Let’s be clear. Comparatively, the North is poor and the South is rich. But there is no clear North-South divide. The North of England as a whole may not have as much money in circulation, but this is a massive oversimplification of the problems. Manchester, whilst well short of London, is not short of money. Employment prospects here, whilst bleaker than London, humiliate the surrounding areas in a 50-mile circle. Even within its own boundaries are some of the most deprived areas in the country, much like certain boroughs of London. The problem is not economic shortage, but distribution. An inflated GDP of the major cities in the North, as forecasted by the HS3 rail link proposals, will not address where the imbalance lies, between the deprived and the prosperous. The One North proposal of connecting the major Northern cities to combat the great North-South imbalance fails to inspire confidence in me for solving the problems entrenched in desperate areas of the North, such as poverty, poor service provision to help the vulnerable, and a declining physical and social landscape.

We do not need everyone piling into Manchester from Bury to Burnley, Lancaster to Leek. People need jobs at home, because regardless of getting from Sheffield to Manchester in under an hour, it will still take you well over an hour to get to Sheffield station if you’re coming from Mansfield, Thorne or Gainsborough. Even putting aside for a moment the issue of how few people from these areas have had the opportunities to gain the education or skills, to become qualified, to absorb a particular vocabulary and demeanour, to infiltrate and impersonate the right class, to access the right networks, to get a chance to interview for a job or even hear about it – let alone attain it – there is little chance they have the time to get there. Cities and towns in all areas besides London have poor internal links. Anything beyond your nearest main road to the bus depot can be off limits under any kind of time pressure.

In addition to these overlooked obstacles, there is the matter of cost. In the majority of cases, a car journey is much cheaper in immediate costs (petrol) than a train journey. So if you already need a car with tax and insurance (and then some) – because you don’t have Bernard’s Watch and you need to get the kids to school, get to work, pick them up to get them to activities so they don’t fall behind, get over to feed granny in the understaffed residential, get home to cook a nutritionally worthwhile meal, get out to the gym to avoid diabetes, live, laugh, love, sleep, repeat – then you’re not going to catch the fucking train anyway because the car’s already on the drive.

HS3 is not a remedy to Northern deprivation. It will have minimal impact for Runcorn or Rochdale. Aside from the few who manage to get jobs in (hopefully for them, city centres of) a giant metropolis, who have to get up absurdly early for a 9am start and have a 12-hour workday to include travel (excluding time for the washing and ironing) – but spend a little bit of money in the local area – deprived regions will not greatly benefit, but likely see a continuation of the brain drain as people leave to be near work. And those who do stay might not have the local impact we hope. Their spending money might not reach far in the local economy, as local business is short in areas of deprivation. They cannot be sustained. People with tight budgets in poor areas prioritise lowest costs when spending money, and not economic sustainability through locally owned business. So those in the offshoot areas who find work in the rooted trunk of economic centres will likely be putting their money in the offshore accounts of Amazon, Topshop and Starbucks. All you can say for the likes of Middlesbrough is that they might get a bigger Tesco, which will create more appallingly paid jobs with diminished security, and contracts designed to undermine UK employment legislation. It won’t be circulated through the local community since the butcher, baker and candlestick maker work on the tills now, and claim welfare to subsidise their wages to the bare minimum allowed by the British state.

We could do with better links in the North, and better connected cities may encourage growth, but growth of the already big. It would be nice to shave off a bit of time on any journey, but it doesn’t make it a good use of apparently scarce money. We could also do with better links from small to big cities, but these cities would need better internal infrastructure, as would the towns, to facilitate the increased commuting. However, the main priority surely ought to be to lift these areas of deprivation surrounding the large cities, which have been on a course of rapid decline into poverty and incivility since the 1970s, from off the scrapheap. What is needed in these areas are stronger local economies that aren’t absorbed into unrealistic super hubs, where people stay put more often, have a beneficial impact on their economy, a positive impact on their community, build a stronger sense of belonging, develop stronger civic principles to their community, the members of it, and of wider society, and thus take pride in their contribution to the community, and in the community itself. These areas need better infrastructure internally (and externally, if possible) to accompany a great deal of social investment and local business and project incentives. This is a more likely remedy to deprivation and its associated symptoms – workless cultures and high crime rates to name two – to undertake the huge task of reversing the growing socio-cultural issues in the current crop of individuals, so their children do not inherit them.

To me, this is the route to a healthier Northern future. Those who were unfortunate enough to be born into deprivation, who went to a failing school, have little hope or expectation of improvement, and certainly have been ill-equipped to affect it, and who live on the fringes of economic society, will not feel the benefit of One North. They will not see increased opportunity to get off the bottom. They will just sit by and watch Manchester get even richer than Wigan. HS3 is an initiative to create more wealth for the already wealthy parts of the North and for already wealthy people to capitalise on, under the pretence that economic growth will give wide ranging social benefits. The more likely result is a rise in GDP representing further centralisation of wealth and opportunity for those who are already able to access it sufficiently. Britain is not a spreadsheet, and GDP does not equate to social progress and better lives for more people. It tells us how rich the nation is collectively, but is largely unaware that there are food banks and they are heaving.

Samuel Wilson