growth, as a goal in and of itself, is a panacea.

But you won’t get many think tanks saying to a Mayor – your problem is you’re too big. And not many mayors (or career politicians) saying we need to downsize. But smart shrinkage is happening, across the globe. Regrouping, handing out empty buildings for free to smart start ups, instead of selling them off for crap developments. Long game thinking rather than short term profit. Respublica rightly suggests an Enterprise Zone wrapped tightly around the city centre – not out in some Liverpool Waters second city – we agree. It’s starting to work for Detroit, it could work here: but it should be about us: let us, and our graduates, seed these spaces.

Republica’s report doesn’t allow for a rethink in how we define prosperity and success. Do we need more, or do we need better? Better jobs (better tax revenues)? Better houses? Better places? And if we chose better, what’s the driver? Connectivity, or quality of life?

Take plucky Belgium. Brussels and Antwerp might slug it out in that zero-sum game of economic dick measuring. But Ghent has opted out. Like Liverpool, Ghent’s a port city – but its focus, on its University, tourism, research and place making makes its 250,000 citizens more than happy, healthy and well fed. It’s green, it’s got the phenomenally successful Ghent Festival, it’s a place where people want to live, and work. It’s a place that knows what it is, and does its own thing brilliantly.

Oh, and guess what? Ghent isn’t served by the country’s high speed rail network. It’s exactly 30 minutes away from it. A bit like Liverpool, really. Does Ghent need HS? Evidently not.

About half of the abridged Respublica report deals exclusively with the benefits of the proposed fast rail route from London to the north, and the trans-north line. And we totally get the argument that, if it’s to exist at all, we should be on it. No HS2 and the new Liverpool deepwater port will suffer from overcapacity on existing rail routes. Maybe it will. People won’t want to relocate here, and our fragile economic renaissance will put threatened? We’re not so sure.


They’re at odds with the LEP’s prediction of 73,000 new jobs by 2030. More like 41,000 they say. Only by getting HS2 will we see those kind of numbers. We can’t see anything wrong with their projections (but they are only, at best, an educated finger in air) – but we’d love it if the report started the debate with another fundamental question – whether bigger, faster, taller – this obsession with more at any cost – is the only route out of here. It took us 90 years of decline to get where we are. So let’s not kid ourselves that a quick fix, or a fast train, is the only way to reverse it.

Because, let’s not deny it – there is another connectivity in play here; one with a far more subtle, but devastating cause and effect: a sub prime mortgage sold, greedily and immorally in South Carolina eight years ago, has closed down half the museums in Lancashire, has slashed day care centres in Liverpool, has resulted in Liverpool being screwed over by Government budget cuts. The connectivity of capitalism.

Our financial model is broken in every conceivable way. The market really doesn’t have our best interests at heart. And we seem to still want in? Still want more. Why does a city need to be bigger, anyway? Why can’t we, at the very least, talk about this? You think the people of Durham have a worse quality of life than the people of Birmingham?

The big question is – what does Liverpool want to be when it grows up? Another Manchester? Forget it. Never (thankfully) gonna happen.

There are many valid points in Respublica report. Wedded to the (awfully named) Northern Powerhouse, it’s of the opinion that Liverpool should be the start of HS3 – the east west line that runs from here to Hull. I get that. That’s more important, I think, than a fast route to London and outta here. A silk road across the Pennines makes total sense, culturally as much as economically.

The local payback system they suggest to part fund the HS2 extension – basically, we keep the taxes on new jobs to pay for HS2 – seems to us like some sleight of hand that results in the same conundrum: this is money that would have gone to Whitehall. Whitehall is saying it can’t afford to give us HS2. So why would they give up these taxes? Well, early indications are – they don’t.

