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York and the bid for Great British Railways

29/03/2022 Think Piece
York and the bid for Great British Railways

Cllr Keith Aspden, Leader of City of York Council, discusses the case for making York the home for Great British Railways.

York is, and always has been, the heart of the railways.  In the 19th Century, York played a pivotal role in laying the foundations of our modern rail network, with people such as George Hudson and George Leeman shaping the early history of the integrated railway network. There is no better example of this rich history than the Zero Mile Post in York Station, which demonstrates how every line was measured in its distance from York – the centre of the rail network.

Today, York’s proud connection to the railways remains. That is why, I and many partners across the city feel strongly that York is the natural home for the newly established Great British Railways.

Building on our rail heritage, York has a strong case to secure the HQ of Great British Railways.  Our case is undeniably compelling:

-          With strong connections both North to South, and East to West, York is connected directly to one third of the UK’s population;

-          We have over 5000 people employed by the rail sector here in the city;

-          We are home to some of the UK’s large rail operators, such as LNER and Northern Rail;

-          The railway industry has been a key cog in the city, dating back to the 1840s. Today, it’s importance remains; clearly demonstrated by Network Rail’s choice to locate their Railway Operation Centre in York;

-          The allure of York’s lasting role in this sector also entices over 710,000 visitors a year to the National Railway Museum, which has an ambitious £60m transformation plan to build on years of rail heritage;

-          And looking forward, York has the highest skills levels of any city in the North of England, with access to outstanding universities and colleges, providing the talent needed to drive innovation in the rail sector moving forward.

With all this in mind, you might ask, could the HQ of GBR be anywhere but York?

York’s bid for the HQ of GBR is not only important for the city itself, but crucial for the wider region and northern economy.  Securing the future HQ of GBR will see the creation of new, well-paid jobs in the city, not only those roles directly employed by GBR, but also attracting those businesses and organisations that will relocate to be close to GBR.  Such a move will provide a direct economic boost to York and North Yorkshire, with companies operating within the rail industry, in the North, generating £35-£40 billion in revenues each year.  Quite simply, having GBR in York benefits the whole of Yorkshire, supporting the growth of a globally significant rail cluster centred on York, but creating jobs in Scarborough, Wakefield, Bradford, Doncaster and beyond.

Another string to York’s bow is the unique opportunity of York Central, a project of huge ambition, transforming brownfield land into vibrant and distinctive residential neighbourhoods, cultural spaces, and a high-quality commercial quarter.  Such a site could be the future home of GBR and something we must use to our advantage to attract GBR, Government jobs and level-up our city.

Earlier this month, I agreed York’s submission, on behalf of the city, to the Government in a public meeting, as to meet the Government’s deadline of the 16th March.  Following this submission, we expect to hear later in May regarding the shortlist of locations and further details on how the competition will be managed.

The Council, along with our partners, including North Yorkshire County Council and York & North Yorkshire Local Enterprise Partnership, have been working to develop this initial submission, following months of lobbying to the DfT and indeed, Number 10.  Over the coming weeks and months, we will continue our work to put forward the best and strongest possible case for York, as well develop a campaign for local residents, businesses and communities to get behind.  We know that there will be a public vote as part of the competition process, so I am really keen for the city, not just the council, to back the bid and make the case for York.

I know that amongst local residents, businesses and city partners, there is a huge appetite and passion to support this bid.  From local hoteliers and retailers, to communities across the city, everyone is getting behind York’s bid for GBR.  Here in York and North Yorkshire, we know that York is the heart of the railways, it is now our job to show the Government and the rest of the country that York is the natural home for GBR.

From an article originally published by the Yorkshire Post.

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