Julian Sturdy: Devolution must reach rural Yorkshire

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DEVOLVING the decision-making process closer to communities and tackling our nation’s historic North-South divide head on make perfect sense as principles. Empowering the North to achieve its true potential will ensure that we do not surrender to the unyielding rise of London. Britain is at its best when all our cities and regions have the freedom to champion their unique strengths in order to generate more highly skilled jobs and greater prosperity.

Clearly, it would be a mistake to restrict the offer of greater powers to a small, elite club of metropolitan centres. Every region of the country must be free to seize the opportunity of controlling its own destiny. That is the only way in which devolution can be truly successful.

I am therefore delighted that the proposals for devolution, as we see them at the moment, will now be considered much more widely, regardless of where they come from.

For me, the essence of Conservative philosophy is that it is not where someone comes from that matters, but where they are going and what they can achieve in life. That is ultimately where the devolution argument has to lie.

I would like to focus attention on the impact of the debate on the great county of Yorkshire and my city of York.

As the historic heart of Yorkshire, the city of York is uniquely placed to benefit from the Government’s offer of devolution.

We are fortunate enough to benefit from the membership of two local enterprise partnerships, and we are strategically linked not only with the economies of West Yorkshire, but with the more rural hinterland of North Yorkshire and the East Riding.

Although it is true that parts of our economy are intertwined with West Yorkshire, our connections with the rest of North Yorkshire run far deeper.

We share many of the essential services, and our proud heritage as the northern capital of both the Romans and the Vikings – as the city of York – provides us with a more intangible connection with the rest of the county.

The importance of York, North Yorkshire and the East Riding as a valuable counterweight to the competing interests of Leeds, Sheffield and Hull must not be overlooked. The new Conservative-led City of York Council, which has a Conservative leader for the first time since the authority was created over 20 years ago, has a great opportunity to make devolution work and truly unlock York’s potential.

On transport infrastructure and the need for investment, we can look no further than the northern ring road in my constituency. It provides the main access to key retail and employment and leisure sites. However, as the numbers of vehicles using that particular road have increased by more than half over the past decade, large stretches of the route are now at full capacity.

Without further investment, journeys that take 20 minutes today will take over an hour in 2020, so devolving transport funds to York would provide the ancient city with the tools that it needs for a modern transport infrastructure that fits the demands of the 21st century.

There is one other point. If we are really going to put wings under our devolution project, we must also devolve funding for our local airports. It is essential that access to Leeds Bradford Airport – one of the fastest growing airports in the country – is greatly improved. We have to get rail links in there and not just road links, as we have at the moment. Again, devolution can really put the wings under that airport and move it forward, so to speak. As such, we need that long-term approach to funding, with a dedicated rail link into the airport.

Clearly, the possibilities offered by devolution really have the potential 
to be transformative, not only for 
many of our cities, but for our rural communities.

However, we must make sure that it percolates right the way through, across our great country, empowering rural communities and cities such as York, leaving nowhere behind. It must not just be about the metropolitan centres.

If the rural communities that surround York are to play that leading role in devolution, we must ensure that it gets right to the heart of them. If we can achieve that, we can ensure that all communities play a leading role in what I would argue delivers for my area a Yorkshire powerhouse to rival that of Manchester and London.

Julian Sturdy is the Conservative MP for York Outer. He spoke in a Parliamentary debate on city-regions and metro mayors. This is an edited version.