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Northern Poorhouse

This photo was taken overlooking Matlock station, which is currently the most northern section of the former Derby to Manchester line that was axed by Beeching in the 1960s.

It was shameful at the time that the ertswhile transport expert ordered so many viable intercity and commuter lines to be closed, but when the then transport minister (Beeching’s boss) was the director of a road building company I am often reminded of the phrase: fox in charge of the chicken coup. I don’t think the analogy needs further explanation.

Suffice to say that as a result of Beeching’s ‘modernisation programme’ that ne left many part of the country entirely dependent on road transport.

In the Peak District National Park, where I live, parts of the former intercity line have been turned into a car-free trail for walkers, cyclusts and riders, the majority of whom arrive by car.

The ultimate irony is that at a time when people are being encouraged to travel less by car, but has the opposite effect as more people use their cars so that they enjoy a car-free day on a trail that goes to and from nowhere.

It is doubly ironic that this region’s transport infrastructure remains so dependent on roads, especially when the government is still largely behind the concept of the Northern Powerhouse (an idea popularised by George Osborne where the major cities of the north, including Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield, work together as a homogeneous economic entity), whose economic future is dependent on good transport links.

If you live in any of these cities there is a reasonable chance that you can use the train, but for anyone living within the Peak Park wishing to get to London or Manchester by train, they have to drive to Hathersage, Matlock, Chesterfield or Sheffield. Even if people want to get the train to Derby it is generally much more convenient to take the car.

London, by contrast, which is still one of the best cities in the UK that has a joined-up rail network, has cost the taxpayer over £15bn alone for Crossrail and it will be at least another £30bn for Crossrail 2.

In our region the local council spend £1m on a feasibility report that considered the re-opening of the 14-mile section of track between Matlock and Buxton. The conclusion was that there were no major obstacles to opening the line and the cost would have been around £100m to do so. Even if we doubled the costs to £200m, it is still a drop in the ocean compared to what London spends on trail transport and it is almost insignificant compared to the projected costs of HS2 (which will be at least £60bn at today’s prices).

I have no problem with our capital city offering a transport system that is fit for the 21st century, but I object to the treatment of the provinces, whose transport system would be embarrassing even by 19th century standards.





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