Injured: Lucy Meacock forced to take Granada time out

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One of the most frequent questions I have seen being asked over the past few weeks is “where is Lucy Meacock ?” A firm favourite with viewers, the presenter of ITV’s Granada Reports has been absent for nearly six weeks. Her Twitter account has been strangely silent since June 18th.

The Head of News for Granada Reports, Lucy West, confirmed to a concerned viewer on Twitter that Lucy had “hurt her back”. It remains unknown as to how the injury occurred and the length of time Lucy will be off TV screens. West did continue to confirm that the presenter would return as “soon as [she has] recovered.”

Lucy Meacock has been the face of Granada Reports, under various incarnations, for the best part of 25 years and a journalist for over thirty years. Her love of the North West and familiarity has led her to gain a large fan base amongst Granada viewers. Since 2007, she has presented the national ITV News.

Lucy will return to presenting on screen once she has recovered.

EDIT: Lucy is to return to Granada Reports on Thursday 22nd August as confirmed on Twitter.

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Immigrants needed for UK

ukborder_0Alongside the UK role in Europe, MP’s affairs and the need for jobs, immigration is high on the list of voters’ agendas in the run up to the next general election. Whilst immigration does have connotations of negativity, grouping all immigrants under one umbrella is simply unrealistic and daringly stereotypical.

The recent news that the UK Border Agency has a 37 year backlog of 500,000 immigration cases to deal with certainly strikes deep into the wounds of those with the belief that all immigrants are bad news. But that simply isn’t the truth. Around the UK there are hundreds of immigrant families who are determined to work and make a success, providing money for their families, paying their taxes, and ensuring their children have a decent education. Furthermore, as the UK’s ageing population grows bigger, the need for immigrants is also vital.

The Office for Budget Responsibility reported that Britain needs 140,000 immigrants per year – equivalent to 6million – to increase the number of people in work and improve public finances. As Britain’s population grows older, the strain on the NHS will inevitably become too much. In order to sustain an already struggling healthcare system, there will need to be tax increases or further public spending cuts totalling £19billion. Granted, some may suggest that the increases in spending for the system is because more immigrants are populating the country. Town populations have risen to bursting points and additional strain on the education, transport and health systems support a developing strain on British services. However, enormous savings can be made from the immigrants who choose to live in the UK.

The Prime Minister admitted that “immigration is a constant drain on public services” however commended those who are willing to “work hard”. Whilst it may seem that Mr Cameron is siding with the public on the immigration issue, it is clear that although he promises to reduce immigration numbers to “tens of thousands” (despite the OBR figures) he and fellow ministers recognise that those who come for improved lives should be welcomed with open arms. And so they should be. There is no more positive representation of Britain than a country that others see as having an excellent education system, healthcare system, democracy and so forth.

There are, however, groups of immigrants who are a so-called “burden” to society. Stereotypes who migrate from Eastern European countries and elsewhere have been described by some writings as “scrounging” off the tax system. The Spectator outlines that official figures show that less than 14,000 Polish immigrants are claiming unemployment benefit. It is clear. Some immigrants do intend on using the UK benefit system to support families in their native countries, but the mass majority do not wait on the state. Furthermore, an interesting point made by The Spectator ‘s Alex Massie is the news that there has been a rising number of French citizens in London. Evidently, taxes being lower, world class education system and flexible labour markets clearly lead a “superior” option of life than in France. If we can welcome 300,000 French citizens then we can welcome citizens of all nationalities.

A recent documentary, fronted by Margaret Mountford and Nick Hewer, delved deep into unemployment in the UK showing how some British citizens are reluctant to work for low pay and in jobs that they perhaps do not wish to complete. Those who have settled in Britain from other countries, including Poland and Romania, are enthusiastic and willing to work for low pay (high in comparison to their own residence), and with the government not needing to spend on offering training, it is a major cost-saving exercise.

In whichever news programme you watch or newspaper you read there will always be contrasting views on immigration on what they bring. Whilst The Daily Express and other tabloids provide readings to audiences with the view that everything to do with immigration and that immigrants are the lowest of the low. The truth is, however, immigration is needed to develop UK culture and boost the economy. For instance the new High Speed rail link will inevitably employ many many immigrants as well as home citizens. Why? Years of construction and building a railway line will be difficult, strenuous and involve long and unsocial hours. Workers from other countries will do near enough anything for any money.

