Economic initiatives in Yorkshire are likely to be “stymied” by the region’s poor public transport and its congested roads, the head of the Government commission set up to advise on infrastructure challenges has admitted.
Sir John Armitt, who chaired the delivery body for the London Olympics in 2012, announced that councils in West Yorkshire will now get “specialist support” in a pilot project aimed at delivering transport improvements, new homes and job opportunities.
The project has been unveiled less than a month after it was revealed that public spending on transport in Yorkshire fell by £18 per person in a year, while increasing by £90 in London.
The drop in spending was bigger than any other region in England, research by the think tank IPPR North showed.
Sir John, who heads the National Infrastructure Commission, set up in 2015 by the then Chancellor, George Osborne to oversee £100bn of spending on infrastructure projects, will work with the West Yorkshire Combined Authority – which includes Leeds and Bradford – on a case study.
He said: “We want cities across Yorkshire to thrive and prosper. But their efforts will be stymied by poor public transport and traffic congestion.
“Our partnership programme will help the West Yorkshire Combined Authority and four other cities as they design plans to improve local transport – which in turn will demonstrate the real benefits that devolving funding for the long term will bring.”
The announcement coincides with another day of restricted travel across the region, as the RMT union stages its 40th walkout over the roles of guards on trains.
Northern Rail warned that “very few” services would run after 5pm, with trains expected to be very busy. By the end of the month, Northern will have been hit by 19 consecutive Saturdays of strike action, running only around a third of normal services on strike days.
The weekend is likely be one of the busiest of the year, as families do their Christmas shopping.
The union has accused the Government of “bailing out” the company on strike days, with the cost to taxpayers put at £24m by Christmas.
Mick Cash, the RMT general secretary, said the arrangement meant the company had “no financial incentive to settle the dispute”.
The shadow transport secretary, Andy McDonald, said Northern’s “incompetence has already wrought havoc on the lives of passengers and damaged the regional economy so it would be outrageous for the Government to hand over even more taxpayer cash”.
David Brown, Northern’s managing director, said: “This targeted action disrupts our customers’ lives, but as we enter a vital period for businesses, it also damages the economic wellbeing of the north of England.”