That said, locally raised taxation should, in part, be spent locally. What would I spend it on? Every penny of it on education. Training, not trains. Then, perhaps, we’d grow wiser politicians, smarter thinkers, better bloggers. Better teachers. As I’ve said before, I think the answer lies within, not on a route out. If you nurture and support a city to become a place of innovation and entrepreneurial spirit, of lovely places to live and spend time in – trust me, you’ll spend an extra 28 minutes to get there. If you decide to travel by train. And you might not – some people use things like cars.

Some of the world’s most livable, lovable cities – Portland, Vancouver, Bergen, friggin Perth – aren’t exactly on a fast line to the first city, but they seem to do awfully well. Why is that? Build it better and they will come, perhaps?

Respublica suggests a City Region Business Senate – an advisory chamber of representatives from the region’s private sector, civil and social enterprises, they say to reinvigorated local politics. Read: to inject it with the smarts it’s clearly lacking.

Our political situation is dire. And we’ve allowed a culture that thinks dissent is anathema. A mayor with skin so thin I’m surprised Channel 5 haven’t done a medical porn doc on him. We just don’t have a climate of debate anymore. The patronage system Joe’s set up, a mayoral lead here, a crony there, might shore him up in the short term, but we need to be cashing cheques in 50 years time that we write today. And I don’t see much evidence of that.

Fact is we’re not as good as we think we are – culturally, economically, educationally – and Respublica, rightly, recognises this. But it also recognises, rightly too, that we’re a city with plenty of assets: creative, digital, life science chief among them. But these rely as much on the cloud and the broadband – and will increasingly do so, because our neighbours are in Singapore, Seattle and Stockholm. Top people will be drawn here if our whole offer is right. Not if our route to Crewe is marginally faster.

Respublica want to force us to take a good hard look at ourselves and admit it – we need to shape up. Stop with the awards and nepotism, stop with the continual narrative of some bruised but brilliant city, of how everyone hates us but we don’t care. And how much money the Beatles brings in.

They suggest a new institution: Transform Liverpool – to support the Metro Mayor – operationally independent. but working like a think tank – cooking up ideas on reform for economic, public service and research. The CEO should be a figure of international standing, it says. Imagine that salary.

No, wait – we’re not against paying big bucks for the right person. But we’ve a history of paying big bucks to the wrong person, haven’t we? Only to see them leave with a hefty severance pay? And the wrong Joint Ventures too. Maybe we need to employ that fella from The Apprentice next time we interview some external hero to save us all. Like Wayne Hemmingway or whoever the fuck it is next time.

More tangibly, the report wants to make Liverpool the UK’s third most visited city. To ramp up our offer, to appoint a Creative Director for the City Region with the power to ‘unify, coordinate and curate existing activities and funding’. A Tourism Czar, we suppose that means. If they make an edict to ban padded headboards and chandeliers we’ll stump up their salary alone.

Ultimately, it’s about connectivity again – that the Liverpool city region needs to pull together, and create a joined up offer. And of that we heartily agree.

There’s is no doubt – as the report says, the city is at a crossroads. So do we build for growth, or take a moment to regroup, and see if there really is another way? Build for quality of life or plough new track through fragile communities, just like we did with Granby, and send families scattering to the four winds?

Transformative change will only happen when we mature enough, as a city/region to really listen, open up not close down debate, and to be honest enough to to question that which we hold most dear.

This is a solid, considered and compassionate piece of work: it comes from a good place. Respublica believes in a future for the city. We don’t agree with all of it. But we don’t think that’s the point: fact is, it’s on the table, and we need to consider its recommendations carefully.

Respublica, like us, knows that Liverpool is an innovative, forward thinking city. Now’s the time to prove it. And we mean really prove it.

So where do we go from here?

23 Responses to “Leave us on the Line? Respublica’s Vision for HS2 and Liverpool”

  1. The city is run by a clique, anyone outside that clique will be ignored.
    The building that was turned down in Marybone and the canning of Via Verde are examples of very bad planning. The future of the city was subservient to minority interests and the cliques decisions.
    The path was sent when semi detached and bungalows were built in places of the various Gardens in the city centre. We need to build high density on top of these misplaced suburban tumours and rebuilding the core of the city, making it a proper urban centre. Which at the same time will save some of the green belt.