Official figures are likely to be doctored to provide numerous readings, yet to me immigration shows how the United Kingdom is a country that welcomes people of all nationalities. Perhaps a tangent, but consider Malala Yousafzai, the teenager shot by the Taliban for promoting education and women’s rights. When she was severely injured it was not Pakistan which treated her. The NHS, described as the best healthcare system in the world, welcomed Malala with open arms for intensive treatment and recovery. A story that inspired all who read about it showed how the UK can positively welcome people of other countries to share in the first-rate services the nation offers. Malala has gone on to inspire the globe at the United Nations to promote the need for education in the countries such as Pakistan. All because of the offerings to her from the UK.

So whilst not everybody will agree with the need for immigration and views do run high on the issue. But if the country wants to grow and recover from the deficit then I’m afraid it’s those who are willing to work longer hours for little pay. For the same reasons British citizens immigrate around the globe, many come to Great Britain for a new life. A clear reflection on the opportunities and amenities that are accessible.

Too much baby TV ?

Members of the world's media gather outside The Lindo Wing as The Duchess O

My favourite quote from the last 36 or so hours of intense TV coverage from the Lindo Wing at St Mary’s hospital is courtesy of BBC News presenter Simon McCoy: “I’m at St Mary’s where the worlds media is waiting for news and so far there isn’t any.” That really did sum up the theme of the television coverage of the Royal birth. A waiting game. Presenting hour after hour news with very little information to report.

The work of journalists and presenters in London has to be commended. Over 12 hours of broadcasting from both Buckingham Palace and the hospital and viewers had no more information than they did at 6am on Monday morning. 45 words of a Kensington Palace statement confirming the Duchess Cambridge being admitted to hospital is what fed rolling news channels around the globe and national news programme in the UK. All of the Monday news bulletins spent a huge portion of their time live from the hospital eagerly awaiting the news. And rightly so. Anything could have happened. But it didn’t. And so you could describe it as a waste of the viewers time. Certainly on Twitter, there was frustration amongst viewers about the devoted time to the “imminent arrival”. Even those from the industry mocked the amount of time they had spent waiting for news.

Throughout the “birth day” what news providers did do was create an usual art of tension and anticipation amongst the reporters and TV crews and viewers at home. #RoyalBaby was a top Twitter trender and with no updates on the progress of the pregnancy, we were all left largely unaware of what was happening and whether the baby would actually be born within daylight hours. Reminders of the traditional process of announcing the birth are now engraved in my mind for it was repeated that much. But presenters couldn’t simply hand over to the studio for other news because the birth could be at any minute. It would be the biggest scoop of the year and a hugely historic day. To miss it would be a travesty.

Waiting Game: The world's media at St Mary's Hospital.

Waiting Game: The world’s media at St Mary’s Hospital.

Nicholas Witchell and co did an outstanding job of thinning out such little news over a long period of time. Although you would be forgiven for thinking no other news had happened. Come 4.24pm and with Kay Burley still preparing an interview with the Royal baby, none of the worlds media were aware that the Prince of Cambridge had been born. The same news headlines that had dominated the day continued well into the evening until presenters, reporters, correspondents and viewers were greeted with the most rewarding scene of the day. A man walking out of the hospital door. At that moment, breaking news straps, interruptions to normal programmes and a media frenzy began. Over three hours of secrets kept away from the public eye and TV news broke into a spontaneous royal outburst. Interviews with anyone available. Doctors, photographers, tourists and even kids in royal themed pyjamas padded out a further two hours of repeated news coverage.

By 9pm, the news had been broken around the globe. “Huge crowds” gathered at Buckingham Palace proclaimed newsreaders. Indeed the tradition of a hospital bulletin being posted in the forecourt of the palace was a grand spectacle of theatre for television viewers. The excitement from the hospital and other relevant locations from around the country, even a horse in a pub, did provide a sense of relief that the waiting ordeal was over. After ten minutes of hurtling around the UK for reaction, the novelty soon dried. Everyone was “delighted” at the birth, including Her Majesty, The Prince of Wales and The Obamas; Even the Prime Minister made an unsurprising appearance from Downing Street to congratulate the couple on their “brand new baby” in comparison to perhaps a brand new car.

Special news programmes ditched the schedules. BBC News once again dominated for another two hours on BBC One. Over on ITV, Grandmas who had been waiting for Long Lost Family were left despondent by the appearance of Mary Nightingale and an ITV News Special before the News at Ten O’clock which repeated, in summary, the news we had been subject to for most of the evening. In respect, both the BBC and ITV pitched up a programme featuring it’s main presenters and full package of reports, an example of outstanding preparation. ITV was the victor in the league of special programmes with 3.5m viewers tuning in. The BBC One programme held onto 2.9m viewers.

