What is “The North”?

If Transport for the North (TfN) is to collaborate successfully with all who are engaged in the devolution agenda, it is vital to achieve maximum public goodwill from all parts of its area of operation. This raises the question, what is “The North [of England]”? Is it to be defined by…

  • geography (“north of a line drawn westward from the Wash and heading for the tip of the Llŷn Peninsula”)
    or by
  • supposed cultural attributes (“north of the Watford Gap”)?

The ‘North’ in TfN is of course the North of England, as recognised in a Memorandum of Understanding between TfN and the Welsh Government. (It would appear that no such understanding has been reached with the Scottish Government.)

The central “Trans-Pennine” belt (from Liverpool to Hull) is undoubtedly the core of ‘The North’, but beyond this there may be some doubt as to local willingness to buy into an umbrella body such as TfN:-

  • The newly emerging Sheffield City Region extends into northern parts of Derbyshire and the north of Nottinghamshire; however, there will inevitably be an element of ambiguity as these areas work through a process of dis-engagement with Derby and Nottingham in favour of re-alignment towards Sheffield;

  • Parts of north-west Derbyshire that were historically included in Cheshire and which relate most obviously to Greater Manchester; although usually now taken as part of the East Midlands, these may be judged to fall naturally into TfN territory;

  • To the south-west, the outskirts of Chester border upon North Wales, where Glannau Dyfrdwy (Deeside) has long-standing links with Chester and Liverpool;

  • To the south-east, North Lincolnshire is possibly somewhat less on board. The opening of the Humber Bridge led to the creation of Humberside, but this did not prove popular. Indeed, trans-Humber links may even have lessened following closure of the rail-linked ferry service which used to operate directly into downtown Hull. North Lindsey and West Lindsey probably feel greater kinship with the City of Lincoln rather than Hull, Doncaster, or Sheffield;

  • The North-East of England and the North-West of England, including some ‘frontier’ localities such as Carlisle and Berwick-upon-Tweed, each with a significant hinterland extending across the border with Scotland.


Emergence of “The North”

Perhaps best not to go back as far as the ancient Kingdom of Northumbria...

In media terms, pan-northern awareness became crystalized through the introduction of BBC Regional radio opt-outs from the National Programme, later the Home Service. As the northern centre for newspaper production, Manchester was a natural location for the main regional studios, and a transmitting station at Moorside Edge was able to straddle the Pennines. Thoughts of establishing a BBC Region for North-East England were scuppered by a shortage of frequency allocations, which meant that the Stagshaw transmitter (with repeater in Scarborough) was obliged to carry Northern Ireland programming!

With the advent of television, the BBC was once again able to cover the greater part of northern England from a single Band I transmitter at Holme Moss. The defining moment came with the introduction of commercial television, when output from Quay Street studios in Manchester was offered both locally and nationally with the iconic Monday to Friday ident, “From the North, this is Granada”. Although the use of Band III meant that the Independent Television Authority needed two transmitting sites (Emley Moor in Yorkshire and Winter Hill in Lancashire) to cover the North, the programming was identical (apart from Welsh Language programmes broadcast in the west but not in the east).

In due course, the establishment of Tyne-Tees TV recognised Newcastle as a major sub-regional centre, and Border TV began to serve northern parts of Cumbria and Northumberland, along with the southern edge of the Scottish Lowlands. Subsequent changes in the structure of Independent Television have led to a weakening of regional significance, a trend now being felt at the BBC, as social media prove more fleet of foot in disseminating local news and views. Currently the BBC has four reporters designated as North of England correspondents, whereas each of the other four English regions each has only one.


Northern England
Rail Network Topologies

The North of England is supported by three contrasting railway network topologies:

a) A pair of main lines, each running ‘up’ to London termini and ‘down’ from London to various northern destinations, including many journeys that pass through the North of England on their way to and from Scotland. Typically, these services accommodate long-distance passengers and offer a restricted set of calling points, variable yet predictable, being locked to a clockface pattern. At most calling points along the route there will be an opportunity to connect with feeder services, generally operating on the following principles:

  • UP mainline trains must be despatched expeditiously and cannot be held to await customers from a late-running incoming feeder service;

  • DOWN connections off the mainline onto local feeder services may be held (subject to local operating custom) for as long as is viable within the following constraints:

    • the need to give priority to UP movements in the event of contention, e.g. single track working;

    • the availability of layover time at the terminus before the train must return with the next set of UP customers

Feeder services may be relatively infrequent provided that the above conditions are satisfied.

b) A Regional Network - in a simple network with fully bi-directional flows, it may be possible to offer direct journeys on a regular basis between any two points. In practice, complexity builds rapidly once the need arises to facilitate interchange at a number of nodal points. Should it become necessary to accommodate journeys with three or more legs, the network will need a high density of service throughout, together with secure and comfortable customer layover facilities at interchange nodes. The best trade-off may well be to offer a high density core network augmented by alternative and more flexible modes (such as ‘Demand Responsive Transport’) to ensure that peripheral and interstitial parts of the service area are fully supported.

c) Freight services - these are of great significance in relieving pressure on the road network and realising environmental gains. However, they tend to serve disparate termini with sporadic frequencies of operation; they follow idiosyncratic routes that are of greatly variable quality, and find themselves in competition with passenger services whenever train path resources have limited capacity or are affected by knock-on delays arising from problems elsewhere in the system. The hope for HS2 is that it will accommodate high speed passenger and freight flows without conflict from slower freight and “all stations” passenger services which will continue to use the existing infrastructure.


Localism has its limits:
it’s no substitute for eclecticism!

A Cautionary Tale...

Before 1974, New Year’s Day was not a Bank Holiday in England, though it was taken as a Public Holiday in the North-East of England, following North British custom. One year in the 1960s, managers at United Automobile Services HQ in Darlington planned to cut New Year services not only across the North-East, but also in Scarborough, where the potential loss of bus services on a normal working day caused consternation and a rapid change of plan by the Company.




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