Unreliable public transport 'holding back Yorkshire staycation boom', major new report warns

Yorkshire and the North needs more reliable and joined up public transport services if the region is to fully capitalise on an anticipated post-Covid “staycation boom”, a major new report has said.

Passengers at Leeds railway station in December 2020. Picture: Danny Lawson/PA

Research commissioned by Transport for the North found that in 2019, the North accounted for 25 per cent of tourism spending in England - worth £21bn to the regional economy and supporting almost 600,000 jobs.

But the Visitor Economy and Transport in the North of England report, conducted by Atkins and Leisure Consultancy, said improved transport links could improve this figure still further after research involving focus groups and regional tourism chiefs highlighted many visitors are being put off by the “unreliability, uncertainty, and poor connectivity of the North’s public transport services”.

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It said: “70 per cent of participants indicated that improved public transport connectivity would encourage them to take more day trips to the North of England, while 58 per cent stated this would encourage them to take a longer trip to the North.”

The report, which is the first comprehensive pan-Northern study of the visitor economy and its connection with transport, interviewed people living both in the North and outside the region for its findings - holding nine focus groups recruited to reflect regional demographics.

It said that while the pandemic has badly affected the region’s tourism economy - with York seeing 67 per cent fewer visitors in winter 2020 compared to 2019 - there is “significant potential for the North’s visitor economy to flourish from an increase in ‘staycations’ due to the pandemic effect”.

It added: “The last such boom occurred in the years following the 2008 Financial Crisis, when lower spending power, employment uncertainty and higher costs for overseas travel led to a shift towards domestic travel.

"The impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic have brought about similar structural conditions, with the addition of concerns regarding the safety and health impacts of foreign travel, travelling in close proximity to other passengers, and ongoing border restrictions. A further staycation boom is therefore a possibility, and something which the North should encourage and ready itself for.”

But the report said this potential is being hampered by public transport problems.

“Services between the North’s core cities were identified as being particularly slow and overcrowded, especially when compared with rail links to London. The need to often take a connecting service when completing a journey was identified as a specific issue. Where connecting services need to be taken to complete a journey, long interchange times can lengthen journeys, making public transport uncompetitive with other modes.”

It said that while delivering HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail will play an important part in bringing significant journey time improvements to many of the North’s core cities and towns, “the integration of these new services with places they do not directly serve needs to be carefully managed to ensure the benefits are felt across the North”.

The report added: “Stakeholders identified a lack of suitable public transport services to tourist sites and areas of natural beauty; where services do exist, they were deemed too infrequent, and sometimes unable to cope with surges in tourist demand during periods of high demand.

"HS2 and NPR were welcomed by stakeholders, who felt the ability to reach many places in the North with greater speed will be an important boost for the region, especially for day visitors and business visitors.”

The findings of the report will inform Transport for the North’s future strategic plans.

Martin Tugwell, chief executive of TFN, said: “We must ensure we get the committed investment needed to create a transport network with the speed, capacity and reliability to move visitors and residents around more effectively.

“Additional investment could be truly transformative for our economy, our businesses and our people.

“As this year’s ‘staycation summer’ has demonstrated, our region has a lot to offer holidaying Brits, so we must ensure we do everything we can to encourage them to keep coming back.”

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