The boss of Skipton Building Society has called for the Skipton to Colne railway line to be reopened as part of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s plans to invest in Northern rail infrastructure.
David Cutter, chief executive of Skipton Building Society, said the move would significantly improve connectivity between North and West Yorkshire and across to East Lancashire.
Mr Cutter reiterated the mutual’s desire to see the line reopened as he unveiled the firm’s results for the first half of the year.
He told The Yorkshire Post: “We’re very interested in trying to improve the infrastructure. We’ve been campaigning for many years to reopen the Skipton to Colne railway line.”
The PM threw his weight behind the £39bn Northern Powerhouse Rail project, which, if realised, could drastically cut journey times between Leeds and Manchester.
Mr Cutter added: “We’d like to see under his Northern Powerhouse initiative to see investment money put forward to reopening that 12 miles of line, which would significantly improve the rail network between West Yorkshire and North Yorkshire and then into East Lancashire and Manchester.”
Around 1,600 staff, a quarter of the workforce, at Skipton Building Society’s head office have a Lancashire postcode. A lot of workers commute from across the Pennines because of the cost of property. The mutual believes that reopening the railway line, which was closed in the early 1970s, would reduce rail commute times for staff as well as making it cheaper for them to travel to and from work.
It would also enable freight rail to reduce the amount of time it takes for containers to get from the East to West and free up space on the M62.
Britain’s fourth largest mutual said it had performed well despite a competitive mortgage and savings environment.
Skipton Building Society continued to grow its membership and increased its mortgage balances by 6 per cent. Despite a challenging environment, the mutual said it recorded underlying profits before tax of £84.2m, down from the £94.9m it registered during the six months ended June 30, 2018.
The society’s estate agency division Connells reported profits before tax of £26.2m in a subdued UK property market.
“We are very pleased with the results in what is undoubtedly a very competitive mortgage and savings market and a subdued housing market, which we’re seeing through Connells,” Mr Cutter said.
Total profit before tax was £72.3m, down from £104.7m in the same period last year.
Skipton Building Society said the decrease in total profit was predominantly in its mortgages and savings division, primarily attributed to fair value losses of £12.5m relating to its equity release portfolio, which is closed to new business. The division’s underlying profitability of was flat.
The firm’s mortgage book has grown by 6 per cent and savings 4 per cent in the period.
Mr Cutter said: “Although the business is bigger the profits are flat and that’s reflective of the fact that the net interest margin has reduced during the period.
“The reason for that is very strong competition in the mortgage market and lately in the savings market as well.”
The society says it is “well placed” to deal with any immediate ramifications of a no deal Brexit.
Mr Cutter said: “If there was a no deal Brexit we don’t believe there would be any immediate significant shock as we’re very well capitalised and we’ve got plenty of liquidity. We would then be interested in the longer term secondary impact in terms of what if anything would happen to house prices, inflation and interest rates.”
House sales potentially turning a corner
The vote to leave the European Union triggered a decline in houses sales. However, there maybe positive signs that the sector could be set to bounce back.
David Cutter said: “Whether it’s too early to call I don’t know but the results from Q2 were mildly encouraging and it appears that the continued decline for three years on the trot since the referendum seems to have halted.
“There was more interest in the market in Q2 and that has continued into the first few weeks of July. It’s early days but it appears as if the continuing decline, that we have seen for the last three years, has bottomed out.”