Greg Wright: Is the Northern Powerhouse heading to the doghouse?

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HERE’S a scenario that will strike a chord with many readers.

You’ve got a world class business, but you’re being held back by a third rate transport system. The Government seems reluctant to fight your corner, and you’re being forced to battle a Whitehall-based bureaucracy that has little understanding of your region’s strengths and needs.

Sound familiar? Well, this was Yorkshire in 1844, when our county stood on the brink of greatness.

If we can muster the courage, we can emulate the success of our Victorian ancestors and ensure we finally get the rail service, and political influence, we deserve.

History has an uncanny habit of repeating itself. As a student, I studied the tempestuous times that led up to the creation of the railway line from Manchester to Leeds, in an era dominated by belligerent railway magnates, who were more concerned with lining their pockets, and pulling the wool over the eyes of government officials, than serving the needs of travellers and the business community.

It was a pivotal moment in Yorkshire’s development, and the entrepreneurs of the time rose to the challenge magnificently.

In Huddersfield, for example, the local merchants lobbied tirelessly and fearlessly, forcing Parliament to strike a blow against the grasping railway barons and grant permission for a railway line that transformed the town’s fortunes. But the battle to secure railway connections that served the public interest was a close run thing. If the merchants had lost, our region’s history would have been very different.

The political row over railways harnessed the merchants’ fierce individualism to destroy the forces ranged against them. They understood a universal truth.

You cannot have a vibrant economy without a transport system that provides swift connections between our major towns and cities.

And, as the merchants knew only too well, you have to challenge the Government to ensure you get the transport system you deserve. Today, The Yorkshire Post is attracting a groundswell of support for its Back on Track Campaign, which calls on George Osborne to reaffirm his commitment to rail projects which are needed to ensure Northern commuters – and businesses – get a fair deal.

Our letter, which has attracted around 70 signatories, challenges Mr Osborne to honour pre-election promises to put transport at the forefront of his Northern Powerhouse Plan.

A graphic account of the misery endured by thousands of commuters was provided by my colleague Ismail Mulla, who travels from Dewsbury to Leeds each day.

As Ismail recounted, many travellers can only dream of finding a seat. In the summer, the train feels like a furnace; in the winter it can resemble an industrial freezer. Some passengers are forced to squeeze into the toilets, just so they can get to work.

Why should we tolerate this? We must tell the Government – loud and clear – that this “pause” in plans to upgrade the rail system is totally unacceptable, despite David Cameron accusing opponents of “griping” when the issue was raised at Prime Minister’s Questions.

At the same time, we should revisit proposals to create a Yorkshire mayor; a move that would strengthen the region’s hand in devolution negotiations, even if it would be politically contentious.

Moves to create a mayor would be divisive. Where, for example, would the mayor be based? Some fear it would simply lead to more bureaucrats.

But if we are serious about ensuring our region gets a fair deal we must not shy away from confronting Whitehall and speaking with one voice.

This is why the argument in support of creating a mayor merits serious consideration. Without improvements to the rail system, the Northern Powerhouse really is heading to the doghouse.