Today's columnist, MP Clive Betts: We mustn't get left behind

Since the 1980s, I have been heavily involved in trying to secure investment in Sheffield and South Yorkshire's transport infrastructure.

Thursday, 24th March 2016, 10:09 am
Updated Thursday, 24th March 2016, 10:12 am

Initially, the focus was on the Midland Mainline rail connection to London.

Why was it that the Sheffield to London train took two-and-a-half hours and there was only one service per hour, when a quicker and more frequent service had been available decades earlier?

The targets were then to get the journey time down to about two hours and to increase the frequency.

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It took until 2010 to get two trains an hour and a near two-hour service.

With electrification promised, our objectives seem eminently realisable if only Transport Ministers and Network Rail had kept their promises.

The next challenge was to ensure that Sheffield and South Yorkshire (then Leeds and York) were clearly part of the HS2 plans.

There is some irony that the country which led the railway revolution is light years behind current railway technology.

Of course, there still remains the debate about the location of Sheffield’s HS2 station, but that must cnot provide a reason for delay.

The latest announcements about Trans-Pennine rail improvements will certainly bring big benefits to the Hull, Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool rail-routes, but there is a real danger that Sheffield-Manchester will get left behind again.

The road and rail connections between Manchester and Sheffield are almost certainly the worst between neighbouring major cities in Europe. The need to maintain the beauty and integrity of the Peak District has always proved a barrier too far to realise significant improvement. The reality has always been that any solution would require significant investment in tunnelling.

That has always been seen as expensive and fanciful. I don’t think so. If nothing else, the development of London’s CrossRail shows what is technically and financially possible. In other parts of Europe, we can see how road tunnels secured modern roads, while protecting the countryside.

Government spending on transport is 13 times bigger per head in London than in Yorkshire and Humberside.

Just as we thought that gap was beginning to narrow, the Government announces CrossRail2.

We need to keep up and increase the pressure for big investment in the Sheffield/Manchester, East/ West road and rail links to ensure that we are not left at the back of the queue again.