York’s case to be Great British Railways HQ – Julian Sturdy

EARLIER this year, following the Williams-Shapps rail review, the Government announced its intention to create a new public body – Great British Railways.

Should York be the new HQ of Great British Railways? York Outer MP Julian Sturdy has made the case in Parliament.

Billed as a modern-day successor to British Rail, Great British Railways will take on the responsibilities covered by Network Rail, as well as further responsibilities from the Department for Transport and the Rail Delivery Group.

The new body will bring the ownership and management of the railways under one structure, with the organisation responsible for collecting revenue, running and planning the network and setting most fares and timetables.

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On October 4, the Transport Secretary announced that he was looking for a town or city to host the new headquarters of Great British Railways and, in doing so, become the home of the railways.

Julian Sturdy is Tory MP for York Outer.

York has always been the home of the railways, a fact that should be recognised by locating the new headquarters of Great British Railways in our great city.

York was first connected to the railway network more than 180 years ago and quickly became one of the best-connected cities in the UK, having direct rail access to more than 150 towns, cities and villages, representing a third of the UK’s population.

To accommodate that, at the time of its completion in 1877, York station was the largest in the world; to date, it remains one of the most impressive. York has always been an important staging post for those travelling between London and Scotland, which is reflected in its prominence on the east coast mainline.

It also has another role as the interchange between the East Coast Mainline and the trans-Pennine line, connecting northern industrial heartlands, such as Merseyside, Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire with the east coast, the east of England and the north-east of England.

Should York be the new HQ of Great British Railways? York Outer MP Julian Sturdy has made the case in Parliament.

If, as I believe to be the case, the Government are truly committed to levelling up and spreading prosperity to areas outside London and South East, then they should look no further than York.

It is not just York’s rail connectivity that sets it apart, but its central role in the nation’s wider rail industry. In 1975, this was recognised by the opening of the National Railway Museum at a site adjacent to York station. It is home to such iconic locomotives as Mallard and the Flying Scotsman. The museum attracts over 700,000 visitors per year, with plans for further expansion.

There is much more. York’s skills base in rail and connected industries is unrivalled. The industry employs 5,500 people in the city, some 10 per cent of the national total and two-thirds of all rail jobs in the Yorkshire and Humber region.

It also lies at the centre of the UK’s largest rail cluster, being ideally located between Doncaster and Sheffield to the south, Leeds and Huddersfield to west and Durham and the Tees Valley to the north.

Should York be the new HQ of Great British Railways? York Outer MP Julian Sturdy has made the case in Parliament.

Over 100 relevant companies, with 9,500 employees, are based within one hour of York. The city is also home to Network Rail’s training centre, which provides professional development for existing employees as well as training the engineers of the future.

The home of the railways should have an eye to their future. That is where York stands out. The city and the wider region are home to a dynamic mix of businesses and academic institutions, working together on the latest innovations in rail.

There is another reason that York would be a sensible, if not the best, choice for locating a major public body in the form of the Great British Railways. As Ministers will know, York is currently home to one of the country’s largest brownfield sites, which is also a regeneration project. It covers some 45 hectares of disused track and railway depots, adjacent to York station and right in the heart of the city.

York Central promises to be of a similar scale and ambition to the highly successful redevelopment of King’s Cross. The project promises to provide more than 2,500 new homes and, crucially, 112,000 square metres of high-quality commercial office space. Work has already started on clearing the site, following a successful bid for £77m of Government funding for the enabling infrastructure.

As the Prime Minister would say, this is an oven-ready proposition for Great British Railways, providing a unique chance to build the new headquarters on a city-centre brownfield site in which Network Rail is a major partner and landowner.

Surely there is a certain appeal about this: the new Great British Railways being based on a regenerated railway site. That the site happens to be located next to the National Railway Museum, one of the north’s major and main interchange stations, and the offices of several major players in the national rail industry makes it an option that is impossible for the Government to ignore.

Julian Sturdy is Tory MP for York Outer. He led a Parliamentary debate on Great British Railways – this is an edited version.

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