Gridlock over transport cash stalls region’s recovery hopes

The Leeds trolleybus scheme is still awaiting government approval
The Leeds trolleybus scheme is still awaiting government approval
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YORKSHIRE’S creaking transport network is damaging the region’s economy and the Government must reverse years of chronic under-investment if business is to drive the recovery from recession.

The stark warning from business leaders comes after new research revealed more than a third of the region’s firms see transport as an economic disadvantage.

A KPMG report – which surveyed 80 Yorkshire companies with a turnover of £5m or more – found that fewer than one in ten would describe transport as an asset.

The findings claim Yorkshire would “stand to gain hugely” from improved connectivity between the region’s economic centres, ports and airports as well as national and international hubs.

And business leaders told the Yorkshire Post investment was “essential” if the private sector is to lead recovery from recession.

Mark Goldstone, head of business representation and policy at the Leeds, York and North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce, said: “Investment in Yorkshire’s transport system is essential in order to remain competitive and support private sector growth. The Chamber has lobbied long and hard for an integrated transport network across the Leeds City Region.

“The electrification of the Transpennine line was welcomed by business, but if we are to truly rebalance the economy and create a northern economic powerhouse to rival the South-East then investment in the Northern Hub is essential.”

The Yorkshire Post Give us a Fair Deal campaign is lobbying for a fairer distribution of funding from Whitehall and transport chiefs have said projects such as the Northern Hub – a £560m rail investment programme that would bring £4.2bn of economic benefits and up to 30,000 jobs – would transform the region’s economy.

So far Westminster has funded two parts of the programme – the electrification of the Trans-Pennine route and Ordsall Chord, which will connect Manchester’s Piccadilly and Victoria stations which will have knock-on benefits for Yorkshire services – but there is yet to be a commitment to completing the scheme.

There are also fears that the commitment to the £32bn high speed rail network could distract the Government from investment in the existing infrastructure, with projects such as Leeds trolleybus still awaiting approval from the Department for Transport (DfT).

Kieran Preston, Director General at Metro, the West Yorkshire Integrated Transport Authority, said: “We know that by providing companies with access to more potential employees and wider markets, good transport links underpin business development and encourage investment.

“Unfortunately the results of this survey reflect a legacy of underspending on transport in our region by successive governments but hopefully we can build upon recently-secured projects such as new stations at Kirkstall Forge, Apperley Bridge and Low Moor and the Leeds Station Southern Entrance.

“What we need to see now is DfT and Treasury support for further improvements in our rail network and also the go-ahead for the first stage of the New Generation Trolleybus network to stem the forecast rise in congestion and delays in and around Leeds.”

The KPMG’s Yorkshire Business Instinct survey revealed 27 per cent of businesses cited transport as a regional weak point, with just nine per cent believing it was a positive attribute.

Yorkshire’s external links fared better, with more business leaders considering them a positive for the region than the proportion who said it was a negative feature of doing business in Yorkshire.

Nearly one in three named the region’s external transport links as a positive business attribute, but a significant minority – more than one in five – claimed t that it is one of the region’s negative aspects from a business perspective.

The survey also found that 47 per cent said the quality of life in the region was an asset to doing business in Yorkshire.

Richard Threlfall, KPMG partner and Leeds based UK head of Infrastructure, Building and Construction said: “What is conclusive about our research is that it provides further evidence that transport is an issue close to the hearts of business leaders in Yorkshire.”

Business leaders hail fund plan: Section 1, Page 7. Section 1, Comment: Page 16.