Come 10.30 and following the excitement of the days event and the end of the regional news, you would presume that would be the end of programming about the Royal birth. Not quite. BBC One altered its schedule again to welcome a Sophie Raworth presented programme, Born to be King, a pre-recorded documentary looking to what the new baby can expect in it’s role. Come 11.15pm and the television ordeal, for many, is over. Mainstream channels returned to their late night schedules.

The following day. A similar story. This time, the long awaited appearance of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge with their new baby. As I write this blog at 4.50pm there is no sighting of the family yet. The nearest excitement has been a visit from the Middleton parents. And with news to suggest the couple and baby may not leave until after 6pm, possibly the next morning, it seems the worlds media is in for another trying evening, padding out hours of broadcast with the same news until the prized presence of the Royals.

Although there probably has been too much TV coverage for the birth of the new baby, it has done digital news channels a huge favour. All day coverage on Monday saw BBC News take a 2.8% boost and Sky News a 1.6% share. Whilst such little news being panned over a long period of time frustrated many, it is true the event is very historic for the country. What the rolling news channels and special programmes did create was a sense of celebration, theatre and national pride. An example of excellent and historic journalism.

Why the Royals are again uniting Britain

Even the most out of touch individual, someone who takes no interest in news and world events, can’t help but notice a so-called “feel good factor” around Great Britain. The source of this great uniting is The Royal Family; In recent years they really have transformed into a monarchy and unit who are in touch with ordinary people around the globe. In times of a struggling economy, pay cuts and low motivation, The Royal Family have become a source of positivity, aspiration and support for everyday people.

Look back twelve months and notice the major events The Royals have instigated. The nationwide Diamond Jubilee tour saw The Queen visit all corners of the British Isles, seeing the people of towns and villages up and down the land. A real in touch moment for her and The Duke of Edinburgh. Alongside the tour, Buckingham Palace was transformed into a concert venue, with thousands partying down The Mall well into the night. The Thames was transformed into a giant river festival. Barges, rowing boats and even war ships were involved in the astonishing flotilla. Whilst the rain eventually did come down it did not spoil the day. Thousands lined the banks to celebrate a historic moment. On a day of immense pride, The Queen travelled to Westminster Abbey for the service of thanksgiving. ITV’s Mark Austin commented he didn’t believe the crowds would be as big as previous occasions, such as The Royal Weddings and Jubilees, but soon retracted his comments when almost one million people gathered to see Her Majesty on the famous Buckingham Palace balcony. The Jubilee led to thousands of street parties across the land, bringing communities of all ages and beliefs together to celebrate.

A modern and scaled back Royal Family continue to prove popular.

A modern and scaled back Royal Family continue to prove popular.

Before The Diamond Jubilee, events saw another historic occasion. The wedding of Prince William and the now Duchess of Cambridge. A day of personal and emotional achievements for the couple and yet for the thousands who gathered outside the Abbey and on The Mall a similar personal experience. Look back to those who were interviewed. They wanted to share in the delight and happiness of the newly weds. But why? The story was one of true love for William and Catherine Middleton. Together at University, Catherine was an everyday person, from an everyday life, in an everyday village. Suddenly she was whisked into the limelight and became a beacon of transformation and positivity, her story likely to be played out in the years to follow. Never had there been so much excitement from the crowd about a wedding since the last similar size event in 1981 for the marriage of Prince Charles and Princess Diana. Crowds were welcomed like guests and so the 2011 wedding proved that The Royal Family were and are more popular than ever. And with an ordinary “princess” becoming a member of the family, it brought a new touch and connection to the everyday supporter.

Annual events including Trooping the Colour, State Opening of Parliament, Royal Ascot, Garden Parties and many more all collate one theme. Connection. Her Majesty, Prince Phillip, The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, all of the family, are in connection with ordinary folk who come out to celebrate these occasions alongside. In times of sadness and grief, the public support The Royal Family. Recurring infections have seen The Duke of Edinburgh readmitted to hospital on several occasions. Whilst H.M is portrayed as emotional and alone in the media, she has the wealth of support from the public who continue to offer support and messages. The unexplainable rapport is explained no better than The Diamond Jubilee concert; Thousands of well wishers cheered and chanted for Prince Phillip who was in hospital. Nobody can say the public don’t care.