  2. Count me in! Education is fundamental as is the ability to retain the educated within the City, something I think we have failed miserably to achieve over the years. This means, like Seattle, Ghent and the rest, creating the right environment through positive planning to help attract like minded employers can only be a good, positive way to start. HS2 certainly isn’t the answer and neither is the guff that we are fed by Joe and the boys.We certainly need some positive leadership, someone that looks to the long term and can develop strategies to get the City to a position where we can regard ourselves as the Vancouver of the UK. Where we find this person and who chooses is another matter……

  3. I agree that HS3 > HS2 for Liverpool – 2h8m to London is quick enough. Although I have heard the argument made that HS2 will free up capacity for freight etc. which would be good… but is it worth the price tag? HS3 would give more bang for our buck – especially when it takes nearly the same amount of time to get to Sheffield (1h40) as it does to London, despite Sheffield being about 1/4 of the distance away.

    Liverpool also needs better internal connections, and I think that starts with busses. I’m living in London atm, and the flat fare and ability to pay by card is amazing easy. Liverpool should copy this. It’s strange that busses, so vital to the flow of people around the city, still requires you to use a fiver (or the exact change if the driver is feeling arsey).

    I also agree with education and skills training. We need to create a system whereby people can be ‘re-skilled’ to match the needs of the market. What is the point in churning out loads of people with BTECs in Hospitality, Tourism or Customer Service when they’d be much better off with a BTEC in Mathematics or Engineering or straight up doing an apprenticeship?

    My main issue with this post is that you seem to assume that growth = getting bigger. It doesn’t have to, it can mean an improvement in the standing of living without the city increasing in population. I’m wary of anti-growth arguments because they’ve been made since Malthus, through to the Greens in the 1970s and even up to today. Imagine if we’d taken that mindset in the 70s – where would we be now? Although, judging by the mini-rant about capitalism midway through, your mind may be made up already!

  4. MarramGrass

    By growth the report is talking of economic growth rather than an increase in population. Most of our problems are related to the economy not being big enough for our size. We are big enough already btw, around the same size as Manchester in terms of the size of the real city and suburbs and the wider metropolitan even if we may be behind that place economically. I agree with you for once entirely about local politics. We have a terrible failure of leadership, apparently focussed only on keeping on the gravy train (and with a system of patronage, as you rightly say, in place to keep it there) but with no vision for where the city should be in the next three, five, 10 years. The council under Joe Anderson paid a lot for this report, waking up finally, unforgivably late, to the threat to Liverpool of being sidelined and bypassed by the country’s new main north-south train line. So it is amusing to see the coded criticism of the council’s leadership in the report (Anderson in the unlikely event he has read the report will not have picked up on it) with the suggestion that a whole new organisation, free of operational control by any council leader, should be set up to guide the city region’s development. The future, possibly very perilous of Liverpool is too important to be left to its current set of politician. They are demonstrably not up to it.

  5. I think you are wrong about population. In order to be the same size as GM, which is Manchester’s hinterland, the LCC would need to add West Lancs, Cheshire West and Warrington. We need a bigger population for several reasons but one is to generate enough income to support our infrastructure.

    I haven’t read the report but the article doesn’t mention Merseyrail and Merseyrail is important it needs expanding out to Preston, Wigan, Skem, Warrington and Wrexham to provide the skeleton which the LCC can grow on and make Liverpool back into the hub it once was.
    providing improved access for a larger population and having a growing population will provide great impetus to the city.

