Transport has always been central to turning the Northern Powerhouse from a concept into a reality.
Giving people the ability to move around the North of England quickly, seamlessly and in an affordable way would open up access to education, services and job opportunities with the potential to deliver a £100billion boost to the UK economy and create 850,000 additional jobs.
On Friday, Chris Grayling, the Transport Secretary, will have the opportunity to set out his current thinking on how we deliver this vision when he joins myself, industry leaders, operators and others for a Northern Powerhouse transport event in Yorkshire.
He does so as we stand at a crossroads.
At a regional level, we are playing our part through the construction of new railway stations, park-and-ride schemes, road upgrades, a more reliable bus network and encouraging people to explore alternative ways to travel including cycling and our award-winning Cycle Superhighway connecting Bradford and Leeds. We know there is huge latent demand. Apperley Bridge station for example, built by the Combined Authority, met its five-year passenger footfall target within 12 weeks of opening.
We have ambitious plans to capitalise on the major rail projects coming in the future. The construction of Northern Powerhouse Rail with a new line between Manchester and Leeds with a stop serving Bradford, would unlock £1.3billion of economic benefits for my own city alone.
As a City Region we have set out proposals which, with the right backing from the Government and others, could deliver 90,000 additional jobs alongside a transformation of our approach to skills training and position us as the UK capital of high speed rail engineering as a consequence of the arrival of HS2.
However, HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail lie on a distant horizon of delivery. We need to also focus on securing improvements now. There is some uncertainty over more immediate, and essential, upgrades the North of England has already been promised.
We await to hear the outcome of Mr Grayling’s deliberations on the long-promised upgrade of the trans-Pennine route connecting Yorkshire to the North West via Huddersfield and whether the full potential benefits will be realised. The disconnect between the planning of rail track and station improvements and the rail franchise process means passengers remain uncertain over when timetable improvements expected in our region will be delivered. The collapse of the InterCity East Coast franchise for the third time in a decade was a disappointment and we are concerned that it could put a raft of additional services, due to come into force in May 2019, in doubt.
These short and medium term improvements are how the North of England can build momentum as we wait for the transformational projects that will follow in the decades to come. These improvements are essential foundation stones of the Northern Powerhouse that must be delivered, helping unlock economic growth and building confidence in our communities, showing them that real change is underway.
Undoubtedly there is public scepticism that HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail will be delivered. So it’s even more important for the Government to follow through on the short and medium term improvements we are expecting. For the sake of public confidence, we need assurances that these remain a priority for the Government.
Having met the Transport Secretary before, he is undoubtedly passionate about the potential of rail investment to transform economies. We need a decent share of that investment in Yorkshire and I therefore hope he is bringing us positive news on his visit to our great county this week.
Cllr Susan Hinchcliffe is Chair of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority and Leader of Bradford Council