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Lord Bates: Boris is right about investing in infrastructure but it's the North where the need is greatest

BATES MICHAELLord Bates of Langbaurgh was the Conservative Member of Parliament for Langbaurgh 1992-7, and Paymaster General 1996-7. During the last parliament he was the driving force behind Campaign North.

Boris Johnson is a formidable champion of London, the greatest city in the world, but his message to the Prime Minister yesterday to “stop pussyfooting around” and invest in a series of major new infrastructure projects for the capital reminds us of the essential difference between their two roles: Mr Johnson righty need only look to London. Mr Cameron rightly must weigh the priorities for the entire United Kingdom. London is home to 7.6 million people. The UK is home to 62.2 million.

There is life outside the M25 and from beyond it London seems to be having a pretty good share of the infrastructure cake in recent years:

  • £10 billion for the Olympics (worth every penny) plus the major private sector legacy programme;
  • £16 billion for Crossrail (due to complete in 2018 and currently Europe’s largest construction project);
  • £6 billion for the Channel Tunnel High Speed Rail Link;
  • £6 billion for the Thameslink project due to complete in 2019;
  • £5.5 billion on M25 widening to be completed by 2016;
  • £5 billion programme of investment at Heathrow — new Terminal 5, rebuilt Terminal 2;
  • £2 billion Thames Tideway Tunnels.

Now Boris’ shopping list includes:

  • £9 billion for a third runway at Heathrow; and/or
  • £14 billion for a new airport in the Thames Estuary;
  • £15 billion for Crossrail 2.
Meanwhile, to pick a region at random, say the North East of England, is still the only region in England not connected to another region (Scotland) by a motorway. This could be solved with a few hundred million to upgrade a twelve mile stretch of duel carriageway. The absence of the solid blue line to the North East is a major hurdle for attracting investment.

It is not just conventional infrastructure which is needed: for a fraction of the sums currently being invested in road, rail and air services we could have the best superfast broadband services in the world. The great benefit of technology is that it abolishes geographic advantage/ disadvantage. The current £2.5 billion programme is designed to provide 90% coverage at 24 mbps by 2015 which will still leave us well outside the top ten countries at their speeds our competitors have today.

London has a powerful and highly astute champion, deservedly re-elected to fight its corner in Whitehall, which is also in his parish. We have seen some of the most glorious months in London’s illustrious history, with the Jubilee and the Olympics/ Paralympics. Boris is prescribing absolutely right medicine for the economy but London is already receiving the treatment. Now the pressing need is for the medicine to reach the geographical extremities of the British economy to ensure that we build not just an ever Greater London but an even greater Britain.

> Read about Guy Opperman MP's journey to understand the Conservative Party's northern challenges.


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