Category Archives: Regeneration

Urban regeneration, renaissance, renewal, community development

Zombie economics and the third recession

It is dispiriting to realise that we are probably entering our third recession in nine years – 2008, 2012 and now 2017. When will we learn to break the cycle? The newspaper article below from the 2012 recession could have been written yesterday.

Why has so little changed?

The ‘zombie economics’ identified soon after the 2008 crash still dominates the political debate. Nine years on and we are still trying more austerity, near-zero interest rates, quantitative easing to give to companies, increasing inequality, property asset bubbles, and cutbacks for non-elderly poorer people, education and health care.

Of course, Brexit is the new ingredient this time round and in some quarters it is a big enough issue to drown out all other economic debates and memories. Like many people I wish the Brexit vote had been different, and that the current debate on ‘what comes next’ would be more honest. To read of senior civil servants talk about Empire 2.0 is frankly horrible and embarrassing.

But Brexit is just one aspect of the economic pressures we face. The indications are now of GDP-measured growth falling further as we head into a trading future which many reasonable people acknowledge will be worse than we have now. Students on economics degree courses at universities in England set up Post-Crash Economics Societies, critiquing their rote learning of just one orthodox economic model when at least nine models are known to exist.

Economically, 2008 onwards to 2017 have been our lost years. Only by learning new economic realities, such as aiming for sustainable growth, can we break the cycle. Given the attacks on the welfare state, left wing groups are understandably nervous of any economic changes being used as a smokescreen to attack our common services like the NHS.

But change is required. I suggest we need a combined model reflecting rainbow economics for a fairer system, promoting the interests of:

  • environment
  • equality and fairness
  • feminism
  • internationalism
  • people and communities
  • small enterprises,

and not

  • zombie one-trick economists.

HS2 to Paris

Perhaps one of the greatest of the railway inventions is the humble points. In the USA they are called switches, which is more descriptive. Because with points you can switch a train from one track to another. Points allow you to create a network. The earliest trains were A to B. Now the same train could go to C afterwards, maybe even get to D on a good day. 

HS2 will not be a point-to-point railway line, it is part of a network.

Most of the HS2 publicity is around the onwards connections that will be possible when HS2 joins the classic railway, for example at Crewe, where trains will continue running north but more slowly. But there will be network connections at the southern end of HS2 as well, and not least will be the connection to HS1, the existing high speed line from St Pancras to the Continent.

HS2 to Paris, via HS1

What could go wrong? Well, a worry I have is based on the Regional Eurostar debacle. It was 25 years ago when we wasted an opportunity to have trains running from all parts of England, Scotland, and Wales through the Channel Tunnel to Paris. A timeline is given here (final page of pdf).

This new service almost started – the new trains had been delivered, the staff were qualified, the tests runs were underway – but the project spectacularly fell apart, with Parliamentary enquiries for years to come. And to this day everyone involved seems to have a different reason to give for the Regional Eurostar project failure. My suspicion is that all the railway companies that bid for the franchise cherry-picked the London route alone, and with railway privatisation coming in a few years the government gave way. I have written previously on the practicalities of re-instating the Regional Eurostar project aims ahead of the completion of HS2, here.

We need to learn from the past attempts and look forward to making it happen this time.
And in the world of railways the devil is in the detail. A project can have twelve elements, and if only one element fails then the whole project fails.

At the moment the critical factor seems to be immigration systems. Immigration controls for HS1 are done by British officials working in on the railway station platforms in Paris (and in Brussels and Lille). That way, there are minimal difficulties once in the UK, and the British tabloids don’t need to worry about migrants pressing the emergency stop button and running away through the fields of Kent. 

But following Brexit and the Calais migrant camp issues, the French government has said this working arrangement is now in doubt, and will be thrown into the big pot of Brexit negotiation issues. Worse, because it is a bilateral agreement and not an EU agreement, it could be terminated by the French government anyway, even if lawyers might complain about the abrupt process. 

Would this be a bad development? Consider some alternatives:

  1. UK immigration checks happen in Dover. Every train stops, people get out and are checked, then they get back on the train. This process already happens (in Lille) for the winter special ski trains from the south of France.
  2. UK immigration checks happen at the arrival station. This would start with St Pancras and Ashford, but would need to also happen in Manchester (for example) if Continental trains ran on to HS2. But will the British tabloids and politicians accept the risk of people running off?
  3. UK immigration checks happen on the train while it is moving. This was the suggested approach for the Regional Eurostar service, but was rejected at the time. It might actually be the least disruptive option now, especially using newer technologies.

All of these options are solutions, the question is which one is to be followed?

So to summarise, at the moment it is: 

HS2 to Paris … via HS1 … via the Home Office.

Manchester is the most vibrant urban area in UK

The recent Experian report on 75 urban areas in the UK rated Manchester as being the most vibrant. The data used was eight categories from the 2011 Census for each urban core, 1km in radius.

The eight factors reported as being used to decide each urban area’s vibrancy were:

  1. Extent of unemployment

  2. Student populations

  3. Professionals

  4. The amount of private renting

  5. The amount of social renting

  6. Households with any home ownership

  7. The percentage of households with outright home ownership

  8. The percentage of purpose built flats

Obviously this reflects on data used from within the city centre rather than the wider city or conurbation, but nevertheless is a strong vote of confidence in the city, and not least in its regeneration partnerships and their governance. The changes since the 2001 Census are profound. The data shows that the urban core is no longer being hollowed out, sadly unlike a lot of other cities, particularly in the USA.

One aspect of the revival in urban living that has not had its due weight, in my opinion, is that of older people as welcoming vibrant, city centre living, as well as students and young professionals. Based on some work from 2009 I wrote a post exploring this topic, link below, which I feel is still relevant in today’s world. In an economic nutshell, it is the Grey Pound, but just as important it is about sustainable, healthy cities and the quality of life in later years.

For some reason, I find this an increasingly important topic as the years go by… 🙂