Ros Jones: Doncaster can play big part in story of prosperous North

The National College for High Speed Rail in Doncaster is a sign of the town's growing importance as an economic centre. (Picture: Scott Merrylees).
The National College for High Speed Rail in Doncaster is a sign of the town's growing importance as an economic centre. (Picture: Scott Merrylees).
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ON WEDNESDAY, Doncaster Sheffield Airport set out its masterplan to become the UK’s most outstanding regional airport.

It is a bold but achievable ambition, highlighting the capacity to provide international connectivity for up to 25 million people, and handling 250,000 tonnes of cargo per year.

With the ability to develop an ‘Aerotropolis’ and Global Innovation Corridor encompassing the Advanced Manufacturing Innovation District in Sheffield, it presents huge opportunities for economic growth and job creation which can benefit the whole of Yorkshire and the North.

At the heart of the new masterplan is an exciting proposal for a new East Coast Main Line station at Doncaster Sheffield Airport which will be a trigger for further economic transformation, with projected passenger numbers increasing to nearly 12 million per year by 2050. The scheme would deliver an estimated £16 of benefit for every £1 spent.

In Doncaster, we have always strongly believed that Doncaster Sheffield Airport is a hugely important asset. Not just for Doncaster – but for our region, the North of England and indeed the whole of the UK. The airport is a superbly located international gateway to the North. It is already experiencing significant growth, driving job creation and delivering new economic activity.

Perhaps most importantly, it has huge additional potential and can play a major role in the future transport and economic ambitions of the North.

Because development of the airport and surrounding area is creating new opportunities for residents and businesses alike, whether that is through employment, housing, supply chain development, more accessible markets, freight movement or by encouraging new inward investment.

Take, for example, Great Yorkshire Way, our new motorway link road to the airport, which was completed just two years ago.

In addition to stimulating growth at the airport, the road has enabled development of housing and Doncaster iPort – our new logistics hub and strategic rail freight interchange. Only 18 months old, iPort has already delivered our seven-year job target. But there is more that can be done, and the second phase of Great Yorkshire Way will open in just a few weeks. In fact in many ways, the recent success at the airport mirrors a wider story of economic growth in Doncaster.

Twenty years ago Doncaster was the ninth-largest economy in Yorkshire, coming off the back of a period of economic decline in South Yorkshire.

That is no longer the case. The latest figures show that Doncaster’s economy has more than doubled from about £2.5bn to more than £5bn. This was the second-fastest rate of growth among all 19 local authority areas in Yorkshire.

Today Doncaster is a very significant economic centre for the North with the seventh-largest economy in Yorkshire, and the sixth-largest forecast growth over the next 20 years. We have also seen year-on-year delivery of our housing targets, being on track for our record year in 2018/19.

Transport is one of our biggest assets in this economic recovery. In addition to the airport and iPort, Doncaster is home to:

The new National College for High Speed Rail, a centre of excellence in training the next generation of rail industry engineers.

Doncaster Rail Port – a major strategic rail freight hub.

An East Coast Main Line railway station – with 64 trains a day to London taking just over 90 minutes – soon to be about 80 mins when the Azuma trains come on stream at Christmas. It will deliver high speed for the North now, not waiting until 2033.

Our motorway connectivity is unparalleled, with direct access to the A1M, M18 and M180. Doncaster has more miles of motorway than the rest of South Yorkshire combined.

As well as road, rail and air, the Humber ports are only one hour away by road.

The role of the airport will become increasingly important in the future. Transport for the North has identified that by 2050, there is potential for the North to have 75 million air passengers per year, with all air freight flying from the North’s airports, compared with just four per cent in 2016. So the evidence is irrefutable. Doncaster has a vital role to play in helping TfN bridge the productivity gap through investing in infrastructure. We have the opportunities and a track record of delivering the projects, the outcomes and jobs that come with it.

We can play a real part in delivering for the Northern Powerhouse and Transport for the North’s aspirations.

With our private-sector partners, we are determined to see a new East Coast Main Line airport connection delivered quickly for the North. There is no reason why the station should not be operational by the mid 2020s. What is clear is that Doncaster can and will continue to play its part in the story of a prosperous North through strategic transport investment.

Ros Jones is Mayor of Doncaster