Alternative to Northern Powerhouse Rail Unveiled, Where Have we Seen that Before?

New Civil Engineer

An alternative Northern rail proposal has been tabled which would link High Speed 2 (HS2) and Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) and include underground stations in major cities such as Leeds and Manchester.

The Trans-Britain Railway plan – put forward by Expedition Engineering and architects Weston Williamson & Partners (WW&P) – emphasises the opportunity to combine the northern section of HS2 (phase 2) and NPR to deliver “real value”.

The scheme proposes a single integrated railway north of Crewe that achieves the objectives of both projects in “a more efficient and affordable manner”.

Expedition Engineering director Alistair Lenczner explained: “We’re totally in agreement with the objective of HS2 and NPR but we think there’s a better way of doing it as a single joined up project.

“We’re imagining that, north of Crewe, the Trans-Britain Railway would bring together all the objectives of HS2 and NPR into one integrated project which is a more cost-effective solution and better value for money.”

Didn’t I post very similar proposals here. Though therenis no premium on originality as I partially based them on the Network North Proposal.

Lets look at the components.

The railway would allow train services to travel from Manchester towards Crewe on HS2 infrastructure and towards Preston on HS2 and Network Rail infrastructure. Initially terminating at Liverpool Lime Street, it would eventually run into a new underground through station in central Liverpool, allowing onward connectivity to Southport.

Great, just as I proposed. They also suggest a stop at Warrington Bank Quay, which I dont think can justify a new underground station as the local authority wants, rather utilise the existing disused line at a small price in speed.

In terms of the current HS2 and NPR proposals, both companies believe a through station at Manchester Piccadilly would be a better option than the currently-proposed terminus station.

This is a concept also reflected in the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC)’s Rail Needs Assessment for the Midlands and North – published in December 2020 – which says that through stations “offer better connectivity, capacity and operational efficiency in city centres than terminus stations”.

Expedition and WW&P have already put forward a proposal for an underground through station at Manchester Piccadilly, and the new Trans-Britain Railway proposal includes plans for a similar underground through station at Leeds.

My proposal is a far cheaper deep cutting rather than underground station perpendicular to the existing Piccadilly Station to avoid the bizarre kink in the route.

At Leeds they propose a parallell through station, exactly as I proposed. Though I proposed an approach on existing disused ines. There design is nice.

The new Leeds station would be integrated alongside the existing Network Rail station, providing services to destinations such as Manchester, Liverpool and Preston in the west, and York, Hull and Newcastle to the North and East. It would also offer up to four high speed trains per hour to London via Manchester.

Its platforms would be constructed underground within a box parallel to the existing platforms of the Network Rail station. The construction of the box would allow high speed trains to pass below the River Aire, accommodated in a new culvert.

The new station could also encourage further development of the waterfront, supporting the broader vision of a sustainable city and making the most of the city’s historic and natural assets.

“You’ve only got one chance to make a first impression,” Lenczner said. “This is a chance for people to arrive in Leeds, come out of the station and the first thing they see is river frontage and the River Aire.”

The only major difference is I suggest a more southerly tunnel for NPR – utilising the Woodhead tunnel. This takes 10 minutes off the journey times to Sheffield, and saving 6 billion on tunneling under Bradford.

How the Towns Fund is Automatically Biased towards Conservative Seats

There was much bro-ha-ha yesterday on the Towns Fund, 40 of 45 recipients of which are conservative seats.and excludes the 4th most deprived area, Hull.

The methodology an index of economic resilience, is supposed to be made public, it hasnt yet.

I think that despite being supposedly ‘objective’ it achieves its results two ways:

  1. If you look at the language of the levelling up strategy it makes a distinction between cities (the hubs of growth) and towns (around them forgotten places), so it will automatically exclude many labor seats in cities. Why not also a cities fund, of high growth cities is the priority?
  2. It has a number of metrics, including inaccessibility. Indices of economic resilience are all of the rage at the moment as a means of determining the resilience of a place to responding to economic shocks (such as a major industrial closure or a recession). Like any composited index there is nothing objective about them. If you weight inaccessibility high enough you will automatically bias towards rural, well off conservative seats.

