New franchises herald new era for North’s rail passengers

New train franchises come into operation in the North of England today, marking the start of a £1.2bn investment programme across the region and greater local control.

Representatives from Rail North and the two train operating companies, Arriva Rail North Ltd and First Group, are being joined by Andrew Jones MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport, at Manchester’s Piccadilly Station this morning to welcome a new era for rail passengers across the North.

Under a ground-breaking devolution agreement, the two new franchises will be co-managed by the Department for Transport and Rail North Ltd, which brings together representatives from 29 local transport authorities from across the region through the Rail North Partnership.

New Northern operator Arriva Rail North Ltd and First TransPennine Express Ltd owner First Group will provide much-needed brand new, state-of-the-art trains – which will cost more than £800m – with the addition of more than 500 new carriages. In doing so, Northern will remove the out-dated and unpopular Pacer trains by 2019 and by the same year, the entire TransPennine fleet will be brought up to Intercity standards.

Over the next four years, the franchises will bring more than 140 new trains onto the network, providing space for 40,000 extra passengers at the busiest times of the day as well as adding a much needed increase in service frequency at off-peak times. Facilities at over 400 stations across the North will also be improved.

Andrew Jones, Transport Minister, said:

“Arriva Rail North and First Trans Pennine Express have ambitious plans to deliver a world class rail service that will make a real difference to customers, bringing faster and more frequent services and connecting up northern cities and towns.

“Our new joint management of the franchises with Rail North, coupled with our commitment to spend a record £13 billion on transport in the North by 2020, will bring the Northern Powerhouse to life and help the region to realise its full economic potential.”

Sir Richard Leese, Chair of the Association of Rail North Partner Authorities, said:

“Today marks the start of better rail services for the North and of much greater local control over the development of these services.

“Passengers and businesses told us that they wanted less crowded trains, faster and more frequent services that start earlier and finish later, and more opportunities to travel on Sundays.

“The new Northern and TransPennine Express franchises will exceed these requirements. The unpopular Pacer railbuses will be consigned to the scrapheap by October 2019 and more than 500 brand new carriages will be brought into service together with a substantial investment in station improvements and a real focus on involving local communities in the railway.

“These new franchises tangibly demonstrate the real benefit of devolution of power to the North. Rail North Limited played a key role in specifying tender requirements and evaluating bids leading to the award of the franchises. They will now be responsible through the Rail North / DfT Partnership team for the management and development of services from their office in Leeds.

“Rail North Limited will continue to work very closely with Transport for the North to drive forward economic growth, by developing visionary proposals to deliver radically improved connectivity across the North.”

Leo Goodwin, Managing Director of TransPennine Express, said:

“We are excited to begin this new rail franchise and work alongside Rail North to oversee a £500 million investment in our rail services in the North and Scotland.

“Over the next four years the TransPennine Express franchise will re-imagine the customer experience at every stage of our service and help bring the towns and cities of the North closer together.”

Alex Hynes, Managing Director of Northern, said:

“Today is the day we begin to deliver our plans for the exciting next phase of Northern and each and every one of the team is focussed and determined to deliver for customers.

“Investment is exactly what customers wanted and we are looking forward to achieving major improvements before the end of the decade.”

Council to introduce free parking for low emission vehicles

With thanks to the Leeds City Council

Leeds City Council is to introduce free parking for residents who own green fuelled cars and vans.

From today (Tuesday 29 March), owners of ultra low emission vehicles in Leeds will be able to apply for a permit for free parking.

The 12-month permit will allow Leeds residents to park their environmentally friendly cars or vans for free in pay and display bays on the street and in pay and display bays in council run car parks.

Ultra low emission vehicles include electric powered and hybrid vehicles that run on electricity and diesel or petrol which produce no or few harmful pollutants.

Sales of ultra low emission vehicles doubled in 2015 but there are still relatively few on Leeds’ roads compared to petrol or diesel powered cars and vans.

Providing charging points and benefits like free parking could help consumers make the choice to switch to lower emission vehicles.

With an increasing focus on how to improve Leeds’ air quality, it’s hoped that the offer of free parking will help encourage drivers to go green.

Councillor Richard Lewis, executive member for regeneration, transport and planning, said:

“Transport emissions are one of the biggest contributors to poor air quality so it’s really important that we provide the conditions and infrastructure that allow people to go green.

“Drivers who’ve already made the commitment to cleaner air with a low emission vehicle will be able to benefit from free parking, subject to meeting the criteria and following normal parking rules.

“To anyone considering buying a new, green vehicle, we hope this will act an extra, small incentive.

