Chris Grayling: My high-speed vision for future of Yorkshire transport

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling.
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling.
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THIS is a region with a pioneering transport history. During the 19th century, not only did Yorkshire change the way we made goods – it changed the way we transported them too. Transport gave industry in Yorkshire the competitive advantage it required to flourish. It opened up labour markets. It slashed the cost of raw materials. And it brought customers closer.

Transport was a game- changer in Victorian Yorkshire – itt was the only time in our modern history when we saw a fundamental shift in our economic geography northwards.

Yet the role of transport in stimulating growth and jobs hasn’t changed. It is exactly the same today as it’s always been. Make the right decisions and the right investments, and transport can be a game changer once again. A catalyst for enterprise that can realise the growth potential of Yorkshire in the years ahead. In a few weeks’ time, work will start on HS2. But by the time that the first high speed trains are pulling out of Leeds Station, we’ll have made huge improvements to the rest of the transport network.

Massive investment will have gone into the rail infrastructure – electrifying the route between York, Leeds and Manchester, for example. Franchises will have delivered transformational improvements to rail services – such as the £1.2bn being invested by Northern and TransPennine.

Major upgrades will have reduced congestion and improved flow on key arteries, like the M1, M62 and A63.

And – let’s not forget – Yorkshire will have cemented its place as the capital of road race cycling after staging the 2019 Road World Championships.

This is an exciting time – for Yorkshire, and for our country. Six months ago, the people of this county voted emphatically to leave the European Union.

Critics claimed our economy would nosedive. Figures show we ended last year as the strongest of the world’s advanced economies. Growth didn’t remain steady in the six months after the Brexit vote. It accelerated.

They also said it would make us more cut-off and isolated as a country. In fact, it will do the opposite. Brexit is about Britain becoming a stronger, more outward facing and ambitious country that can shape its own future on the global stage.

And that has big implications for the North. For the country to thrive outside the EU, we need a more balanced economy. We also need to do something we last did during the Victorian era –move our economic centre of gravity northwards and empower businesses here by investing in modern transport connections.

There are few better signals to the world that we’re serious about growing our economy, increasing our productivity and welcoming inward investment than upgrading infrastructure.

HS2 in particular will bring the fast, high-capacity links that have been denied to the North for far too long. When complete, it will bind Yorkshire to the rest of the North and Midlands, creating a single economic area. It will slash journey times from Leeds to Birmingham and London, and give rail passengers on the existing network thousands of extra seats every day.

That’s crucial because HS2 is not going to be a standalone railway. It’s going to be an integral part of the transport system here in Yorkshire, reducing overcrowding on other rail services and taking lorries off the roads. This is a momentous project that will create 25,000 jobs and 2,000 apprenticeships during construction.

In Leeds, plans for HS2 are well under way. November’s announcement confirmed that Leeds Station will be remodelled into a ‘Yorkshire Hub’. This will allow passengers to switch easily between HS2, local rail, and proposed transPennine services.

But the benefits of the scheme will stretch well beyond the rail users. The South Bank development is expected to create more than 35,000 jobs and 4,000 homes in Leeds. That will make it one of the biggest urban regeneration projects in Europe. And hopefully it gives businesses here the certainty they need to plan for the future.

Just as HS2 is a sign of the Government’s commitment to national infrastructure, a spectacular new transport gateway in Leeds will send a clear message to investors about the city’s future ambitions.

The question of where to locate the Sheffield Region HS2 station will be answered later this year. In September, Yorkshire will receive a further boost when the National College for High Speed Rail opens in Doncaster. The college will provide a skilled and qualified workforce to deliver the biggest engineering project in this country since the motorways.

But HS2 is just one part of a much wider Northern transport programme worth £13bn during this Parliament alone.

Great transport created the first Northern Powerhouse nearly two centuries ago, and it can create the second one in the future.

Not by dragging London down, but by firing up the North with transport connections that match the very best in Europe.

Chris Grayling is the Transport Secretary. This is an edited version of his keynote speech to Leeds Chamber of Commerce.

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