The noises yesterday were that it was objective, Jenryk did not produce a list, rather maps were produced for minister to comment on. So I suggest this is what happened. Ministers looked at the map on inaccessibility and said give this greatest weight. Of course had civil servants been doing their job they would had done a statistical test on spatial correlation and found it biased towards seats of one party, and so unlawful in the same way lady Porters ‘priority areas’ policy was found to be unlawful – pure pork barrel politics designed to fix elections and not fix problems. In fact had they done statistical tests they would have found the distribution negatively correlated with deprivation.

The senior civil service would have missed this as:

  1. They wouldn’t know what a spatial statistical test was if it slapped them in the face
  2. Having been bullied into timidity by Cummings they dare not raise any objections
  3. Hence they have become party political patsies not independent defenders of the law.

‘Globally Competitive Cities’ The Buzzword of the Budget and What it Means for the Levelling Up Agenda

Precisely what the objective and means of regional policy has not always been clear. European regional policy has always considered equity as its goal. The Treasury in an orthodoxy that only changed around 4 years ago saw its role as to encourage growth in high growth areas and then use transfer payments to make improvements to the rest of the country. It did not see its jobs as to redistribute growth, that was seen as a failed approach of the 1960s (office development and all of that) or for a very long time to boost productivity in low growth areas. The has gradually been changing with increasing concern over the ‘productivity puzzle’ of the UKs low productivity and particularly after Brexit which is widely seen on all sides as a revolt of the places left behind or as Andrés Rodríguez-Pose of the LSE put it the revenge of the places that dont matter.

Now they do matter.

the UK government’s most important mission is to unite and level up the country, improving everyday life
for communities throughout the UK and ensuring everyone can succeed regardless of where they live

Build Back Better our Plan for Growth

Though there has been a lot of talk of levelling up there has been until yesterday previous lttle written down and a lack of clarity whether the rationale was equity, productivity or both.

Now it is clearer and the geographic rationale is at least forming. The prime Ministers introduction to Build Back Better

We will level up our country, so the map of our whole United Kingdom is lit up with competitive cities and vibrant towns that are centres of life – places people are proud to call home, with access to the services and the jobs they need
to thrive.

Cities feature several time in particular:

We will tackle geographic disparities in key services and outcomes, like health, education, and jobs; we will support struggling towns so they see social, economic and cultural regeneration; we want every region and nation of the UK to have at least one globally competitive city, acting as hotbeds of innovation and hubs of high value activity;

Lets break this down. The problem – spatial inequities – the solution globally competitive cities acting as hubs for growth.

Then down a tier it mentions towns

Our towns are crucial too – we will ensure that they are places that people are proud to live and raise their families, with
good schools, vibrant high streets, and access to jobs that give everyone a fair chance to achieve their full potential.

There are several references to ‘regnerating struggling towns’

More specifically

We will focus on boosting regional productivity where it is lagging to improve job opportunities and wages.
Our city regions are critical for driving economic growth and long-term prosperity. We want
to achieve dynamic regional economies with high-value centres of excellence. The success of
these are vital to the success of the wider region, including increasing the opportunities available
for the towns and communities surrounding these cities.

Some communities and towns are struggling, from ex-industrial areas to coastal communities. By improving access to services
and the outcomes that matter most for lifechances, they will see social, economic and cultural regeneration.

invest in towns across the UK, connecting people and places to high quality jobs,

Successive governments have sought to address long-standing regional disparities. We will back cities as engines of the UK economy, focusing government action on addressing the barriers to growth. We will build strong, enduring partnerships with local institutions, such as universities, businesses and city leaders to deliver our shared vision of globally competitive regional cities, pulling up prosperity in the wider region.
To achieve this vision, our core cities like Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow must become well-connected, innovative hubs of
high-value activity. Government intervention can break down the barriers to this, ensuring strong local and regional transport links,
planning policies fit for the future, excellent universities, and a business environment that supports dynamism and inward investment

This at least is the outline of a plan. The solutions seem to fall under heading of investment in infrastructure, core pubic services and skills.