Street parties have united communities around the UK.

Street parties have united communities around the UK.

Today. The imminent arrival of a new Royal family member. The Duchess of Cambridge was taken into hospital, in the early stages of labour. Never has there been so much excitement surrounding a royal occasion. The media have been camped outside St Mary’s for over a week, whilst for months every step of Catherine’s pregnancy has been documented by television cameras and followers. The joy, happiness and overwhelming celebration that a child brings will be experienced by the Royal couple as well as those who have followed every step of the way. These expressions of love and pride have almost certainly been reflected by the media. News programmes are leading with good news for a change, as are newspapers, and social networks are awash with good messages. Again, not just Britain, the world is united at the good fortunes of The Royal Family.

So why have the family proved so popular in recent years? You could stem back to the death of Princess Diana in 1997. Strong criticism of The Royal Family, in particular The Queen, was rife, because of the responses (or lack of them) to the death of the Princess. An emotional Queen made a heartfelt statement from the balcony of Buckingham Palace, once returning to a grief-stricken London. Criticised for not supporting her public led to anger. However, Margaret Rhodes, one of The Queen’s closest friends, stated that she left London because of the overwhelming concern she had for her grandchildren, Prince William and Harry. The Queen did win back the affection of the public, by coming out to view the floral tribute that surrounded the Buckingham Palace gates. You could say that these darkest days of Her Majesty’s reign transformed her from a monarch to an ordinary Grandmother, responsible for the care of her Grandchildren following the death of their mother.

The death of Princess Diana led to a turnaround for the Royals.

The death of Princess Diana led to a turnaround for the Royals.

It took tragic circumstances to turn around the face of The Royal Family. Overwhelming sympathy from the public for two young boys who had lost their mother has continued well into the 21st century. The Queen is now in touch with her thousands of supporters across the UK and around the globe. The rise of social networks and popular film culture have led to new depictions of the monarch and her family. The 2006 film, The Queen, starring Dame Helen Mirren, was an instant hit, portraying in tiny detail the days before and after the death of Diana. Perhaps an important medium to reach the mass audiences. On Facebook The Queen has her own account, whilst unusually humourous parody accounts exist on Twitter. There is room for everyone to enjoy The Royal Family in whatever form they like.

The Queen, as head of the state and undoubtedly the head of the family, has become somewhat more relaxed and publicly more expressive. In 2012, her cameo appearance in a James Bond Sketch, during the London Olympic Games Opening Ceremony, proved a hit with viewers on TV and online. Danny Boyle, creative director of the Opening Ceremony, said The Queen had been positive towards the idea. In the weeks prior to the birth of her third Great-Grandchild, Her Majesty responded quite humorously to a young girl asking when the baby was due. In a natural response, The Queen said “I don’t think I mind, I would very much like it to arrive. I’m going on holiday.” The comments prompted laughter from the crowd and The Queen herself, yet secretly you and I know she has been anxiously waiting.

Whatever you might think of The Royal Family, love them or loathe them, it can’t be ignored the impact they have on ordinary lives. For the veterans Her Majesty meets on Maundy Thursday to the little girl who asked her about the royal baby, anyone who has the opportunity to come into contact with Her Majesty and The Royal Family cherish their experiences for a very long time. A transformed, modern and “down to earth” family have transformed the public attitude to the monarch and her family. A real testament to a united Britain.

Is Warrington really that “crap” ?

Think of a “crap” town. Yes, I’m sure there are plenty you can think of. Whether it’s a hometown you’re bored of, an area where you’ve had a bad night out or a location with a poor reputation, all of these add to the passionate argument of bad towns. Crap Towns: The 50 Worst Places To Live In The UK, edited by Sam Jordison and Dan Kieran, is a rather humorous approach to towns which are as the definition suggests, “crap”. Now a second edition is underway and amongst the top one hundred worst towns is Warrington. I live there. So is there any real evidence to suggest that the town is worthy of the crap town title?

Before we go any further, we really have to consider the meaning of “crap”. A trusty visit to Etymology Online reveals what the majority know already: “act of defecation” is the 1898 meaning. More widely, The Oxford English Dictionary refers the term as being “something of extremely poor quality.” Therefore, for the purpose of this post, we shall refer to Warrington as supposedly being something of poor quality and not an act of defecation. So, the definition is clear. Now what is exactly “crap” about Warrington?