  6. MarramGrass

    Firstly GM is a metro county. It could have been given other (arbitrary) boundaries back in 1974 as in indeed could have Merseyside. And I don’t know why you think that ‘adding’ Warrington, West Lancs and West Cheshire (yes parts of our metropolitan area now and historically not matter who empties their bins) is so outré while Wigan has been placed by Whitehall into Greater Manchester county. Redcliff-Maud for example included Chester into Merseyside and Warrington’s historic Mersey-side economy was in the past more integrated into Merseyside’s economy than Manchester and the cotton districts’. Not that I’m talking about local government boundaries in any case. A metropolitan area can and does around the world cross international borders, not only borough boundaries.

  7. Because when people talk about Manchester they are talking about GM, GM works together, People refer to BBC Manchester when of course it is actually in Salford now.
    I meant to say LCR not LCC.

    The only reason I add Wigan to Merseyrail is that is the local place for the line to go to, and was the original destination intended for the line truncated at Kirkby.
    A Met area stretches only as far as its transport system.

  8. MarramGrass

    I certainly agree with you that tying in the rest of the metro area into the centre of the city using transport connections is important.

  9. I agree about the local politics comment – we can’t trust a Labour council to properly scrutinise a Labour mayor (and I would say the same about the Tories or Liberals if they were relevant). What we need is a scrutiny committee with real teeth, independent of the Mayoral office, which should keep him on his toes. This will be even more important as we move to a regional mayor.

  10. To understand this issue, you need to understand Liverpool and its past in terms of its economic What Liverpool needs to do is not simply grow, but rebuild. To some extent that requires an increase in population, but the majority of the impact required is simply business coming back, and the city growing economically stronger.

    Until 2010, the city was doing this well and was the UK’s fastest growing economy. Since then HS2 came along along, with George Osborne’s Northern Powerhouse, and principally his fixation on Manchester and the ensuing media coverage. This has acted as a signpost for all big city commercial interest, which is what we need to rebuild, to stop looking at Liverpool because the inherent message from the government in Liverpool’s omission from HS2 is that the big economic growth hotspots (the commercial returns) are elsewhere.

    As to why Liverpool should have HS2:

    – As a major city, it should have major city connectivity. Connectivity means being connected, means being able to do business. One train an hour to London taking over two hours (or even two shorter trains in one and a half hours) doesn’t cut it when 35 miles down the road can do it in one hour every 20 minutes.
    – Liverpool has always merited a HS2 connection. I believe there ought to be a thorough inquiry as to how the current plans were allowed to come to pass.
    – When Liverpool superport could actually use spare capacity freed up by HS2 (the only place outside London where this is a genuine issue) it is an affront that the project doesn’t release any for us.
    – And most of all, talking to what I refer to above. Liverpool not having a level competition means continued weakening of its ability to earn. For the government, that means Liverpool continuing to take money out of the economy rather than put it back. For the SevenStreets question, when Liverpool eventually has to pay for the running of hospitals and care homes, that is something which is going to really matter.

    Education and skills are important. But if the city provides little to no opportunity then attainment will always lag because there is no visible point to studying.

    HS2 probably would have provided a massive boost to the city’s growth had it been announced in 2010. Now I expect it would only stop the damage, and have a moderately positive effect on investment. However this is preferable to watching all business and investment head elsewhere.

  11. david_lloyd

    I take your point Mike, but isn’t it also about demand – I get the train to London a fair bit, at peak times, and it’s never full. If the demand for more services were there, do you not think Virgin would provide it? Same for the routes that fail from John Lennon airport – like the Amsterdam one: if we don’t use them, they don’t survive? I guess there’s a certain amount of chicken and egg here, but providers aren’t going to run half empty services are they?

  12. The demand for the Liverpool – London rail service is both suppressed by the limited number of trains, plus because of having just the one train an hour demand is lost to Chester, Warrington and Wigan (where say someone from Wirral may travel from Chester instead of Lime Street). Virgin provide only what the DfT tell them to provide in the minimum franchise specification and, if you think about that, there is little incentive for them to want to push for more because as it is they are servicing passengers for as little outlay as possible. This is versus Manchester’s three trains an hour, which they might possibly cut by one if they had a choice.

