Investing in regional transport will give us the tools to thrive post-Brexit
As we prepare for the future – and for life after Brexit – all of our regions and nations must be given the opportunity to contribute to national prosperity, writes Mayor of the Sheffield City Region and Labour MP Dan Jarvis.
In 2016, a record number of people participated in the biggest democratic exercise in the UK’s history, with 52% of them voting to leave the EU. In my home town of Barnsley, the number that voted for change was 68%; a figure in keeping with a wider trend amongst regional towns and villages. This was a vote fuelled by a feeling of economic and political disenfranchisement, and in areas like South Yorkshire that sense of frustration persists.
Communities like those I serve as both a Mayor and an MP, feel they are not getting the help they need or the resources they deserve. The government’s criteria for allocating transport infrastructure investment is skewed toward meeting existing economic demand, rather than stimulating it. This results in a situation where, for every £1 of public infrastructure investment spent on transport across Yorkshire and the Humber, £3.20 is spent on London’s transport networks – a funding ratio that perpetuates economic inequality and maintains the inter-regional productivity gap.
This ‘ink-spot’ approach to regional development has failed to serve either our people or our economy. For too long, the UK’s economic strategy has been too city centric, too laissez-faire, and too dependent on the hope that wealth would trickle down and prosperity would ripple out. This has resulted in a neglected transport system, where many of our regional communities are left disconnected both from one another and from the UK’s economic centres.
Roads and railways are the lifeblood of our economy. Even in the internet age, they remain vital in connecting people and businesses with the places that they want and need to go. Good transport networks improve economic productivity and quality of life.
An ideal example of this is the stretch of road that was built to link up Doncaster Sheffield Airport with the M18; the Great Yorkshire Way. The last mile of this road is the most significant mile of road built in South Yorkshire for decades. From an initial £56m investment – and because of both the public and private sectors working together – our region unlocked £1.8bn worth of investment; created 1,200 jobs; supported national airport capacity; and aided the development of the iPort – one of the UK’s largest logistics developments. All of which was achieved whilst also regenerating a former coalfield community and improving the life opportunities of our residents.
Economic projects such as this deliver local, regional and national benefits, and need to be properly supported by Government. The North’s existing ‘city-centric’ economic clusters need to be better connected, but we also need stronger networks between towns, cities and rural locations. Together, this kind of systemic approach will promote growth and also unlock vital housing development opportunities. Outside of W1, the benefits of this kind of approach are widely accepted.
Last month, along with the rest of Transport for the North’s board, I signed off our Strategic Transport Plan calling for an ambitious, but necessary, £70bn programme of investment in the North’s transport networks. The programme would increase the efficiency, reliability, integration, and resilience of the transport system; improve accessibility for all sections of our community; and transform the economic performance of the North. This kind of bold and radical initiative must be given the resources it deserves, and our regions must be empowered to both plan and deliver them.
As we prepare for the future – and for life after Brexit – all of our regions and nations must be given the opportunity to contribute to national prosperity. If we do not invest in regional transport infrastructure, we will not be giving the people we serve the tools they need to thrive. Nor will we be answering the concerns that motivated so many to vote ‘Leave’ in the first place.