A comprehensive government survey ranked the town bottom when considering quality of life. Taken into consideration included high unemployment rates, relatively low life expectancy and a failure to safeguard children properly. Poor aspirations also contributed to the results. A sad consequence considering the investment into local training and education for young people and adults alike. In response to the survey, Warrington Borough Council branded it a “shambles” suggesting there was no reality between what the inspectors found and the feelings of residents.

Every town will have its poorer sides. Warrington has hit the headlines over its nightlife. Violence on the streets and cheap prices of alcohol have tarnished the once fairly positive reputation. Staying with the town centre and the apparent high unemployment rate is a direct cause of the recession and down turn. The once thriving Bridge Street area, today, stands only as a gateway of closed shops. Warrington Market, advertised as “Award Winning”, feels more like a deflated arena of stalls compared to the former glory of original market. The new build, according to residents and stall owners, drove regular customers away; today, the hustle of the market is long gone. In fact the hustle of almost all of the previous thriving town centre shopping areas has disappeared.

But it’s not all bad. Where some areas of the town centre struggle others boast with success. The most recent redevelopment of Warrington town centre was the complete overhaul of the tired 1980’s feel of the shopping mall. Refurbished and modernised, the arcade now boasts some of the best high street retailers in a modern and attractive environment. A new bus station, glass fronted and airy, was constructed nearly seven years ago, replacing the dingy environment of the former gateway. Infact, whilst the survey of life quality may have placed Warrington at the bottom, there was praise for transport links.

Inside the revamped Warrington Golden Square

Inside the revamped Warrington Golden Square

The survey stated that the public transport system demonstrated “exceptional performance or innovation that others can learn from.” It’s a true story. Despite some negativity towards the local bus company, drivers being rude and buses being late, the links across town and beyond are very good indeed. The prices…well that’s for another day. The two main train stations, Bank Quay and Central are a key railway links. Bank Quay provides residents with the links to the North and South within a short period of time. Central Station is used more often by commuters and shoppers, travelling to either Liverpool or Manchester. But the line does extend further, placing Warrington firmly on the map in a connected Britain. All of this adds to a business boost for the town.

Ranked 16th in The Santander Corporate and Commercial Banking’s UK Town and City Index, Warrington has been praised for its above average business start-ups and satisfaction amongst employees across the town. Whether it be pubs in the suburbs or small ventures in the town centre, it is clear that businesses are successful. Furthermore, the local retail parks boast some of the biggest stores in the town. At Gemini Retail Park, the second largest Marks and Spencer outside London is a real success story, whilst the first IKEA to be built in the UK is next door. Across the town, retail parks are shining examples of businesses with an optimistic outlook despite the gloomy figures. The future looks bright as well. Building work on the Omega site has begun with warehouses and roads taking shape. It may take nearly thirty years to complete, but the plan is for Warrington to be an international hub as one of Europe’s largest business parks.

An impression of what the new Omega site could look like.

An impression of what the new Omega site could look like.

A key tool in unifying town folk shelves any resemblance to Warrington being “crap”. The history and culture of the town is one that brings pride. There is plenty of history, whether it be the Roman crossing point for the River Mersey, Oliver Cromwell’s residence during the Civil War or the scars at RAF Burtonwood. The key “wire” industry of years gone-by has placed Warrington on the history timeline, whilst strong links still remain to the industrial past. There’s plenty of culture too. The Parr Hall has boasted some the UK’s best known comedians including Jimmy Carr and Peter Kay, whilst The Pyramid arts centre and museum boast much about the pride of the town and also a showcase of what the town can achieve, through projects and links with local schools. Warrington Walking Day, an annual event, sees churches walk together through the streets, whilst carnivals and events all year round see the thriving community spirit.

In sport, the iconic Warrington Wolves team have grown with history to become a force in the Rugby League world. Rugby followers and those who don’t follow alike hold one thing in common – support for their town team. Rowing, Athletics and Rugby Union are also represented in the town strongly, whilst the Warrington Town football team are currently in the Northern Premier League Division One North.

Walking Day is popular amongst residents.

Walking Day is popular amongst residents.

