At a meeting at the Yorkshire Show earlier this month, the HS2 project was apparently given the big thumbs down. Perhaps Dales farmers have more pressing things on their minds, but it does illustrate that this £40bn project is dividing opinion across the North.


The report on opinion across the Pennines was given at the annual get together of the North West CBI and MPs where Dave Watts, the St Helens North MP pointed to the escalating costs and said the project was “masquerading as a northern scheme”. This reflects fears that the huge investment in one project could be used as an excuse not to fund other infrastructure schemes across the North.


But Blackpool Tory Paul Maynard is a fan. He told the assembled business people that cities linked by high speed rail had prospered. Although a supporter he said reduced journey time was not the key reason he was backing HS2. It would increase capacity on the West Coast Main Line (WCML) something he was particularly in favour of. Maynard said his campaign to get a direct train service from Blackpool to London was currently being blocked because of lack of capacity on the WCML south of Rugby.


Maynard also criticised the tone of the High Speed rail Campaign who have recently launched a “your jobs or their lawns” attack on wealthy objectors to the line in the Chilterns. The Tory MP preferred positive campaigning for further transport investment in the North. Now that we’ve got the Northern Hub rail improvement scheme based on Manchester, we should be thinking what the next project should be. Maynard pointed out that this was the way Boris Johnston approached things. The Mayor of London was already demanding Crossrail 2.


Other contributors to the discussion included Alan Rigby, Head of Corporate Banking at HSBC. He felt the two hour journey was just about right for people with work to do on laptops while Len Collinson believed that technology would reduce the need for people to physically meet.



This topic is being debated everywhere and our gathering held at the magnificent and expanding Chester Zoo, was no exception. Andrew Miller is the MP for Ellesmere Port. His Commons Science committee is about to publish a report entitled “Bridging the valley of death”. It conjures up the nightmare for many SMEs in their search for funding. Miller will be calling for better links between the entrepreneur, funders and universities.


Paul Maynard came to the defence of bankers saying they had to apply different criteria in the post 2008 world. They were being ordered to lend and build up their reserves at the same time.


Alan Rigby of HSBC said the problem sometimes lay with SMEs. Their bids could lack knowledge of their real needs. Banks are not always the answer. Equity options were often better.




Downtown’s recent discussion on how the North should be governed was taken up at the Chester meeting. Dave Watts once again condemned the abolition of Yorkshire Forward and the North West Development Agency. He hinted that Labour might restore them but I had to point out that senior shadow ministers had already said they would live with the patchwork of Local Enterprise Partnerships.


However there seems to be all party support emerging for some overarching northern council to tackle issues like transport, the economy and skills. Conservative Paul Maynard favoured this approach.


On the economy in general there was a feeling at the meeting that the corner is being turned which possibly explains the resurgence in Tory morale at Westminster recently. Ed Miliband will need to get his row with the unions over quickly to try and re-establish his opinion poll lead which has evaporated.