Having made a somewhat doddery extension to my social media world with my first Twitter Q and A, I've been a bit remiss in keeping up with blogging. It's also been a very busy month dominated of course with budget preparation but with a few other big items including the purchase by MAG of Stansted Airport and the announcement of the route and station locations for High Speed Rail between Birmingham and Manchester.
For the absence of doubt, the purchase of Stansted has not cost the Council Tax payers of Manchester. Over the last few years we've received over �20m a year in rent and dividends from the airport group, all of which goes into services. The cuts we are now being forced to make would be even worse without that income. Buying Stansted will give us the opportunity from around 2016 to receive an even bigger dividend, again all of which will go into services. The acquisition will also give the Airport group critical mass that will help route development out of Manchester. It's a business so of course there is a risk but I'm confident that Manchester Council Tax payers will reap the benefit of this investment for years to come.
In some respects the use of the term high-speed rail is unfortunate. Faster journeys do boost economic performance, but the real challenge we face over the next decade is one of capacity not speed. The West Coast Main Line is getting increasingly congested, trains at peak times are getting increasingly full - we are running out of space. Transport is important to the economy. Just imagine if we had no roads, railways, or air routes connecting Manchester to the rest of the world. Congestion costs the economy and costs jobs so we have to do something. We could pour billions into another upgrade of the existing mainline, but the many of us that remember the ten years of misery we endured last time round will not want to repeat that. In any case, it would only deliver marginal improvements. The only logical solution is to build a completely new network, linked to the existing classic network, but using the best of modern technology, a high-speed line.
And the benefits wouldn't just be for the cities served directly by the new network. HSR would free up space on the classic network, allowing more inter-city services for other towns and cities, allowing more commuter services, and on the two networks between them, more capacity for freight, taking freight off the roads.
There will be a fight over HSR but it is vital to the economic future, the jobs of our city and it is a fight we have to win.