There is one event that unifies people like no other. The IRA bombing of 1993 in Warrington town centre left two young children dead and countless more injured. In the wake of the atrocity, schools, students, parents, teachers, churches, politicians and many more stood shoulder to shoulder to support the families, friends and loved ones of the victims; The Peace Centre was set up in memory of Tim Parry and Jonathan Ball. The centre continues to offer learning services to young people with opportunities to connect and express. Annual events in the town which mark the solemn anniversary unite town people, whether it be children at school, parents at work, shoppers or social network users. United in grief, hundreds mourn the victims but admire the work and progress that has been achieved by the families to reach peace. The events of the past twenty years are held with pride and affection towards those involved and the legacy achieved.

Warrington extends much further from the negative stereotypes of a gloomy suburban town. Yes, there are some divisions between living conditions, housing conditions and even road conditions, but Warrington does bridge that gap with its community involvement to create one unified town. When the survey outlined how aspirations were low, there are two factors. Yes, the environment you live in, but also the person themselves. Anybody can achieve regardless as to how “crap” their town is. Look at Chris Evans, from Warrington. Pete Waterman, from Warrington. Sue Johnston, from Warrington. The list goes on.

The Omega project is a promising development. Warrington Borough Council recently gave the go ahead for a new regeneration project of the town centre. Proposals include a new cinema, new eateries and an improvement of town centre leisure and recreational activities.

The original question was about whether Warrington or any town for that matter is “crap”. Stereotypes will always be present as will divisions. But if you strip to the reality of where you live and see what is actually happening, I’d say Warrington was better than “crap”.

Crap Towns: The 50 Worst Places To Live In The UK will be available from online retailers.
For more information on what to do in Warrington, visit http://www.warrington.gov.uk

All aboard for HS2 ?

A few months back I posted about the confusion of the franchising in the rail industry, with some lines being privatised, others returning to public ownership and some which are in complete limbo. But that led me to the ongoing debate about the new high-speed rail link project (HS2). The facts are great: cutting journey times, creating jobs and boosting business. However, what about the actual reality of the project. Will it actually work?

The project leaders are very good at persuading ordinary rail users into thinking the new line is a good move. HS1 is already in action. It links London with the South of England and to the Channel Tunnel. The new HS2 line will link London and Birmingham and then join the West Coast Mainline north of Lichfield for journeys to Manchester and Leeds. The HS2 website, a modern and rather contemporary document, outlines the main problems with the current running of trains, such as overcrowding, delays and the need for more freight. It further adds that the new project will create a “connected Britain” with railways of a “worldwide standard.”

On a journey between Warrington and London, I compiled a few thoughts.

Current Capacity

It is a clear fact that the railways are running at near full capacity. Ministers behind HS2 estimate that “by 2020 a further 400 million journeys will be made” on top of the 1.46 billion made last year. So it certainly makes sense to have a new rail route in order to ease overcrowding and congestion on other lines.

In 2009/2010, 59 percent of all train journeys started or ended in the London region, according to the Department of Transport. Business and management professionals are amongst those who make regular trips to the capital, the majority of whom travel from other regions. But for ordinary day-trip visitors, commuters and tourists, overcrowding is serious.

A recent BBC documentary, Railways: Keeping Britain On Track, highlighted the daily troubles that travellers face at peak times. Passengers on the East Coast Mainline were seen being crammed into carriages at near-bursting point, many commuters making their feelings known. It is impossible to determine where each single passenger would travel to but certainly the majority interviewed on TV were travelling to the suburbs of London and major towns on the outskirts of the capital. On this basis, ordinary commuters won’t benefit as much from a high-speed link between London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds, apart from a slight ease on crowded coaches. But surely the point is contradicted by the desire of the long-distance traveller. Like me, on my first visit to the capital, I paid to go First Class. This was mainly because it was a long distance and a reasonable deal. For business class and regular first-class passengers they will always remain in the privileged carriages which are less crowded and more comfortable. So it seems the next direction would be to make trains more focussed on the average commuter not the first class buyer.

A commuters nightmare

A commuters nightmare


Current Trains

Like the last point mentions, there are more people crammed into standard class carriages than those who used first and business class. So whilst the few may pay more, the majority will still use trains at the same time and use the same standard class everyday. This brings me to the question of whether money should be spent on the trains themselves and not a new railway line.

