Today's columnist, Peter Kennan: Learning lessons of history

In 1980 I began my professional career as a chartered accountant in the Steel City and watched its economic fortunes faltering.

Monday, 18th January 2016, 10:42 am
Updated Monday, 18th January 2016, 2:49 pm
Peter Kennan

That year three of the big four accounting firms had offices here but Sheffield’s progressive decline was all too obvious against its peers.

Two of the three subsequently moving to Leeds and Manchester. The same happened with executive offices of major banks.

An artist's impression of the interior of a proposed Sheffield HS2 station

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

I watched the closure of the fully-electrified Sheffield-to-Manchester rail line, the Woodhead line. Passenger services from Sheffield Victoria ended in 1970 but freight traffic continued to 1981 before being moved elsewhere.

Critics were vociferous at the time and its closure is still mourned today as a terrible decision by British Rail.

Here we are in 2016 and Sheffield’s position has stabilised but is, economically, light years behind Leeds and Manchester.

The Hope Valley rail line, since 1981 Sheffield’s only rail line to Manchester, is now operating at full capacity and its proposed upgrade is stalled and going to a public enquiry because of its impact on the Peak National Park.

An artist's impression of the interior of a proposed Sheffield HS2 station

The closed Woodhead line would now help us to achieve George Osborne’s Northern Powerhouse, a vision to better connect northern cities.

However we cannot even upgrade the Hope Valley line – what chance for Woodhead or a road tunnel.

The Woodhead tunnel has recently been handed over to the National Grid for electricity cables in an astonishing decision by Ministers. We have lost our modern electrified railway – it is not coming back.

So have we learned the lessons of history?

Let’s look at HS2 and Sheffield’s station location.

Are we sleepwalking into another disaster?

All the studies by various bodies, including Sheffield City Region authority, point to an overwhelming economic case for a Sheffield city centre station at Victoria creating many more jobs and having huge regeneration potential.

The problem is HS2 Limited are building to a budget and think serving central Sheffield will cost an extra £600 million plus.

The reality is it will cost the country as a whole nothing because the infrastructure to serve Meadowhall from the city centre will be prohibitively expensive to build, while the additional council tax and business rates income generated by a central location have to be factored in.

The Meadowhall site is constrained by geography, topography and geology. Traffic gridlock – as seen over Christmas – will only get worse with an HS2 station.

Potential HS2 ticket revenue is predominantly in south and west Sheffield plus the city centre where the professional services sector is located.

Meadowhall is an inappropriate site to serve the key passenger markets, as a result.

The simple challenge to those in control is to make an informed decision on the station’s location.

If you can make an economic or business case for Meadowhall – let’s hear it now.

Otherwise get behind the Victoria campaign before it is too late or be judged like those who came before you in failing to represent the economic and business interests of Sheffield City Region.

Peter Kennan, Chair, Sheffield Chamber of Commerce and Industry Transport Forum