All roads lead to London

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Last week I listened with interest to a discussion about the infrastructure spending per capita which was also repeated in some of the press. Not surprisingly, the one side was arguing that the huge disparity between the spend in London compared with the rest of the country was unreasonable and was a factor in increasing the economic success between our capital and elsewhere in the country. The counter argument was that the spending in the capital created work elsewhere in the country because of the creation of work further up the supply chain.

Although some of the extra spending in London can be attributed to Crossrail and historically the Olympics and the regeneration following the Olympics, we are told there is about a twenty fold differential between the capital and outside.

The argument/discussion continued with the conversation moving on to transport infrastructure spend and in particular the spend on railways and road networks and highlighting how this expenditure was benefiting those outside the capital. It was at this point I starting considering the validity of these arguments. I travel around the country a good deal on business and always prefer if possible and practical to go by train - not helpful as because of the Beeching cuts in the 1960s my nearest station is 15 miles away. However, travelling by train you start to understand the issue of how expenditure might have been and is being directed. I am ignoring expenditure on rolling stock but looking at line routing and improvement. In January David Cameron was extolling the expenditure on the East Coast line which indeed has been a huge success. The success of this route highlighted to me shortly before Christmas when I was pleased I had prebooked as all seats on the train were reserved.

There is however a but….. if I want to travel to a destination on that East Coast line whilst I can travel, sometimes, direct from one of my local stations, Oxford, it is much better for me to travel into London, across to Kings Cross station and travel from there. I sit on a number of boards representing national organisations and whilst we try to meet around the country we always find that attendance is better if we meet in London.

The same goes for our road network - yes I can drive across the country from Oxford to Cambridge on the shorter route, but it is generally easier and quicker to use the Motorway network around the M25.

The argument made is that spending money on infrastructure to improve access from London to other parts of the country will encourage London's money and buying power to go out to those areas. The counter is that it makes it easier for those elsewhere in the Country to get to London, and for those in London to travel out to the outer reaches in confidence that they can get back quickly to their city refuges without the need to stay over sullying themselves and possibly spending some of their city money in the provinces.

As literature tells us all roads lead to London and there the roads are paved with gold.

Jonathan Russell




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