At a special event in Sheffield, a room full of academics and industry experts also heard that selecting Doncaster for the new home of GBR would ‘shine a light’ on the problems of public transport in the region to government employees.
The room heard that this would strongly showcase to those down in the capital that more investment is needed in northern transport infrastructure.
GBR is a new public body which will run and plan the rail network. Its establishment was announced as part of the Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail, published in May 2021. The public body will own the rail infrastructure, procure passenger services and set most fares and timetables.
Doncaster is up against more than 30 locations across the UK such as York, Wakefield, Crewe, Grantham, Wolverhampton, Swindon, Derby, Darlington and many more.
Chambers of Commerce in Sheffield, Barnsley and Rotherham have all said they are behind the bid to bring the new government department to Doncaster.
The bid also has the support of Hull Chamber of Commerce opting to back Doncaster instead of rival bids from York and Wakefield.
The event, hosted by the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Chamber of Commerce, heard that the benefits would reach wider than Doncaster and would bring prosperity to the whole region.
The panel, which included South Yorkshire Mayor Oliver Coppard and representatives from the AMRC, Doncaster UTC and the rail industry, said Britain’s railways are ‘embarking on a major, once in a generation reform that will transform the way in which the sector works, bringing together track and train to deliver a customer-focused railway’.
The Great British Railways team is now in the process of assessing and forming the shortlist for its HQ, which will be announced in May 2022, and then form a public vote.
Doncaster, on the back of gaining city status, is said to be in a strong position to secure GBR. It has a rich rail heritage and built the Mallard and the Flying Scotsman, positioning itself as a major rail hub.
It still supports hundreds of rail jobs and is still a leader in railway engineering and operations for 150 years.
Doncaster’s strength as a logistics hub and its great transport links through road and rail are also said to be a major strength in the bid.
Steve Foxley, CEO of the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre based on the boundary with Sheffield and Rotherham, said he was fully behind the bid and said the move could create a big ‘catalyst for regeneration’ for Doncaster and across South Yorkshire.The event heard that despite South Yorkshire losing a large chunk of industry in recent decades, the region has ‘rebuilt and reinvented itself’.
GBR’s move to Doncaster ‘would signal that the region is on the rise’ and that skilled jobs are available in South Yorkshire, delegates were told.
The aim of locating the new HQ in Doncaster would ‘help the Government to deliver on its own levelling up policy’ and that ‘picking a more affluent area would not achieve this’.
The event also heard that South Yorkshire’s lack of opportunities has made it ‘difficult to retain qualified youth’ and that the spare capacity from a wide catchment area ‘should be a major attraction to GBR HQ’ – both for its own needs and for contributing to the area’s skills and economic development.
South Yorkshire mayor Oliverr Coppard, who was on the event panel, said bringing GBR to Doncaster was much more than an office full of people in it.
“It’s definitely more than that, it’s about the skills, the heritage, the world class industries in our region when it comes to railways and we’re asking central government to recognise that.
“It’s about saying if people are based here who are running the railways, they’ll better understand some of the challenges and opportunities that we have in South Yorkshire.
“If you look at the rail time between Sheffield and Manchester as one example, it’s between 52 and 56 minutes. That’s the same as it was in 1954.
“We want better connectivity across the north and within our communities and if the people are running the railways here, they will better understand that.
“One of the things we need to focus on with this bid is that we have young people growing up in South Yorkshire who we do not want to leave.
“We need for them to understand that there are opportunities for them to work in world class industries like rail South Yorkshire to develop an incredible career on their doorstep.
Doncaster mayor Ros Jones, who was at the event in Kelham Island, said: “It’s really important to have the whole of South Yorkshire behind this bid and the wider field.
“We know we have the heritage of the past, the present and the future in terms of our railways.
“Bringing this to Doncaster would help to improve our Gross Value Added (GVA) up, better jobs and growth as well as attracting further inward investment with our supply chains continuing to grow.”