What is happening to our region?

25th July 2017

I am what could be regarded as a proper resident of this region.

I live in Rotherham, my daughter lives in Retford and my son lives in Doncaster. We all work in Sheffield. My sons partner works in Worksop. We reflect the travel to work analysis that has defined the common sense economic footprint that goes to make up the Sheffield City Region. Whilst I am executive director of Sheffield Chamber of Commerce I do not in the least subscribe to this big bad Sheffield take over jealousy which, as a person born and brought up near Scarborough, sometimes seems to drive a self-destruct mentality around here. Maybe it's time to reflect on the past few weeks to illustrate what I mean the two big issues of HS2 and the Devolution Deal. HS2 HS2 was not originally coming to the Sheffield City Region. The first proposal was for a -Z shaped scheme, from London to Birmingham to Manchester and across to Leeds. It bypassed us. It would have been a complete disaster for our region and severely compromised our ability to attract investors and create jobs. We campaigned hard to make sure we were included and the coalition government modified it to a -Y shape scheme with a line from Birmingham to both Manchester and Leeds where the eastern leg provided us with a service and station. HS2 is not a speed project. It is a capacity project. People might not be aware but investment planned by Thames Link on services between Bedford and Brighton could both extend journey times and remove services between London and Sheffield. There is a real capacity problem now, particularly round London but which affects us all, that will not just be solved by a series of smaller projects and sticking plaster. They need a long-term solution. The original rough plan had stations both at Meadowhall and Victoria as options. The initial high-level study by HS2 showed Meadowhall was cheaper but produced much less economic benefits for the whole region than Victoria. The report, produced by Genecon, showed that the economic uplift and jobs created was £2bn GVA and 3,000 jobs for a station at Meadowhall and £7bn GVA and 9,500 jobs for a city centre location. I know it is opportune for some people to quote the figures that best suit their arguments, deny that the other figures exist, or even that one set are incorrect, but these figures were produced by the same body and are in the same report! Over time, more detailed work showed that Meadowhall was not actually that much cheaper because of problems with geology and old mine workings. But Victoria was still expensive and had the disadvantage of lengthening journey times from Leeds to London. The Northern Powerhouse project Transport for the North also announced its intention to connect the centres of all the northern cities by regular services of 30mins or less. This could not be achieved by utilising HS2 if the station was at Meadowhall. Building two lines did not make sense. The two projects needed to collaborate and integrate. HS2 carried out more evaluation and came up with the solution that was announced two weeks ago. It involves the direct line being moved east of Rotherham with a Parkway Station somewhere along it, with a loop from both North and South through Sheffield Midland station (and Chesterfield) which also achieves the objective of Leeds and Sheffield being connected by a 30-min service. It is cheaper than Meadowhall, produces much better economic growth than Meadowhall and serves the wider region through having three stations, not one. Another added benefit that many politicians will not tell you is that less houses are demolished by this route than by the Meadowhall one. There is an estate on the Meadowhall route called Waverley and we would have been having the same discussions about that. We can have nothing but sympathy for the people who are affected by this project but we should try to minimise it and maximise the return in growth and jobs to best justify the upheaval. Turning to the Devolution Deal. It was originally offered to, and accepted by the four South Yorkshire Local Authorities who then, quite rightly in my opinion, tried to expand it over the whole economic footprint of Sheffield City Region. That failed and I am mystified why the four South Yorkshire Authorities did not immediately reaffirm that they would continue on the original (approved) path of a South Yorkshire Devolution deal. Language like exploring a Yorkshire wide deal started to appear which ended last week in any decision being put back until September, while certain people -explored other options and the chair of the Combined Authority stepping down because of potential -conflicts of interest. Let's be clear. There are no other deals on the table. Government has indicated it will not entertain a Yorkshire-wide deal and that the South Yorkshire one is the only one on offer. How can it be better for the people of Doncaster or Barnsley or anybody else to turn down something that is real and on offer for the uncertainty of a non-existent hypothetical deal? Why would doing a South Yorkshire Deal preclude us from doing a Yorkshire one in the future anyway? The answer lies in vested interests and power. The deal comes with a Mayor. An individual who will have lots of control and/or influence over how the devolution money is spent which means other people will have less. Some people would rather be a big fish in a puddle! I'm afraid that the current situation really exposes the lack of sophistication and leadership in many areas of our society. Power and short termism driven by the need to win the next vote in four years overrules sensible, long term economic decisions that will better benefit our children and grandchildren. In reality, if we don't join the race to the top we join the race to the bottom. If we aren't seen as being in the race to the top people will not invest here and create higher level jobs and we will remain a region where land is relatively cheap and employment costs are low. We won't have higher skilled people here because they will have moved to where things are happening. The current situation is a travesty. We have massive opportunities in front of us but internal divisions, jealousy and vested interests could destroy it all. Being proud to come from or live in Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham or Sheffield is not a crime. Being from Yorkshire is still a blessing (and I'm a real Yorkshireman remember because I'm from North Yorkshire!). Using those things, however, to not join together as required to achieve the economic growth we need, and to seize the opportunities we have in front of us is wrong. We have to be better than that and that is down to leadership.   Richard Wright Executive Director, Sheffield Chamber of Commerce

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