What effect will the Northern Powerhouse have on Yorkshire?

Sheffield is one of the key Yorkshire cities at the heart of the Northern Powerhouse concept

Sheffield is one of the key Yorkshire cities at the heart of the Northern Powerhouse concept - Credit: Joan Russell

The Northern Powerhouse is turning from a dream into reality. Andrew Vine reports on what it will mean for Yorkshire

Sheffield is one of the key Yorkshire cities at the heart of the Northern Powerhouse concept

Sheffield is one of the key Yorkshire cities at the heart of the Northern Powerhouse concept - Credit: Archant

IT IS the most ambitious plan ever conceived for the North of England – to bring its great cities together to form an economy powerful enough to rival London. The Northern Powerhouse is beginning to take shape, with new rail services to make journeys faster and more comfortable, and plans for the longest road tunnel in Europe through the Pennines.

Sheffield and Leeds are at the heart of the concept, which will see Yorkshire’s two biggest cities join forces with Bradford, Hull, Manchester, Liverpool and Newcastle. Within a few years, their combined strengths should see economic output soaring and new jobs created.

Devolution agreements with the Government, which will see both the Leeds and Sheffield city regions get elected mayors in 2017, are a key part of the concept. Progress will be discussed at a major conference in Manchester at the end of February, following a series of announcements that are driving the plans forward.

In December, new rail franchises for Northern and TransPennine Express were awarded that will see a massive £1.2bn boost to rail services with 500 brand-new carriages, room for 40,000 more passengers and thousands more services. And in South Yorkshire, passengers will soon be boarding Britain’s first Tram Train, which can run on both Sheffield’s Supertram network and the rail link to Rotherham. Small businesses will benefit from a £400m Northern Powerhouse Investment fund, in collaboration with the state-owned, Sheffield-based, British Business Bank, operating from 2016-20.

In June 2014 the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced a drive to create a Northern Powerhouse, following years of lobbying by the cities. He acknowledged that the lack of economic connections and poor transport links was holding back their growth, with significant implications for the national economy.

Yorkshire’s great cities are key to the concept’s success and stand to reap the rewards, said the chief executive of Sheffield City Council, John Mothersole. ‘The Northern Powerhouse is not a place. It’s about super-connecting the economies of the North.

‘The idea of supercharging the northern economy is not a new idea; it has been a campaigning point for about 10 years led by the northern cities, in the Yorkshire context particularly Sheffield and Leeds.’

The potential rewards of the Northern Powerhouse are huge. The Treasury estimates it is worth an additional £44bn to the region’s economy – or £1,600 for every one of the 15m residents of the North.

Better transport is central to the plans, so that businesses can connect more easily and recruit staff from farther afield. It is currently quicker to travel the 283 miles from London to Paris by train than it is to travel less than half that distance between Hull and Liverpool. Electrification of the Trans Pennine line will bring journey times between Leeds and Manchester down to 40 minutes from 50.

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The new rail franchises were hailed by the Government, business leaders and local authorities alike as a major boost for the Northern Powerhouse. Arriva Rail North will run the Northern franchise – the second largest in the UK – and introduce more than 2,000 extra services each week, investing £400m million in 281 brand new air-conditioned carriages.

First Trans Pennine Express will operate services on the TransPennine Express franchise and bring in 220 new carriages, equivalent to 44 trains, providing 125mph services.

Road improvements will allow goods and commuters to move about more easily, with more detail about plans for a tunnel between Sheffield and Manchester due to be released in the autumn.

A new body, Transport for the North, has been set up to improve links across the region under the chairmanship of former CBI boss John Cridland. Its £10m a year budget has been extended from three years to five, and it has also been granted £150m to develop smart ticketing across all forms of public transport, like the Oyster system in London. Mr Mothersole said: ‘If the North of England was a country, it would be the 10th biggest economy in Europe, so it’s a big place and it needs big things to happen for it to perform at a high level and I think the scale of thinking now is undoubtedly big.

‘Leeds, Sheffield and Manchester are right in the heart of shaping this and should be right in the heart of benefiting from it.’

Details about the Northern Powerhouse conference in Manchester on February 25th and 26th can be found at uk-northern-powerhouse.com

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