Lets look at why cities power economies.

First there are economies of urban agglomeration – from cities are larger, concentration of labour markets etc.

Second there are economies of industrial agglomeration – classic marshallian distructs, productivity benefits from similar firms being clustered together. These can be achieved in much smaller cities such as Cambridge.

So what regions and nations dont have ‘Globally competitive cities’, it hints that Leeds is but that Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow are not, clearly Edinburgh is’ . From tables for GDP per head compared to the national average you can get a good idea. But it is crude. Norwich has above the national average but is a sluggard in terms of innovation and connectivity, overly reliant on the public sector. Cities like Newcastle and Liverpool have finally reversed from losing population, but still lag behind. Liverpool however is an engine of small business growth, and on that score Coventry leads the country.

Overall though we primarily have a towns problem rather than a cities problem, with strings of towns around core cities which perform poorly. To best to lift up these towns is the purpose of the new NIC commission, which seems to foreshadow some for of city regional planning as the way ahead. Of course these towns also exist in the South East – particularly to the east of London.

New NIC Report – First Step towards a National Plan and Return of Regional Planning?

Terms of Reference Published with the Budget yesterday

In the National Infrastructure Strategy the government set out a high level of ambition in using infrastructure to support levelling up and regeneration.

To support the government’s work in this area, the National Infrastructure Commission will conduct a study on how to maximise the benefits of infrastructure policy and investment for towns.

This study will focus attention on places outside city centres specifically towns and suburban centres. It will:

  • Undertake analysis to provide an evidence base on the potential economic and quality of life benefits of infrastructure interventions in towns with different characteristics. Relevant characteristics would include not just those of a town itself (e.g. skills and industrial mix) but also its wider context (e.g. strength of links to surrounding towns and cities). It will also test whether there is a category of places that might benefit from more intensive improvements (e.g. because infrastructure is more obviously the key constraint), or an even spread approach getting the basics right everywhere that gives better results.
  • Explore the impact of COVID-19 on towns, testing where and how local infrastructure policy needs to be shifted to deal with identifiable post-pandemic changes in behaviour; where uncertainty on behaviour persists, it will assess the most sensible approach to local infrastructure policy under uncertainty.
  • Explore local delivery and capability, including how to ensure that regionally-significant but locally-owned projects can be co-ordinated across a wider area, and that local infrastructure strategies are joined up with planning, housing, skills and industrial strategy. This will include looking at what role the new infrastructure bank for the UK could play. Changes to local government structure and authority boundaries are out of the scope of this study.

The study should focus on transport and digital infrastructure in particular.

The study should focus on towns in England. However, the Commission should ensure that any recommendations in reserved areas (digital and the UK Infrastructure Bank) are applicable across the whole of the UK.

The NIC should deliver a final report to government by the end of September 2021, setting out recommendations to government.

All recommendations should be consistent with the Commission’s fiscal and economic remits.

What the Budget says about the Arc – Four Development Corporations

Previous chancellors had long sections about planning reform in theoir speechs about planning reforms, or in the red book, or budget accompanying documents on the Arc. Not so this chancellor, but if you look in the new National Building Back Better Strategy (the levelling up and recovery strategy) you will find it.

You wont find here a clear economic rationale for ‘levelling up’ (regional policy) is it equity (which wss European regional policy priority) or unlocking unrealised productivity growth – it appears to be a bit of both.

Levelling Up: the UK government’s most important mission is to unite and level up the country, improving everyday life
for communities throughout the UK and ensuring everyone can succeed regardless of where they live. We will tackle
geographic disparities in key services and outcomes, like health, education, and jobs; we will support struggling towns so
they see social, economic and cultural regeneration; we want every region and nation of the UK to have at least one
globally competitive city
, acting as hotbeds of innovation and hubs of high value activity; and we will ensure that this plan
builds on the strengths of the Union.

The Oxford-Cambridge Arc, where a Spatial Framework, developed with community engagement at its core, will
set the long-term, holistic strategy for infrastructure investment to support jobs, unlock clean growth, and achieve net zero
alongside environmental sustainability; cultivating the Arc’s potential to become a global innovation powerhouse. Earlier this
year the government confirmed funding for the next stage of East West Rail, which will connect communities and
create jobs. We are also exploring up to four development corporations along its route which can help deliver sustainable,
beautiful places to live and work for existing and future communities.

