The North-South divide has existed for almost as long England has been a nation, with it speculated to have originated from William the Conqueror’s sacking of the North. The divide deepened post-war with the industrial North suffering most from the decline in heavy industries and domestic tourism. It’s no coincidence that the two towns with the highest proportions of deprived neighbourhoods in the country, Blackpool and Barrow, were heavily reliant upon these industries.
Whilst regeneration projects and the proposed HS2 rail link have helped make Manchester one of Europe’s fastest growing cities and led to substantial property development in Leeds and Liverpool it has done little to help other Northern towns robbed of the industries upon which their economies were built, with 18 of the 20 most deprived districts in the country being in or North of Birmingham.[pullquote]Only major investment can bridge the divide[/pullquote]
Despite government promises of extra funding for the North, London still takes a lion’s share. The capital receives 2.5 times more infrastructure spending per person than the North and hospitals receive more money per person, despite life expectancy in areas of the North being 8 years younger than in parts of London and Northerners being 20% more likely to suffer premature death than Southerners, partly due to suicide disproportionately affecting those in poverty.
A recent report has suggested that the house price divide between the North and South will narrow over the next 5 years, with prices in the North expected to rise by 20%. Whilst this may ostensibly benefit Northerners as the value of their properties increases, it may be problematic for many. 8 of the 10 English cities with the lowest employment rates are in the North, whilst in none of the Northern regions does the average person earn over the national average wage, the price increase may therefore simply make it even harder for people to buy their first home. Locals in the Lake District have complained of second-home buyers pricing them out of owning a home where they grew up and this could become more widespread as prices rise across the North.
Despite government promises little has been done to help areas of the North that have been suffering due to the decline of vital industries for decades. Only major investment can bridge the divide, with it essential that this funding is seen across the North, not just in relatively well-off regional hubs like Manchester and Leeds.
When the annual train timetable changes were released in May, I have to say I felt a deep sense of relief. Despite the chaos and confusion that reigned across the North for months after, I was one of the few beneficiaries of the new timetable. All this was down to one simple change: Northern Rail were only operating one train an hour from my local station. The rest of the trains would be run by the undeniably better TransPennine Express.
To say that TransPennine Express is better than anything is a bold statement, especially considering the amount of time I’ve spent watching the train that I was meant to board pull out of the station, people packed like sardines into the metal tube. But when the other option is commonly nicknamed ‘Northern Fail’, Northern commuters find themselves between a rock and a hard place.
What has my slightly incoherent ranting about train travel got to do with a North-South divide, I hear you ask? Well, a recent study into the socio-economic divisions of Britain’s geography found that fatal traffic accidents are far more common in the North. Researchers have given a possible reason for this: the fact that transport infrastructure in the north is incredibly poor. The majority of transport infrastructure is invested in the south, especially in London. An IPPR study found that, since 2008, an average of £708 per person was spent on transport in London. In the north, however, this figure fell to just £289 per head. If the north had the same amount of money ploughed into transport as London, then an extra £63bn would have been invested over the ten years. This consistent and major funding problem could have solved a lot of the north’s problems.[pullquote]I could rant on for hours about how the North-South divide is damaging for everyone[/pullquote]
If the government were to suddenly commit to providing the north with long-term funding in order to better its infrastructure, then road traffic accidents would inevitably decrease. Better paved roads, as well as investment in traffic lights, pedestrian crossings, and speed-bumps would all contribute to safer roads in the north. Adding to this, increased funding in public transport, such as trains and buses, would surely also reduce road fatalities. If trains run on time and are clean and quiet, people are more inclined to commute to work, rather than drive. Continued investment across all transport mediums would inadvertently improve transport conditions across the board. In other words, less people would die.
Transport is not the only issue the north faces. If I had the time, I could rant on for hours about how the North-South divide is damaging for everyone, northerners and southerners.
Instead. I’ll try end on a more positive tone. The north is not a cultural and economic backwater. It is a diverse and incredible region, bursting with bright cities, bright people, and bright attitudes. All too often northerners are portrayed as thick, the butt of many jokes. Yet this is not the case. People in the north have had less opportunities than their southern counterparts. This is still the case. More lobbying for funding for the north is needed. Until that happens, however, I know that myself, my northern pals and my northern family will continue to see the north for what it really is: a reyt good place filled with reyt good people. And ask any northerner - they’ll be chuffed to be northern.