In my role I spend a lot of time talking to members of the City Region’s business community about the obstacles they face to growth and what can be done to remove them. Transport is frequently at the top of the list.
As somebody who spends a lot of time travelling within the City Region and nationally – and has played a key role in the drive towards a 21st century transport network for the North for many years – I am all too aware of the problems that can be posed by the unreliability of the road and rail network and the consequences for business activity.
Through our £1bn Growth Deal and the West Yorkshire-plus Transport Fund we have developed a pipeline of projects to alleviate some of the longstanding problems in the Leeds City Region’s transport network. The Wakefield Eastern Relief Road, park-and-ride schemes at Temple Green and Elland Road and new railway stations at Apperley Bridge, Low Moor and Kirkstall Forge are just some of the major transport schemes already delivered by the West Yorkshire Combined Authority working with the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership.
And in recent weeks we have seen major steps forward taken in proposals to transform the strategic transport network which connects the Leeds City Region to the rest of the country.
Transport for the North held a launch event for its draft strategic plan in Leeds which set out ambitious proposals including a Northern Powerhouse Rail network designed to radically cut journey times between our major cities.
I was particularly pleased that the draft plan recognised the case we have been making for a new line connecting Manchester to Leeds via Bradford.
While Northern Powerhouse Rail understandably grabbed the headlines, the plan set out a broader approach to improvements across the North of England which could help transform the economy and at a cost which equates to just £150-per-head in additional annual funding.
In the context of the failure over decades to invest sufficiently in the transport network in the North of England and the recent IPPR North report again highlighting the gulf in infrastructure spending between Yorkshire and other parts of the country, £150-per-head is a modest request.
Our own HS2 Growth Strategy further set out how the Leeds City Region can maximise the impact of this once-in-a-generation investment. As a member of the HS2 Growth Task Force I have always been clear investment in major national and inter-regional projects must be matched with improvements at a local level to ensure all communities benefit.
By taking the correct actions now, and with appropriate support from the Government, our plan could help create 40,000 jobs directly and a further 50,000 from the resulting economic growth, inspire a major shift in the way we train our young people and unlock regeneration opportunities across the City Region.
It should be Leeds City Region businesses delivering this major project and in doing so training a new generation of engineers and project managers and people embracing new digital skills increasingly required in the transport sector. While both documents represented significant steps in the right direction, they are also a reminder that uncertainties continue to surround these proposed major investments.
In particular, it is incumbent on those of us in Yorkshire to keep making the case for the proposed eastern leg of HS2 to be delivered in parallel with construction of the western leg.
We must also guard against HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail becoming a menu of options from which the North of England must choose, rather than two essential and interconnected pieces of a joined-up investment plan to overhaul the northern transport network.
It is therefore incumbent on all of us to continue to make a loud and compelling case for investing in the strategic transport network in the North of England and to do so on the basis of the economic opportunities it will unlock for our communities and, in turn, the additional growth that will offer for the UK economy.
I would urge as many members of the business community as possible to have their say both on the HS2 Growth Strategy and Transport for the North’s draft strategic plan and to throw their weight behind ensuring this transformational investment is delivered as quickly as possible.
At forefront of accountability
I am proud to lead the most transparent local enterprise partnership in the country.
The Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership was already ahead of the others in terms of public accountability and recent decisions to implement a new code of conduct for board members – which goes much further than national guidance – and publish the chair’s remuneration and expenses further cements that position.
Transparency and openness are essential ingredients in ensuring that the public retains confidence in the work we do on their behalf and I am pleased we are at the forefront of LEP accountability.