The four development corporations line was edited out of the budget speech two years ago. It was leaked in advance and never appeared. This doesn’t imply necessarily four new cities as a development corporation could cover four ARC counties along the EW rail route (Northants loses out again).

Well what is the economic rationale for the Arc, well Oxford Cambridge and MK are three globally competitive cities and should further act as ‘hotbeds of economic activity’ outside London.

Northamptonshire Arc Options

I’m continuing the series of looking at Strategic arc options county by county.

Northamptonshire from April will be split/merged into two unitarizes. West and North. Delayed by a year due to Covid. This has delayed production of local plan consultation.

North Northants is a success story in strategic planning, with a joint strategic plan and up to date local plans. The priority here is to implement the sites it has allocated. It surprises me that North Northants has allocated sites which require infrastructure to deliver but seems bottom of the pecking order for funding to deliver them. There are further potential sites but the priority in North Northants should be to deliver the current plan growth, major new strategic growth opportunities lie in West Northants.

West Northants has been a mess. It was the poor planning and worse local government management that led to the setting up of the West Northants Development Corporation. Which found it had no powers to expand the town (it was a new town in a phase of growth in the late 60s – 80s), rather a joint planning unit was set up, and abolished the moment the plan was adopted. After which the first urban extension application that came forward was refused. The WNJPU website still exists though as there is nowhere else to documents until the new unitary is established.

Planning is still a mess here. It is like stepping back to the 1970s working here. It has not enjoyed the massive funding on studies and masterplanning that say MK or Cambridge has. There was one allocated site owned by the county that was offered to a housebuilder – near the M1. The noise consultant I employed calculated half the site was undevelopable (less 150 houses) if windows were assumed open, so I pleaded that this be assumed. The officers said no as councilors would insist the people would leave the windows open all day. They didn’t even understand what mechanical ventilation and non opening windows were (as you find in half the schemes in the east end). Hence 150 easy houses were lost and a massive receipt to the council.

Anyway back to options. Northampton is a fast growing town economically with strong small businesses. It isn’t particularly innovative, there is a motorsports cluster around Brackley but Northampton is mostly known for mundane manufacture and increasingly logistics. The case here is unlocking normal growth, rather than unleashing the tiger as in Oxford, MK and Cambridge.

Northampton was proposed for major growth in the South East Plan , but fought it off . So culturally growth is difficult, which wasnt helped by its old underbounded borders (now about to go). The obvious and best sites are the the core strategy, however longer term it was assumed that either growth would mimic the new Town to the West but South of the Ouse (outside an SPA protection area), Towards Preston Deanery, or to the South of the town and the M1 around Milton Mansor. There was, ike MK, resistance to leaping the M1, which is now somewhat moot with two strategic rail interchanges proposed around Milton Mansor and the West Coast Main line.

The other major shift in circumstances is the spare capacity on the West Coast Main Line (WCML) opened up by HS2. There might even be the potential to reopen stations shut since the 1960s, like Roade, or further south towards MK at Castelford where you can see fossils of four lost platforms as the trains come through.

Lets take a clockface look at the options. The western limit of the Town is set by a new relief road. I wouldn’t suggest going beyond it, you get into sensitive countryside around the Althorpe estate. To the North of the Town a nrothern relief road is proposed, which is needed as their is massive needless traffic from the M1 to North Northamptonshire passing through the town. The final route is not quite yet finalised, but its getting there. This will allow some rounding off of the rounded northern edges of the town.

To the South East of the town there is major potential for growth is a sustainable transport corridor, away from the Great Ouse spa and potentially along the corridor of the former Northampton/Bedford Railway – which would be best purposed as BRT or tram/train, linking all the way into Northampton and Bedford va Olney. This could facilitate new settlement scale growth both to the West of Beford and Sout East of Northampton and growth at Olney, which being equidistant between Bedford, MK and Northampton has some of the most surprisingly good bus services in the Arc. The corridor would also help facilitate growth of some major brownfield sites in Northampton it passes through and by.