A recent Inside Out investigation revealed how fleets of trains operated by Northern Rail had been questioned over safety. Operating in regions across the North of England, the Pacer train, effectively a bus chassis on rails, has proved unpopular with commuters, unsuitable for disabled passengers and unsafe on the rail network. BBC Yorkshire’s Alan Whitehouse outlined how the trains had first come into operation in the 1980’s as a cheap build and a life span of no more than 20 years. Almost thirty years later, these fleets still operate on the Northern Rail network; The rail regulator has now questioned whether the trains should continue to be used. By 2019, Pacers will have to be withdrawn from the rails because of new legislation ensuring that people with disabilities can gain easy access on public transport. The Pacers do not meet the intended guidelines. Northern Rail has accepted that the trains are old and need replacing. However, they insist that passenger numbers are rising meaning the trains need to fulfil extra demand and that there are questions over how to afford replacements.

That word “afford” is crucial in this debate, as the government announced the HS2 project will go beyond budget and cost in excess of £40bn. A lot of money indeed. For the ordinary commuter whose journey takes them between towns and cities they will still use the shorter, suburban lines. So perhaps the billions of pounds worth of investment into a single new line should instead help towards replacing tired trains, not capable of driving the demands of the modern-day.

The Pacer has been brought into question over safety.

The Pacer has been brought into question over safety.

The Commuter

The person who uses the train to get to and from work, college, shops, university, meetings, holidays and visiting family will feel an impact. Why? Because the money for the new high-speed link on top of the improvements needed on existing networks will come from ticket prices. 2013 saw another consecutive hike in rail prices. The Campaign for Better Transport and Railfuture have calculated that over the ten consecutive years, rail passengers’ fares have increased by over 50 percent, whilst some areas of the UK have seen increases in fares above the national average.

I have rarely had a problem with the rail network. Even on my journey to London, the price was reasonable compared to taking a car for instance and the train was plush and comfortable. But I do understand the gripe of travellers who use the network everyday. The age-old problem of leaves on the track, crew member not available and signal problems have all added to frequent delays up and down the country. When the train eventually arrives, disgruntled passengers find carriages like a tin of sardines: uncomfortable, unpleasant and below par. One must wonder as to why an individual would dip into so much money for such a poor service. The fact is there is no other solution. The cost of living has rocketed, along with the cost of owning, insuring and running a car. Whilst public transport has seen major hikes, it is one area that can actually help someone save money.

Whilst the cost to the commuter will increase next year and the year after that, I would question whether HS2 meets the need for the majority of paying travellers. As mentioned earlier, the majority of train journeys are suburban taking people from one town to another often within the same region. Yes, there is a clear demand for the passengers who travel long-distance, but many of these journeys are “one offs” or only on “occasion”. That was the view from some of the people I spoke to on my journey. The demand is where the lines are bursting at the seams. Liverpool – Manchester is one of those lines because the tracks visit towns and villages in-between the two cities. The areas where the commuters live. It can be quite hard to explain. People I spoke to onboard the London bound train made it known they did not want a new line and instead they wish current operations could benefit from the cash. And I agree. Because who exactly is the HS2 going to benefit?

The West Coast Mainline is popular with travellers.

The West Coast Mainline is popular with travellers.

HS2 Users

It is hard to see who HS2 will benefit. It’s certainly easy to see who will be at a disadvantage. Home owners forced out of their homes, tax payers who will see increase in payments because of the new infrastructure, rail passengers who will see increase in fares for similar reasons, people who don’t travel long distance. There are plenty of groups who will be against.

One of the biggest gripes I have with the new project is availability to users. HS2 will leave London bound for Birmingham and then on to Manchester and Leeds. It would be excellent if there were actually any stations to board. Considering where I live, Warrington, I wouldn’t be able to use the new line because it would cost more in money and time to actually get to a station where I could board. Similar situations in Widnes, Liverpool, Macclesfield, Runcorn, CREWE, Bury, Bolton and plenty more. Hundreds of rail passengers will stay in the same boat, or carriage, and use operators and routes they know best. Virgin Trains on the West Coast Mainline is one of the most respected rail operators in the country. Excellent service and trains are quick. Is there actually anybody who needs to get from the North to London any quicker than what is already offered? It took me less than two hours to get from Warrington to London. I’d say that was pretty quick. Granted, there will always be someone who wants to get to the Capital quicker, but for any average user, the train is quicker than flying (when you take into account check in etc) and certainly faster than driving.

And, furthermore, it will only be the people of these large cities who will benefit. Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham. That is where the stations will be based. There are no official confirmations if there will be stations in between, but if ministers are promising a quicker journey time, there will be no chance for trains to slow down and stop for several minutes.

