In an impassioned speech, Gerald Jennings, the president of Leeds Chamber of commerce, urged local business leaders to lobby hard to make sure Yorkshire gets the best possible deal from transport investment measures that will seal the fate of future generations. Mr Jennings made the comments at an event in Leeds which focused on the strategic transport issues facing the North of England.
He was among a panel of speakers which also included David Brown, the chief executive of Transport for the North, the organisation which has been formed to improve the transport system across the North of England. The other panellists were Martin Capstick, the director for regional transport strategies at the Department for Transport, Coun Judith Blake, the leader of Leeds City Council and Coun Susan Hinchliffe, the leader of Bradford Council.
The event, which had the title - Transport for the North - The investment and development of Leeds city region - was organised by the Met Club and held at The Queens Hotel in Leeds.
Mr Jennings told the audience of 90 business leaders: “We all have experience of transport. We all know in our part of the world it is nowhere near good enough.
“So what we have been doing at the chamber, is making sure that we have a serious and grown up conversation with the DFT (Department for Transport), with TFN (Transport for the North) with Whitehall, and Leeds City Council and with Bradford City Council.. to make sure that we understand how transformational transport can be and should be.
“Chris Grayling, (the Secretary of State for Transport) when he came to speak at our annual dinner at the end of January, talked about how transport helped to create the Northern Powerhouse 200 years ago. And we can do the same again.
“Undoubtedly, in our part of the world, we have fallen behind the curve.
“What we need to do, as a chamber and as a business community is in our conversations with the DFT, with TFN..is hold their feet to the fire, because whilst strategy and thinking long term is absolutely right, and we need to be hugely ambitious and aspirational, we do need to see delivery.
“Because what our members, across the whole of West and North Yorkshire say to us, is that there are three key issues for them - transport, housing and skills.”
Mr Jennings added: “Think of the Northern Powerhouse as a geography. It’s around 16 million people. It’s bigger than the Netherlands. Think about our side of the Pennines; think about the Leeds City region. It’s about a £65bn economy. We’re a grown up part of the world. We don’t need to go cap in hand to Government, to ask for what we need. We should be demanding it.”
He said the chamber was a “great supporter” of what TFN is trying to do.
He added: “What we need to do, in our part of the world, is make sure our voice is heard loudly in those decisions. They will be making decisions and going to the DFT, and seeking Government consent, for expenditure which will affect generations to come. We probably only have one opportunity to influence those decisions.
Transport and education are the key priorities for the region’s economy, according to Coun Susan Hinchliffe, the leader of Bradford Council.
She said: “There are 102,000 children in schools (in Bradford) and all those children will need a job. We need them to be educated to the best standard possible, so that our city can be prosperous. We will add at least £1.3bn to the economy if we get on to a mainline, as opposed to being on a branch line.”
Coun Judith Blake, the leader of Leeds City Council, said transport had a crucial role to play in helping the region to achieve its ambitions.
She added: “Transport for the North has presented a major opportunity to set our stall out. We know the glaring disparity in the funding we’re getting from central Government - it’s seven times per head higher in the South East of the country compared with here in Yorkshire and the North.”
The panel debate was chaired by Greg Wright. The Yorkshire Post’s deputy business editor.”