A major issue is whether strategic development should leapfrog the M1. One of the DCOs for SRFI proposes a bypass around Roade which would allow for major growth. Allied to a new station this might make sense.

A local plan issues paper released to local partners, like the LEP, but not yet the public was not locationally specific – with one exception. It talked of growth along a reopened Northampton-Market Harborough rail line. There really are only two candidates for major development along it, at Brixworth, and at Kelmarsh where the A508 and A14 cross. This area is free of major constrainst and a lot of the land is in one ownership – you really could go big here, there is space for a major new town.

As for Daventry and Towcester, I dont think there is much potential for more major growth.

Weedon Bec could see growth around a restored station (on the main branch of the West Coast main line) with major regneration as mixed use of the old ordnance depot.

Similarly there is potential for growth of Long Buckby south of its station.

Daventry and Towcester receive growth in current plans and I wouldn’t propose much more growth. In the South of the County its very much small villages, I would only suggest growth on a strategic scale at three locations (other than that in the far south next to MK) , around Kings Sutton and more speculatively near Woodmancote, the latter only making sense if you restored rail services on the Greate Central Railway and developed a string of new and expanded settlements along it, from Calvert, Brackley (in Northants) and Woodford Halse.

This would require 4 tracking of the HS2 section (and viaduct at Brackley) where HS2 takes the GCML row.

Darlington oh Darlington

Apoligies to Jimmy Webb

Darlington, oh Darlington
I still hear your Tees winds blowing
I still see Rishis dark eyes glowing
In May he’s 41
When I moved to Darlington

Darlington, oh Darlington
I still smell the Parmo Melting
While I watch the Quakers losing
I clean my toilet seat for fun
And dream of Darlington

I still see her standing by Wilkos
Standing there looking out Skerne
And is she waiting there for me?
Across to B&M we used to run

Darlington, oh Darlington
I am so afraid of moving
I see the civil servants crying
Before I watch my colleagues flying away from the sun
To Darlington, oh Darlington

A Fallacy of Settlement Size and Viability

I have seen it pronounced on twitter that new settlements are unviable, because if you load on needed infrastructure from settlements over 2,000, things like schools etc. they head into the red.

This is a fallacy. People generate need for infrastructure not houses. There will be a need for infrastructure where people are living now, and wherever they live. Those costs will be much higher in a dispersed development scenario.

The second problem is that you need to reduce land values according to the infrastructure cost. You cant compare an alternative use value in a no scheme world without those costs.

Yes it is niave because if you think about it it cant be true. The theory of optimum settlement size suggests cities grow until the point where marginal costs of infrastructure exceed marginal revenues from economic growth – what is known as the Henry George Theorum point. Global evidence suggest there are INCREASING RETURNS TO SCALE (Krugman won a Nobel prize for this) , as long as you invest in infrastructure. Only if you don’t and cities grow to many millions do you reach a point where further growth is uneconomic, like Beijing for example. We don’t see town freezing in growth at 2,000 do we, indeed the minimum size needed for rapid transit (100,000 or so) suggest increasing returns to and well beyond the 100,000 point. Remember it is the growth from increasing returns from rapid urbanisation that have dragged millions from poverty and will fund the transition to zero crbon. We dont all live in villages disconnected from the urban economy any more. City grwoth, in land value is captured, pays for itself – and some. .

You can’t assess the Sustainability of Tall Buildings on a per building basis

A lot of nonsnse on twitter about the sustinability of tall buildings, following this article in the Guardian by Rowan Moore

The engineer Tim Snelson, of the design consultancy Arup, has just blown a hole in any claim they might have had to be environmentally sustainable. Writing in this month’s issue of the architecture magazine Domus, he points out that a typical skyscraper will have at least double the carbon footprint of a 10-storey building of the same floor area.

He is talking about the resources that go into building it, what is called its “embodied” energy. Tall buildings are more structurally demanding than lower ones – it takes a lot of effort, for example, to stop them swaying – and so require more steel and concrete. 