Cost

£42 billion. Well over the original budget. It’s interesting to note that on the HS2 website there is little mention of how much the project will cost. There is much talk about “investment” and creating opportunities. But the simple fact is that the project is an unbelievable amount of money. All of which has to be repaid or at least be worthy of value for money. There is little more to say. The government would always get a harsh backlash whatever the cost would be. The fact that it is an extraordinary amount, in such hard economic times, seems to be a laugh in the face to ordinary families and workers. But will it be a good investment? The economic benefits seem very good indeed.

The Economy

Undoubtedly very positive. The official HS2 website offers some confirmation of job numbers and investment when it comes to the workforce who will create the new track, drive the trains and operate new stations. There will be 9,000 construction jobs for the first phase, 1,500 permanent jobs and a further 60,000 jobs when it comes to phase two. The website does offer a statement: “HS2 will generate £47 billion in user benefits to businesses when the entire network is completed, as well as between £6 billion and £12 billion is wider economic benefits.”

A rail network which connects Britain better than current connections is without doubt very good. Businesses will be able to communicate with suppliers and traders more efficiently. An increase in freight on the new line, alongside current operations on the West Coast and East Coast Mainline, will improve trade, imports and exports. Furthermore, HS2 planners confirm that more room is needed for freight. “By 2030, overall volumes are expected to be 120% of current levels.” The new line, campaigners suggest, will not hold back the UK economy. Growth and connections are needed.

An impression of what the HS2 trains could look like.

An impression of what the HS2 trains could look like.

It has to be admitted that a new rail line is needed. The West Coast Mainline is already severely congested and if a new line isn’t created within a generation then commuters and the economy will be at risk. It’s a brutal fact. For me, I won’t benefit entirely from a new line, in fact I’d guess I would very very rarely use it as I am closer to the West Coast Mainline. Further consultations are needed. It’s a fact. Routes and lines do need to be altered. To destroy villages and houses is unnecessary and a sad consequence.

The whole idea is about improving Britain’s rail network. A new link should, say the government, take pressure off existing lines. It’s high-speed because trains will be quicker but they won’t stop at large towns outside the terminal cities. Furthermore, what about the far North of England? Cumbria, the North East and Scotland. Numerous points have been made about the economic benefits to an already struggling North. Why can’t the line go further than Manchester?

The plan is probably quite good on paper. I am not entirely convinced by the idea and nor are many others. I see the benefits but also see through to the problems that will be encountered. High-Speed 2 will be “high-speed” but perhaps more thinking about the execution of the project and current state of the rail network is needed.

For more information visit http://www.hs2.org.uk

Full retirement for TV stalwart

Gordon Burns will retire from TV and radio tomorrow.

Gordon Burns will retire from TV and radio tomorrow.

He has been the face of The Krypton Factor, North West Tonight and the voice of Sunday morning radio. Now, after a career spanning four decades, Gordon Burns is bowing out of TV and radio for good.

The 71 year old had already “semi-retired” in 2011, standing down from presenting duties on BBC One’s North West Tonight after fifteen years in the anchors chair. In that same year, the presenter with strong Northern Irish roots, made a move into local radio, hosting a weekly topical programme on BBC Radio Manchester and BBC Radio Lancashire. A mix of news reviews, easy listening music and an excellent calibre of guests has made the programme popular with Sunday morning listeners for two years.

On Twitter, Gordon announced that tomorrow’s programme would be his last. I asked him whether it would be the last we see of him on screen and on the radio in the North West. His reply was a simple “probably” adding that he “has so many other things to do“, explaining that he believed “time was running out“.

Burns’ career began in the 1960’s when he started working for the Belfast Telegraph before moving into TV news to front UTV’s nightly news programme. He was one of the journalists centred with reporting on the Northern Ireland Troubles. He later made a switch to Manchester, fronting regional programme Granada Reports before landing the job as host of the The Krypton Factor, a role that made him a household name across the country. Burns returned to his roots as a journalist and broadcaster when he took up the role as anchor of North West Tonight in 1997. It was a move that proved popular with viewers, with the BBC programme winning numerous awards and Gordon himself winning Broadcaster of the Year at the Royal Television Society Awards.

Above all, Gordon has always made the relationship between him and the viewer a personal one. His warmth, charisma and professionalism created a personality and fan base that many journalists and broadcasters can only dream of.

Listeners can hear the last ever Gordon Burns show on BBC Radio Manchester and BBC Radio Lancashire from 9am on Sunday 14th July and on the BBC iPlayer shortly afterwards.