Boris goes full steam ahead

Scottish Daily Mail - - City & Finance - Mag­gie Pagano

HERE at last comes an elec­tion pledge that will change peo­ple’s lives for the good, and in parts of the coun­try where it mat­ters most.

Or in the word of the mo­ment, it’s a pol­icy that is em­i­nently ‘re­lat­able’.

This is Boris John­son’s pledge to in­vest £500m to re-open many of the rail­way lines which were axed in the dis­as­trous Dr Beech­ing clo­sures of the 1960s.

The Prime Min­is­ter’s prom­ise to set up a Beech­ing Re­ver­sal Fund is aimed at re­con­nect­ing branch lines to towns which have been cut off from the rail net­work, par­tic­u­larly in the North of Eng­land and the Mid­lands, ar­eas which were dec­i­mated by the Beech­ing cuts.

It is an inspired move and one, which in John­son’s words, could have a sig­nif­i­cant im­pact on those ‘left be­hind’ in the ne­glected com­mu­ni­ties where wealth and health in­equal­i­ties are at their great­est.

Towns such as Ash­ing­ton, Seaton Delaval and Blyth in Northum­ber­land have been ear­marked for a chunky £99m to re­in­state old lines and build new sta­tions while Wil­len­hall and Dar­las­ton in the West Mid­lands are to re­ceive new funds.

Andy Street, Mayor of the West Mid­lands, has been ahead of the game for some time, hav­ing al­ready opened up old lines but has more to do.

Funds will also go to con­nect Skelmers­dale to Liver­pool and Manch­ester and a dis­used line is to be re­built be­tween Thorn­ton-Cleve­leys, near Black­pool, and Fleetwood.

These may be lit­tle moves but should have a big im­pact. It’s what will make the North­ern Pow­er­house a re­al­ity rather than a fancy West­min­ster con­cept. Re­build­ing rail links be­tween lo­cal towns will help peo­ple re­duce their travel time to work, mak­ing it more at­trac­tive for work­ers to stay liv­ing lo­cally rather than mov­ing into big­ger cities. It also gets cars off the road, im­proves pro­duc­tiv­ity and re­duces stress lev­els. What’s not to like?

Whether the Beech­ing fund will be enough to meet de­mand is an­other mat­ter. But at least this move gets the ball rolling, and may even put a rocket un­der lo­cal coun­cils to raise their own funds – to­gether with the pri­vate sec­tor – to build more lo­cal rail.

Rail re­mains the best and most en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly method of travel. Since pri­vati­sa­tion, rail has roared into a new golden age although there are of course exceptions such as South­ern Rail.

Over the last decade, pas­sen­ger num­bers have risen by more than 60pc with more than 1.6bn jour­neys a year, growth wellabove the EU av­er­age.

Yet there is room to im­prove. If the Con­ser­va­tives are re­turned to power, they must move quickly to over­haul the cur­rent fran­chis­ing model, a re­form which was promised in the latest Queens’ Speech.

They need to stop al­low­ing Labour to make the case for rail na­tion­al­i­sa­tion, and show why it’s full steam ahead. Boris as the Fat Con­troller is a good start.

High Street good­ies

ALONG with John­son’s rail fund, came an­other bag of good­ies to sweeten trad­ing on the High Street. It’s not a bad pick ’n’ mix: dis­counts on busi­ness rates for those with rate­able val­ues less than £51,000 and a new re­lief for pubs. There is also a sweet­ener to help peo­ple take over pubs and post of­fices.

While well-in­ten­tioned, these mea­sures are not go­ing to make a jot of dif­fer­ence to our hol­lowed out town cen­tres.

As the Daily Mail’s Save the High Street cam­paign has high­lighted, it’s like putting stick­ing plas­ter on an open wound.

The trou­ble is the wound is fes­ter­ing and needs se­ri­ous surgery, not tin­ker­ing with semi-sub­si­dies.

Our busi­ness rates sys­tem is bro­ken, no longer fit for pur­pose as the com­pe­ti­tion be­tween on­line re­tail­ing and phys­i­cal shops con­tin­ues to be rigged in favour of on­line.

Time for some blue-sky think­ing to look at mean­ing­ful al­ter­na­tives, such as re­plac­ing busi­ness rates with a tax on sales to level the play­ing field.

Spritely Haynes

MY first ever car was a bright red AustinHeal­ey Sprite, nick­named the Fro­g­eye.

My fa­ther al­lowed me to buy the Fro­g­eye (£300) on con­di­tion I helped re­store the beau­ti­ful crea­ture. Armed with Swar­fega – I can still re­call the smell – and span­ners, we even­tu­ally made her fit for the road.

So it’s nostalgic to learn that the busi­ness set up by the late John Haynes, who wrote the first Fro­g­eye man­ual in 1966 and sold all copies within three months, is up for sale.

Haynes Pub­lish­ing is do­ing bril­liantly, is worth £25m and has moved on­line suc­cess­fully. The Fro­g­eye de­serves a good new home.

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