Snelson is correct but that is not the way to solely assess energy use, because people working in a tall building have o travel to work, as do people living in them.

If you build a two storey building one apartment each floor that is one less one storey house elsewhere you have to build. The sustainability case for tall buildings is that they enable compact central city places of work or housing with high cpacity mass rapid transit serving them. The more of them you build the smaller and more compact the city can become and the less car dependent sprawl you have to build. Also it takes up less space which also has an opportunity cost. Consider if Canary Wharf was built at two storeys. It would take up the whole of the Isle of dogs and take up the space of what is now planned as 50,000 houses. Image those 50,000 houses werent planned, you would need another Harlow somewhere in the South East of England.

Optimum Size of New Settlements in The Arc – Some History

When Ebenezor Howard was writing Garden Cities of Tommorrow he thought about their ideal size. He took as a model a reasonably well functioning small English Town, with its own school, hospital etc, and decided on Hitchin. Which had a population of around 20,000 in 1900, and around 35,000 now (declining then like most market towns, till commuter growth to London took off in the 1930s). Howard assumed a maximum population of around 32,000 for a Garden City so may have assumed continued growth at Htchin.

One thing I discovered was that Howard’s assumptions were based on the high household size of the time, and even at the relatively high densities he assumed in his book (as opposed to the lower ones designed by Unwin) it was not possible to fit five walkable schools into the catchment of a single secondary school or station, with modern family sizes) unless you increased the density to over 100 DPH, or had a polycentric form.

The Abercrombie Plan had a number of quite small new towns. For example Beconsfield only had a population today of 12,000. Some of the new Towns such as Stevenage were enlarged several times from their original design size.

By the mid 1960s lessons were being learned from the first generation of New Towns. The most successful were the lragest ones with the best transport connections. The Treasury pressed for the third generation of new towns – Milton Keynes and Telford – to be much larger, new cities of around 1/4 million design size, not just new towns.

I think the Treasury at the time were influenced by the first modern thinking in regional science emanating out of France. Growth pole theory suggested you would get higher economic growth from urban economies of scale from larger settlements. This has been borne out by history as for many years MK has been Britain’s fastest growing town.

Apparently Homes England have signaled they wish to see larger Garden Communities – of around 10,000. For the Arc they have said at conferences they are looking at 50,000 minimum. 10,000 is an arbitrary number. You need to think in terms of units a settlement around multiples of a primary school then secondary school. For a typical five feeder school secondary and typical pupil yields that equates to around units of 12,800 population.

Then you have the problem that Oxford and Cambridge are structurally very difficult cities to expand, with many benefits from quality of life, access to open space, walkability and cyclability owing to their compact nature. Once the current local plan round of growth is over there will be only limited opportunities to grow on either cities edge. There certainly is not a case to grow from there currently populations (around 150,000) to MK size (250,000), on the other hand you could grow MK to 1/2 a million (if you include adjoining areas in Bucks and Beds) and that is the ambition. Though not necessarily with the support of Central Beds or Bucks.

So even this crude calculation suggests a crude broad ‘landing zone’ for new settlement design size in the Arc. Grow MK by an MK, and to protect the compact form of Cambridge and Oxford, grow another Oxford and another Cambridge nearby – within short transit distance. That makes up around half of the 1.5million needed. The rest going on growth in Northamptonshire and the rest of Bedfordshire, as well as growth around smaller settlements across ll four counties.

This is managable and avoids the much worse alternative of scattered shotgun like pot shots at every village you see in call for sites.

This is not ‘concreting over the countryside’ it is its very opposite as a conventional local plan driven approach would produce. If you argue against that you are arguing Oxford or Cambridge should never have been built. Each takes up only a tiny front print of the huge arc area and the alternative would be massive sprawl. The new towns like old Oxford and Cambridge would demand their own Green Belts to ensure they dont sprawl beyond their optimum design size. Nor would they be huge estates of car orientated development, as we see for example in Northampton. International nest practice suggests a string of pearls approach based around transit orientated development (15 minute neighbourhoods) feeding into a dense urban core – much like Fred Pooleys original – but never built, plan for MK.