FSB Manchester headed across the Pennines on Wednesday to take part in the Leeds’ Transport Summit, hastily convened just a few weeks ago by Manchester and Liverpool metro mayors, Andy Burnham and Steve Rotherham.
The event was put on after Transport Secretary Chris Grayling suggested the proposed HS3 rail line, linking the east and west of the country as part of the Northern Powerhouse project, might be scaled back, and had ahead of the conference said in a newspaper column, the North should ‘just get on with it’ themselves.
Business and political leaders from across the Northern Powerhouse region descended on Leeds to hear how the project might be given fresh impetus, and to provide a proper ‘Northern’ reaction to perceptions of Government inertia, and who were also accused at the summit of ‘wobbling’ on whether the scheme could be funded and delivered in full.
FSB Manchester’s National Councillor, Holly Bonfield (pictured above), took part in a 30 minute panel discussion with other business leaders to flesh out the SME perspective and give the FSB members’ point of view.
She told the event: “FSB members need a clearer picture of what HS3 actually is. The man on the street remains in the dark, despite what we are hearing here today from organisations such as Transport for the North. I would like to see more information about the level of HS3 planning put out there for all to see.
“Our members also tell us any improvements to transport infrastructure as part of the Northern Powerhouse initiative, needs to be more joined up. Businesses don’t see the Northern Powerhouse as just HS3 as a standalone rail project. They want to see a wider package of improvements that will include, among other things, ongoing improvements to the road network and investment in other forms of public transport.
“It’s all well and good having a high speed train system that would be capable of taking people between Manchester and Leeds in under 30 minutes, but if it takes you an hour to get to your local train station because the local roads are clogged, or there’s no integrated bus service to get you to the station on time for your train, what’s the point?”
Also speaking at the high profile summit was former Government transport supremo, Lord O’Neil, as well as leaders of Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield and Newcastle councils. Andy Burnham, who closed the event, used the stand to call on delegates and the wider communities of the people of the North, including the business community, to lobby their local MPs ahead of the Autumn Statement, where he said it’s likely a raft of key transport decisions will be announced relating to HS2, which could impact on HS3.
The summit leaders also agreed to establish a representative forum of business and political leaders to give the NP region a voice for Government to engage with. It was agreed the group would aim to meet three or four times a year, and Transport Secretary Chris Grayling would be invited to the first.