THREE weeks ago, I had the honour of introducing myself to readers of The Yorkshire Post as the Conservative Party candidate for York Central.
My starting point was simple: as a Yorkshireman, naturally, I think York is one of the greatest cities in the world. But I also believe that York can be even better. As I’ve been canvassing the city over the last few weeks, that belief has only grown.
Everyone knows that here in Yorkshire we prefer blunt speaking. So here’s how I see it.
Our problem in York is that for a quarter of a century we’ve had MPs who lack ambition for our city. Not bad people by any means. But individuals with no idea of what they want to achieve. They’ve been reactive, not proactive. Protestors, not progressives. Politicians with no real imagination about what our city can be.
Today, York is a fantastic, beautiful, successful city. We have great schools, universities, new digital industries, and some world-class businesses. But we’ve also got problems – traffic, a lack of housing, a gap between wages and house prices. Tourism is vital, but of the seven million visitors to York annually, fewer than two million spend the night here. We’re also losing out in the race to build the Northern Powerhouse.
The reality is these problems aren’t new. We’ve been talking about some of these issues ever since I was a child growing up here. The question is: why haven’t we made more progress? My answer is – particularly in the last two years – we’ve had an MP with no clear plan for our city. They prefer to march, shout and complain.
Take housing. The brownfield site behind York station is one of the largest brownfield sites in Europe. People have talked about developing it for years. You couldn’t ask for an area with better rail links, or more potential to bring new job.
So why hasn’t our MP been slogging their guts out to help drive the development forward – and banging a few York heads together to get those issues sorted? We can do it. But we need a leader, not a bandwagon follower.
In the last few weeks, local Conservative candidates have launched a campaign to bring Channel 4 from London to York. Our number one priority is to bring Channel 4 to Yorkshire. But we should also be pressing for it to come to York.
The station site would be ideal – just two hours from London by train. I’ve already invited Karen Bradley, the culture secretary, to York to visit the site and discuss our bid.
But we need more than new offices. We also need new homes. We all know that the cost of housing is hurting young families. But the problem is not just that houses are expensive. It’s also that we need York wages to grow. That’s why, to making housing more affordable, we need to bring good new jobs to York.
And then there’s transport. Ever since I was a child, York has been ground down by gridlock. There are some key things we need to fix: upgrading the A64, improving the outer ring road, and replacing old regional trains.
Two weeks ago, the Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, visited York and pledged to continue investing in improvements across York’s transport network – including replacing the old Pacer trains on the Northern rail network over the next two years.
But our biggest opportunity is the Northern Powerhouse. If the Conservatives win the election, we have the chance to build a new Northern Powerhouse rail link, running from East to West across the north of England. This is a huge opportunity to power the region’s future. It is vital that York has an MP who puts our city in the driving seat.
The Northern Powerhouse offers a chance to rebalance our economy. Last week, the Chancellor visited York and pledged to create a new UK Prosperity Fund to replace – much more efficiently and effectively – the money we get rebated from the EU. With that money and the Northern Powerhouse funds, there will be tens of millions of pounds for York’s businesses to tap into – if we had an MP who was interested in telling firms how to open the vault.
Above all, we need to bring new industries to our city. Today, there will be a solidarity march in York for the Nestlé workers whose jobs are at risk. Everyone whose job is at risk deserves our full support. But what York’s workers really need for the future are growing markets, not more marches. We need to bring more of tomorrow’s businesses to our city and fly the flag for new inward investment here.
This is the level of focus and ambition York deserves from its Member of Parliament. Progress, not protest. Proactive, not reactive policies. Making things happen, not stopping things happening. Talking York up, not holding it back.
The June 8 election is a chance to choose an MP with a new level of ambition for our city. Let’s not let it slip.
Ed Young, a former head chorister at York Minster, is the Conservative candidate for York Central.