Rod Liddle

The slow creep of the suburban south-east

The slow creep of the suburban south-east
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There’s a lot to commend in the Lord Adonis proposal for a high speed rail link between London and Birmingham. Trains, it is said, will cover the distance in 49 minutes, at speeds of up to 225mph. The opposition cavils that Labour would be better off spending money improving existing, dilapidated, commuter line seem to me wide of the point; the railways have needed a co-ordinated, high profile government directed initiative to capture the imagination of the public and revitalize the network. You might argue we have needed a co-ordinated high profile government initiative since about 1835; railways have ever been starved of planning and cash.

But what, exactly, will it do, demographically? My suspicion is that the line will not remotely redress the north-south imbalance; instead it will amount to the further expansion of the south east, which as a political entity now well exceeds its geographical definition. Vast swathes of attractive rural Warwickshire will now become easily, if expensively, commutable from London; this will suit those now living in the south east and looking for an agreeable bolt-hole, rather more than it will suit those in the midlands, where the wages are lower. It will have a similar effect to that occasioned by the improvements to the Great Western route from Paddington to Bristol, Cardiff and Devon; Wiltshire has become a mildly rustic suburb of London, populated by émigrés – like myself – from the south east. The 55 minutes it takes to reach London from 80 miles distant is attractive to those seeking to resettle from London, but the price of £108 return precludes it as an option for those already living there. A similar suburbanization will, I reckon, occur in the pretty Kent villages near Ashford, if it has not already done so.

In other words, the whole shebang will be of far greater benefit to the south east rather than to those areas serviced by the train.

And, as usual, the north-east has been ignored; the subsidiary proposals to link Birmingham with Leeds and Edinburgh on existing routes seem to me little more than a sop and of scant benefit.