Improving connectivity has been the theme of the past month for me in Westminster, and locally too.
Working in the transport team with the Secretary of State, Justine Greening, I have been working towards some major announcements for many months, but as D-Day drew near it became phenomenally busy.
The biggest announcement was the investment that the government is making in our national rail infrastructure, and it really was a big announcement as we are in the period of the biggest investment in our railways since the Victorian era. We have an infrastructure deficit, going back many years, and the government is doing something about it. Transport investment drives economic growth, and tackles the frustrations and costs that we all experience as we travel round our country.
Connecting cities and increasing capacity in our rail network were the themes which underlay the news. There were many elements which have a direct benefit for our area. The project that had been identified as the top priority for the north is called the ‘Northern Hub’, and is about removing the bottlenecks around Manchester to allow far more trains between our great northern cities. This will be delivered in full, along with electrification of the TransPennine line. There will be £240 million investment in the East Coast Main Line service to improve the capacity of the line and also the passenger capacity of Leeds station will be increased.
The Government invested an extra £154 per person in Yorkshire and the Humber on transport in its first year, and the investment news has continued. For too long the south seemed to get all the spending – now we have stronger voices from the north.
A particular highlight was a separate announcement – the £4.5bn contract to supply Britain with the next generation of intercity trains. It was a highlight because the contract will see the trains being built in a new factory in the North East. I went to the announcement with the Secretary of State, and talking to the new factory managers at the launch was very encouraged to hear of their plans to make the factory their hub for exporting to Europe. Good luck to them – I am always pleased to see manufacturing and exports prospects boosted in our country. This is part of the rebalancing of our economy that we need.
Connectivity now, of course, means good digital infrastructure too. The announcements that broadband and mobile network coverage is to be increased in our area was great news for everyone, it will turn many of Yorkshire’s broadband and mobile ‘notspots’ into ‘hotspots’. The County Council has made good progress too with its participation in the government’s broadband investment scheme, and is the first county in the UK to award their implementation contract. We will see the benefits of this coming through next year. It will take longer for the rail infrastructure to be built.
All this, and the announcement of the new Leeds/Bradford-London flights, mark a step change in the connectivity of our area. It bodes well for the longer term as it is a key ingredient in the platform necessary for future economic growth. When cash is tight, it is even easier to make short term decisions. The North Yorkshire MP team has been lobbying for long term investment decisions and it is good to see them – like the rail announcements - at last being delivered.