Our industry has been largely pleased this month after the annual Spring Statement, presented by Chancellor Philip Hammond, demonstrated government interest in developing the transportation industry. His speech outlines the need for government to support private infrastructure investment. In response, the FTA have published their own report with education and guidance for MPs, to underline the importance of the sector to the UK economy.
58% of people across Yorkshire and the Humber voted to leave the European Union. Breaking down the votes in more detail, it appears that larger cities such as Leeds, York and Harrogate were the only ones to win a ‘Remain’ majority – and by a much narrower margin than the ‘Leave’ voting towns in the region. It’s been suggested that the ‘forgotten’ towns and cities of Yorkshire hope for a better future upon departing the EU, with economic disenchantment across the region.
Transport for the North has agreed a Strategic Transport Plan to support the Northern region, with claims that the playing field should level out amongst cities such as London, where spending on infrastructure is currently more than triple that of the Yorkshire and Humber regions.
However, this suggestion has been contested by a new report that has been published by the New Economics Foundation (NEF). The report – released earlier this month – focused on the HS2 high-speed rail project’s impact on the economy, and found that 40% of the benefits of the project would go to London, and widen the North-South economic divide.
The HS2 budget is £56 billion, rising by two thirds from the original project cost estimates of £33.3 billion in 2011. Whilst phase 2b of the project includes an extension of the route which will lead into Yorkshire, it’s been suggested that only the wealthiest of the UK population would use the service – a population which currently has a southern majority. £18.9 billion of the project budget has been set aside for the development of northern parts of the route. The NEF’s report suggested alternatives to HS2, including the further electrification of existing railways across the country and called on the government to bring forward a strategy which will support carrying more freight, amongst other benefits.
An example of the good which can still be done with existing railway infrastructure includes a recent partnership between David Wagon Services and Drax Power Station, who have built a fleet of freight wagons to deliver biomass materials to the UK’s largest power station. The Yorkshire-based collaboration has also revived a disused rail yard in the area and secured a number of local jobs. Elsewhere in North Yorkshire, there is restorative work taking place along the historic Masham Bridge, which is a major freight route in the region. John Hall, who is the managing director of Drax, has advised that work will continue to develop and further utilise the Ferrybridge rail yard, and take on heavier maintenance which would in turn support the local economy.
And it’s not just the railway which could see benefits from investment. Many local to the Yorkshire and Humber region will no doubt be aware of perhaps the largest recent freight development in the region: the iPort, opening in 2018. Whilst iPort does have its own rail hub – an independently operated 30-acre container site – the multi-faceted offering also serves road, warehousing and air freight. In total, 53.4 million people live within four hours’ drive time of the multimodal logistics park: 81% of the UK population or 87% of the mainland population (excluding Northern Ireland). Moreover, the four main UK container ports are all within four hours’ drive-time of iPort. This alone should make the development a leading example of the good that can come from financing the region.
It’s a waiting game for much of the country when it comes to post-Brexit action. It’s important to remain positive in the midst of what is a politically uncertain time. There is no doubt that the North-South divide is wider than ever, and work is needed to restore the balance to areas which are disproportionately affected by high rates of unemployment and poverty. The best that those in the region can do is to lead by example where possible and continue to put pressure on the government, industry bodies and lobbying groups to change things where needed.
Sarah O’Connell, Senior Editor, FORWARDER magazine