Will the Northern Powerhouse bring Sunderland so much as a train station toilet? We can but dream

I have relatives from Sheffield who sit in polite irritation when I tell them they should visit the North more often.

By Tony Gillan
Tuesday, 30 July, 2019, 06:00
Would the multi-billions of a Northern Powerhouse extend to a lavatory for Sunderland Railway Station?

It’s fun to aggravate them by calling them southerners and talking about “real weather”, not like down there on the equator, which separates Sheffield from Chesterfield: etc.

By any sane definition therefore, Sunderland is in Northern England (so is Sheffield; I just won’t admit it to them). But the issue for Sunderland isn’t its location; it’s getting politicians to realise it exists at all. Which brings us to the Northern Powerhouse.

Whenever a reminder somehow penetrates the Westminster bubble that the North remains securely fastened to the rest of England, but is being overlooked and can’t have a parliament like Scotland or Wales, it seems that a two-word response will suffice.

Boris Johnson in keen on the Northern Powerhouse. But what will it do for Sunderland?

“Northern Powerhouse.” Job done.

The Northern Powerhouse, lest we forget, aims to: “Transform Northern growth, rebalance the country’s economy and establish the North as a global powerhouse.” It concentrates mainly on transport links.

Marvellous. But where does Sunderland fit into this?

Obviously you’ve all read the government’s 2015 publication The Northern Powerhouse: One Agenda, One Economy, One North. It’s a real page-turner. In fact most people turn all 41 pages at once then chuck it into the recycling.

Sunderland is never mentioned in the Government's 12,000-word, 41-page report on the Northern Powerhouse.

Still, dull task though it was, I have dissected it and found that the word “Manchester” appears 35 times, “Sheffield” 25 times, “Leeds” 24, “Liverpool” 18 and “Newcastle” 17. “London” crops up 11 times.

“Sunderland” (you know where this is going) features exactly as many times as “Botswana”, “Witherwack” and “Narnia.”

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Never, none, zero, zip, not-a-sausage.

This is alarming. While accepting that Manchester has almost twice the population of Sunderland, 35-0 in mentions seems spectacularly imbalanced; especially when Warrington, York, Goole and even Scotch Corner are each name-checked at least once.

There is a widely held perception that the whole concept of a Northern Powerhouse provides only soundbites and lip service. In 2016 Lord O’Neill left the project because he didn’t think Theresa May was serious about it.

Much of the scheme is connected, literally, to the new HS2 railway scheme, which will cost at least £50billion, won’t be completed until 2033 at the earliest and then won’t reach further north than Leeds.

Still, our new Prime Minister, like all new Prime Ministers, is currently in the business of gamely attempting to please everyone in sight.

He recently enthused that a new high-speed Leeds-Manchester rail route would “turbo-charge the economy”. He didn’t supply meticulous detail to back this claim. But even Mr Johnson’s most ardent supporters will concede that he isn’t exactly obsessive about detail.

“Northern Powerhouse.” “Turbo charged economy.” Sexy phrases to garner headlines. Yet much of Northern England, Sunderland particularly, is none the wiser over what direct benefits to expect.

The figures discussed are astronomical. Missing out completely, as it appears is happening to Sunderland, is a frightening thought.

Imagine. If the tens of billions being insouciantly mentioned by leading politicians are actually invested as promised, excitement could mount on Wearside at the prospect of a railway station that actually contains public lavatories.

Not that we’ve been promised any such thing. We can but dream.