LET me take you on a glorious flight of fancy.
You hop on a plane and land on the outskirts of a vibrant city, which is full of entrepreneurs who believe the world is their oyster. After landing and re-claiming your luggage, you are delighted to discover that the airport has a clean, efficient express train system that whisks you into the financial core in a matter of minutes.
In no time at all, you feel a powerful affinity with the city. It’s just the sort of place you’d choose for your next significant overseas investment.
If only I was talking about a city in Yorkshire. In fact, my story relates to Toronto, which provides a template for the way Yorkshire should arrange its own transport network. We’ve returned from a trip to Canada which provided an opportunity to take a cold, hard look at the terrible shortcomings of our region’s transport system.
Toronto’s air-rail link provides overseas travellers and potential investors with easy access to the heart of the city. City-bound trains leave the airport every 15 minutes. We were struck by the large numbers of helpful staff on the platform and the cleanliness of the carriages.
Toronto’s leaders have had the good sense to create an integrated transport system, which Yorkshire, and much of the North of England, sadly lacks. It makes it much easier to attract global business magnates who might want to establish operations in the city.
I fear that anyone heading to Yorkshire would not experience such a seamless or enjoyable journey. Far from it. The absence, for example, of a rail link to Leeds Bradford Airport places the region at a significant disadvantage.
However you arrive in the region, there is no escaping the fact that many commuters face a slow, cramped miserable journey between our major cities.
According to my colleague, Ismail Mulla, who travels from Dewsbury to Leeds on the train each day, many commuters are crammed in like sardines and delays are almost the norm.
Some passengers are forced to squeeze into the toilets, just so they can get to work. Ismail has seen elderly people who have almost fainted because they had to stand on sweltering trains.
What must potential investors feel when they find themselves stuck in these joyless, boiling carriages? They probably fight their way out and take the next flight home.
It’s hardly surprising that many commuters have simply abandoned the public transport system and hopped in their cars, adding to the chronic congestion and environmental damage.
Gridlocked roads were highlighted as one of the major obstacles to the country’s economic growth in a new report from the National Infrastructure Commission. The research indicated that more than 70 per cent of workers in Leeds use their car to get to work, compared with less than a third in London.
A senior figure at Hisense UK, which was crowned as the region’s fastest growing business at this year’s Ward Hadaway Yorkshire Fastest 50 awards, added his voice to calls for a devolution deal which can fix our broken transport system.
Howard Grindrod, the deputy managing director at Leeds-based Hisense UK, told me earlier this year: “We can get people up from London in two and a half hours from King’s Cross. To get someone over from Manchester can take just as long, and it’s a much messier journey.”
Hisense UK is the British arm of a Chinese multinational which is one of the world’s largest electronics and consumer goods manufacturers. It is just the type of company Yorkshire needs to attract and retain if we are serious about competing on a global stage.
Devolution offers an historic opportunity to provide our business leaders with the air, road and rail links they deserve. If we get it wrong, we may have to face an uncomfortable truth; our inadequate transport system is forcing many potential overseas investors to head home in disgust.