    Liverpool’s trains do have more passengers on them per train than Manchester’s (source HS2 demand figures versus current day timetable), which combined with the suppressed demand suggests that there is ample scope for improved services. The HS2 documents cite that with just what we are getting, (2 each of 200 metre trains an hour, 60 metres shorter than today’s trains with fewer seats) Liverpool’s average London train will face an overcrowding situation. If the available demand were not there for these services, then the research carried out by the city region could not have come up with a £10bn benefit from the line.

    You’re right to question the value of HS2, but if it’s going ahead then we need to be on it.

  13. Actually Liverpool has always and still is a net contributor to GDP all the big cities are, it is the smaller places that are a drain, they may have rich people in big houses but the amount of public infrastructure per person for a country dweller is far greater than for a city liver.

  14. The Liverpool City Region is approx 2.2 million.

    Liverpool’s mayor it emphasising that the rail freight out of the port of Liverpool will increase by 300%. A new post-Panamax container ship terminal is to open soon taking in ships with 20,000 containers on board. The new port eco biomass facility has just come on line using rail to feed powers stations, with a view to expand to more power stations. This all needs more rail. Then HMGs move to take freight off the roads onto rail. Then more rail again. Then the turn back to manufacturing after the move to off-shore to China is in hindsight not deemed to be not that wise a move. Then again more port and rail activity. The port of Liverpool is the North of England’s deep water port, the only one on that coast, and very important to the economies of the North of England and even the Midlands. The world’s largest container line, the Maersk Line, have moved their UK head office to Liverpool from London because Liverpool is important.

    Northern Powerhouse Rail stated they want a new line run into Liverpool. The mayor of Liverpool, via ResRepublica, want this west to east HS3 line, built to high-speed standards as per the norm, to branch into the North-South HS2 line to give Liverpool a direct HS2 link – all common sense.

    To ensure take up of HS2, the HS2 station needs excellent, and fast, rail access. Liverpool has a metro, underground in Liverpool and Birkenhead, called Merseyrail – the only other cities to have underground metros are: London, Glasgow and Newcastle. The metro needs parts of it extended further into the City Region and into North Wales, Gtr Manchester and Lancashire. Battery trains are being considered to run off electrified track onto unelectrified track to extend the metro. Central station needs enlarging ASAP as at times it is dangerously overcrowded. The many tunnels under the city can be brought back into use. This gives Liverpool the best access to HS2, if it ever goes to Liverpool, than any other provincial city – by a mile! None of the other cities will have such connectivity.

    The case for connecting Liverpool to release rail capacity for freight alone is overwhelming. Yes, the Liverpool City Region does need a regional mayor to knit it all together.

    Liverpool is only marginally behind Manchester in economy. However Liverpool has large port expansion and large projects such as Liverpool Waters & Wirral Waters and cruise liner expansion which will clearly expand the Liverpool City Region economy.

  15. Liverpool needs to get its infrastructure up to date. It is there but needs updating, rebuilding and expanding. Buses are not the answer when the city has a readily expandable metro. The city laid out over 100 years for a population of over 2 million. The city has a large footprint than Paris. It is easy to expand the city’s population. No city has it all in place like Liverpool.

    The city did not protect freight rail paths into the port, nor protect berths for ships. Filled in branch docks now hold large liquid tanks, coal and the likes, when these could have been located to the east of the Dock Rd by relocating the small businesses there which are now a hindrance and a left over from an era of different cargo handling.

    The reduction of berthing spaces in the large far north docks may in the future hinder the business of the port. Peel Ports will take the easy and cheapest way out each time. This problem lays with the public authorities who need to future proof the essential port by protecting the dock berthing spaces. We don’t know what types of freight will be running through the port in 20 or 30 years time. The country (as is the west) looks like abandoning the over-reliance on the off-shoring of manufacturing to China and start manufacturing up again in the UK. Off-shoring was a purely political move, not natural trade movements. There are current indications that increased levels of manufacturing in Britain are coming about reversing the off-shoring. The berths in the port will then be needed to service British manufacturing industry as they once did. This is a concern not just for Liverpool, but Gtr Manchester and West Yorkshire, which are traditional manufacturing centres. Liverpool is ‘their’ local blue water port, which can keep freight costs down to make them more competitive. HS2/HS3 needs a new line to Liverpool to free up the freight routes out of the port.

