Figures released in August by the Office for National Statistics showed that if you’re from the north of the United Kingdom, you will probably die before someone your age from the south.
This isn’t a new trend. Life expectancy figures have, for a long time, showed that those in the south of England will outlive their northern cousins by a noticeable margin. But this is hardly treated with condemnation, and barely reaches the news.
The reality is that we are incredibly London-centric. Not just in the sense that the capital is seen as the embodiment of the nation, but also that London and the south east receive far more investment from the government and outside investors than anywhere else in the UK.
Once the epicentre of the Industrial Revolution, the north has historically been economically dynamic and a true powerhouse of the British economy. Back in 2010, George Osborne stated plans to bring those bygone days back to life, yet his northern powerhouse project conflicted with the Victorian-style austerity that he also chose to bring back to life.
As the north continues to be ignored and the northern powerhouse scheme continues to struggle to come to fruition, it is clear that HS2 (the UK’s proposed second high-speed rail link) is vital to boosting the economy in the north.
With Brexit on the horizon, the HS2 plans have taken a back seat. It would be a grave mistake to abandon such a promising proposal.
Brexit isn’t a silver bullet that will solve our problems, despite what the political right will have you believe. If we must leave the economic safety of the single market, we need fresh ideas to at least get us back on a par with where we were as a nation before we decided to crash out of the world’s largest trading bloc. We need the boldness that investing in HS2 embodies.
London and the north will have to learn to work more cohesively if we are to prosper outside the EU. What HS2 will allow us to do is replace one single market with a new one. A United Kingdom which trades effectively within its own borders, from north to south, is worth investing in.
This isn’t a vanity project. It’s a necessary step forward for our nation’s outdated railway network. In France there are 2,600km of high speed railway track with a further 650km under construction. In the UK, we only have from London St Pancras Station to Dover in Kent. Our closest neighbours, and countries such as Japan and China, are reaping the benefits of greater connectivity within their country’s borders whilst Britain is labouring behind over concerns surrounding funding.
London burning as bright beacon for the rest of Britain to gaze upon is all well and good, but this isn’t Game of Thrones, and Kings Landing needs the help of those up north to stay powerful after all. Broadband and other modern technological advances can be included in this push for greater connectivity between our cities. We can’t be content with London being our only twenty-first century city.
Likewise, because so many want to live and work in London, house prices in the capital have become eye-watering. With enough infrastructure, northern cities will become more desirable or even within commutable distance to London.
Lower life expectancy in the north isn't simply a result of poor rail networks. But if the midlands and the north were only an hour's train journey away, then they would be much harder to neglect and businesses would soon pay more attention to them. If we are to survive Brexit we need foreign trade and investment, but we equally need trade and investment within our own borders. HS2 is just one piece in the complex jigsaw puzzle that is a more united kingdom.