So, the new Government’s statements about levelling up and unleashing potential recognise the scale and the qualities of the North and getting the nation back in balance.
Like all turnarounds it will not happen overnight – the return on investment may be lower in the early years, as we need to put capital into new productivity opportunities and we have to start the journey at a quick pace. Indeed, many promises about growth and investment have recently been made and how they will all be financed in budgetary and fiscal terms remains to be seen, especially as the return in the early years will be lower. No doubt, next month’s Budget will provide a big clue.
When Transport for the North (TfN) launched its Independent Economic Review in June 2016, it targeted a transformation for the North, the rebalancing of the UK economy and the creation of 850,000 more jobs under a business as usual scenario – it set out a great vision of a connected North.
Freeports will be part of the solution for the movement of goods, but we must not forget the movement of people to and from our shores, and also the need to attract and retain talent and wealth.
TfN has made great progress and TfN’s Independent Economic Review highlighted clearly where our economic strengths lie and where transport investment would accelerate progress. Transport is not an end in itself, but a means to an end, namely higher productivity and a better quality of life – just as HS2 is not about speed, but it is about capacity.
There is always much talk about rail and road – that is where the emphasis lies, perhaps disproportionately – because ports and airports move people and goods in and out of the North; that is ever more vital post-Brexit, and our ports and airports in the North take these goods and people closer to their end destinations in the North.
They are vital contributors to the Northern economy as access points to the regions. Ports and airports are vital for movement of people and goods, global to local and local to global, but for that you need to get good connectivity into our ports and airports.
Doncaster Sheffield Airport is a great aviation asset both as a national contributor and to ensure balance for the North. I was pleased to announce at the annual Northern Powerhouse Conference recentlythat we have presented a business case to the Rail Network Enhancements Submission Pipeline to create a GatewayEast Growth Hub Rail Station to link the East Coast Main Line (ECML) to Doncaster Sheffield Airport.
It was an opportunity to share the economic significance of the GatewayEast Rail Station and what it will deliver for South Yorkshire and the North before an audience of leading political and business figures, who share the vision to ‘Power up the North’.
The proposal to add high-speed electrified rail connectivity to Doncaster Sheffield Airport, one of the UK’s fastest growing airports, offers exceptional rail connectivity and huge potential to expand. The arport currently handles 1.4 million passengers per annum with the footprint to handle 25 million passengers and 250,000 tonnes of freight per annum. It is a classic illustration of the strategic model where an airport is not simply a mover of people and freight but also has a transformational impact on the local economy as a magnet for growth.
Doncaster Sheffield would be the only airport in the UK to be connected directly to the existing high-speed East or West Coast Main Lines, with just 4.5 miles of track. Its delivery will redress the current aviation imbalance (Yorkshire currently has just 1.2 airline seats per head of population against the UK average of 5.2 per head), improving aviation capacity in the North and reducing overcrowding in Southern airports.
The business case for the new rail link outlines the positive economic impact that the connectivity of a GatewayEast Rail Station will have on Doncaster and the surrounding towns and cities. With a relatively modest cost of £300m, 1.5 per cent of the cost of Heathrow 3, it has the potential to unlock 33,000 jobs across South Yorkshire over the next 10 years, and 10,000 engineering, manufacturing aviation, energy and construction jobs within the next five years. Long-term, the simple delivery of just 4.5 miles of track could unlock 53,000 jobs and increase the region’s GVA contribution byfive per cent (£1.7bn per annum).
The proposed GatewayEast Rail Station is a key feature of the Doncaster Sheffield Airport 20-year strategic Masterplan. The 4.5 miles of track is ‘shovel-ready’ and deliverable within five years, unlocking 10,000 jobs short-term and over 53,000 jobs long-term.
We are calling on the Government to deliver on its Northern Powerhouse ambitions and back our business plan to the Rail Partnership Delivery Board, which would provide an ‘early win’ for Transport for the North’s Strategic Transport Plan as a catalyst for social and economic regeneration that can be kick-started by an East Coast Mainline link into Doncaster Sheffield Airport.
The scheme offers also great value for money to the taxpayer, with every £1 invested delivering £22.58 in economic returns for the UK. It will bring Doncaster Sheffield Airport within a 90-minute rail journey for nine million people, an increase of 360 per cent. Crucially, it would remove annually about 80 million road miles created by people travelling by car to more distant airports, taking around 23,000 tonnes of CO2 off the UK’s road network. We have had exceptional support from our strategic partners. The Sheffield City Region Combined Mayoral Authority, Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council and our surrounding Chambers of Commerce in Doncaster, Sheffield, Rotherham and Barnsley have given the submission their full support. Together, we are asking Government to confirm its commitment to rebalancing the UK economy and empower local areas in the North to drive their own ambitions for growth, unlock potential and bring much-needed jobs and prosperity to Northern regions.
Robert Hough CBE is chairman of Peel Airports.