    The likes of private money making companies like Peel will come and go. They will take the easy and cheapest way out each time with little view to the future. The port has been there for over 400 years and will not disappear. The public elected bodies have to take the longer term view and act accordingly in preventing the downsizing or restrictions of the port by short term private interests by securing for the future marine and rail transport infrastructure.

  16. The existing lines to Manchester are far from full. To justify high-speed rail they looked at existing passenger figures. They never looked at figures then decide they needed high-speed rail, they decided they needed high-speed rail so searched for ways to justify this waste of money. In their wonderful wisdom they had high-speed rail serve only three cities centre to centre.

    Liverpool and Manchester had one train per hour each to London and both took about the same travel time. Then Manchester had THREE trains per hour and Liverpool still with one. Had Manchester overnight increased in size by three times? Had Manchester become overnight an economic miracle? The answer to both is NO.

    Manchester’s seats per day to London were about 8,5000 and 5,000 were taken up. Seats available increased to over 20,000. Yet Manchester still only uses 5,000 of them. The only train that was and still is overcrowded is the 7 a.m. London to Manchester service. All the rest have well more seats than passengers. 1st class cars are generally empty.

    Meanwhile Liverpool still has the one train per hour. Virgin Trains requested more trains to Liverpool because of overcrowding and were refused with “lack of capacity on the West Coast Main Line (WCML)” as an excuse. The WCML is currently running at 52%. Virgin applied for a train service to Blackpool and were similarly turned down again. There are too many empty Manchester trains on the WCML not passengers. It is NOT running short of capacity right now, well not by passengers. It may when the Port of Liverpool’s expansion is complete and more freight trains use it.

    Many from Liverpool are told by inquiries to get the train to Crewe, have a quick change, and grab the train from Manchester to London. These figures do not show up in Liverpool’s usage. They also tell people to drop into the Merseyrail station beneath Lime St and get the metro to Chester to catch the next London train from there.

    Why was Manchester given far too many train services clogging up the WCML, when it was obvious these trains were running well below capacity and not needed? It can only be a ploy to push though HS2 and to ensure Manchester gets a HS2 station over Liverpool, which when assessing the future of the two cities Liverpool is more deserving with major port and docklands expansion projects.

  17. The £2bn offer is from Liverpool city alone. The whole Liverpool City Region gains if HS2 is run into the city.

    If HMG did not accept Liverpool city’s offer proving unquestionably that the decision to omit the Liverpool City Region from HS2 was purely political. It is no secret that the Tories dislike the city. In 1919 a Royal Navy battleship turned its guns on the north end of the city – Whitehall dislike for the city is not new.

  18. The original Merseyrail plans were to have Wigan and Warrington as terminals. Warrington was supposed to on Merseyrail by 1991. Work was started and stopped.

  19. I think you make good points. Busses obviously aren’t a silver bullet, I agree that the metro can be expanded too, but busses have to be part of the answer. They can be flexible, cheaply and rapidly responding to changes in population patterns/commutes (at least a lot faster than building a new metro station!). They also make sense for shorter journeys when the ticket price of the train would be too high.

  20. “Some of the world’s most livable, lovable cities – Portland, Vancouver, Bergen, friggin Perth – aren’t exactly on a fast line to the first city, but they seem to do awfully well. Why is that? Build it better and they will come, perhaps?”

    Perhaps not. Perth is isolated being the only big city in half a continent. These cites are not a part of cluster of cities 30 to 40 miles from each other. The dynamics are quite different with Liverpool.

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