Combining forces key to making Yorkshire northern powerhouse

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ESTABLISHING Yorkshire as the economic engine of the North is the goal of a major shift in the way its local authorities work together, say council leaders.

Two new “combined authorities” with plans to invest hundreds of millions of pounds in South and West Yorkshire start work tomorrow.

And the two bodies will play a significant role in delivering the wide-ranging growth plans being submitted by the region today to the Government for a share of its £2bn-a-year Local Growth Fund.

“Looking at infrastructure there is a big, big problem. The amount we hope to be able to invest over 15 years is £1.6bn. That is not an insubstantial sum by any means so I think we’ve got the ability to make a big, big difference,” said Peter Box, who will chair the West Yorkshire Combined Authority. “People often forget that the city region is a big economy, £55bn – bigger than Manchester, bigger than Wales – so we have got the ability to make a big difference.”

The West Yorkshire Combined Authority, which will include York, has set out plans for a £1bn transport fund and identified a list of priority projects including improvements to the A629 Halifax – Huddersfield corridor and Salterhebble junction, an upgrade of the Cooper Bridge junction and the new East Leeds Orbital Road, Wakefield Eastern relief road and improvements to York’s ring road.

But a long-running dispute with the Government over how much freedom it will have to raise funds has yet to be resolved.

“I tend to be an optimist. There was an intention on the part of Government and on behalf of the then Shadow Combined Authority to make this work and we are going to work closely with Government to look at how we can solve the problem that has been raised and I am confident with goodwill on both sides we will be able to do that,” said Coun Box, the leader of Wakefield Council.

There have long been calls to hand over more Government powers and money to the region and combined authorities are seen as a significant step towards greater devolution.

“What we are saying to Government is we want to unlock our potential. We have got huge, huge potential,” said Coun Box. “Let’s make sure we use that potential and let’s make sure the combined authority becomes a catalyst so West Yorkshire and York becomes the growth engine for the North of England.”

Combined authorities see councils pool money and powers, as well as taking over important decisions from Whitehall. But to work they also mean council leaders will sometimes have to support investment in another district rather than their own.

Sir Steve Houghton, the leader of Barnsley Council who will chair the combined authority covering South Yorkshire, said: “This is about how we grow the Sheffield City Region overall and what will be the key projects for the region overall.

“We are not economies in isolation from each other. We are all interrelated. An investment in Sheffield brings benefits to Barnsley and an investment in Barnsley brings benefits to Sheffield.”

He added: “It’s no good talking the talk. We have got to walk the walk too. We’ve got to deliver.”