“On its own, this offer isn’t going to improve Leeds’ air quality. As part of a package of measures however, it’s another step in the right direction to improving the environment and people’s health.”

The permit is only available to Leeds residents.

The same rules on maximum stays will still apply. All other restrictions, such as yellow lines, disabled spaces and loading will apply too.

Failure to display the permit without paying the normal parking fees and contravening any other parking restrictions could result in parking tickets being issued.

There is no charge for the permit.

People can apply for the permit on the council’s website from today (Tuesday 29 March).

Only vehicles that the Department for Transport recognise as an ultra low emission vehicle for their plugged in grant scheme will qualify for the permit. A full list of vehicles can be found on their website.

Offering the free parking can be accommodated within the council’s budget.

Leeds City Council is using more green vehicles, is planning to convert its bin lorry fleet to run on greener fuel and is working on plans to build a compressed natural gas filling station.

The council also hopes to emulate the success of the Elland Road park and ride at a proposed site in the Aire Valley.

The council is also working with partners to ensure they can access funding and support to run greener vehicles.

Museum Group Chair answers critics

Criticisms of changes to the National Media Museum in Bradford have been answered by the head of the organisation in charge.

Dame Mary Archer, the Chair of the Science Museum Group which runs four sites across the north of England, explains in today’s Telegraph & Argus why the changes are being made.

Describing the Bradford site as the group’s “star performer” over the past year, a strong rebuttal is delivered over claims that the group is not committed to maintaining the museum as an “equal partner” in the chain.

Read the T&A piece here.

HS3 must come to Bradford, says Chamber

The Chamber is getting behind the campaign to ensure the proposed high-speed east-west rail link known as HS3 comes through Bradford.

Concerns have been growing that the city could miss out on the plans due to not having a through-station and it being a less direct route than other options; but now pressure is being put on those responsible to give full consideration to the implications of Bradford not being included.

Bradford Chamber’s President, Andy Caton, was recently quoted in the Telegraph & Argus newspaper as saying it would be a “dereliction of duty” by decision-makers if Bradford was neglected on this matter.

Chamber staff and members of Bradford Property Forum are now seeking to meet with transport bodies and local authorities to lobby for Bradford’s inclusion on the route.

BCC Monthly Economic Review

The latest Monthly Economic Review (for March) produced by the British Chambers of Commerce is available for download here.

The four-page document carries useful yet concise data on things like borrowings, trade balance and earnings.

This month’s headlines:

•         Q4 2015 UK GDP growth unrevised, with the service sector continuing to support growth.
•         UK goods trade deficit and services trade surplus reach record highs.
•         India’s economy outperforms China, as Eurozone growth hits four-year high.

The next Review will be published on Monday 4 April.

Growth forecast: keep rate low

David Kern comments on today’s interest rates decision by the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee.

Commenting on yesterday’s interest rates decision by the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee, David Kern, BCC Chief Economist, said:

“The downgrading of the OBR’s UK growth forecast in the Chancellor’s Budget highlights the challenging circumstances that the UK economy will face over the coming year, making the MPC’s decision to keep interest rates and its QE programme on hold unsurprising.

“The OBR’s downgraded UK inflation forecasts, and the fact that the bank’s own 2% inflation target is unlikely to be reached until late 2017 at the earliest, mean that a rise in interest rates is now likely to remain off the table for the foreseeable future.

“While inflation and rates remain low, the government’s priority must be on creating a stable business environment to support growth, and making it easier for SMEs, particularly exporters, to obtain finance on competitive terms.”

Ends

 

 

 

Budget – Our Response (& Briefing Documents)

West & North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce responds to Budget

Business Taxes

Against a backdrop of slowing global trade and UK growth downgraded to 2% for 2016, George Osborne had few levers to pull, however in keeping with the Chamber’s requests for commitment to no new taxes on businesses and entrepreneurs he delivered and in some cases exceeded.

Business Rates

We welcome the Chancellor’s actions to reduce business rates for smaller businesses. The Chamber did call for this innocuous tax to be reviewed and we are pleased that he has taken real action to lessen the crushing burden of business rates which are applied before companies even make a profit.

Infrastructure

Announcements on infrastructure, specifically HS3 and M62 improvements, whilst expected and welcome do not go far enough in our opinion especially in light of the commitment to Crossrail 2 funding. We would like to have seen more commitment to greater funding for this vital element of the Northern Powerhouse, indeed anyone who has seen the impact that station investment has had on Kings Cross and its immediate environs will understand just how powerful infrastructure investment can be on places. That said having made these announcements we must ensure that they move from the drawing board to speedy construction on the ground as quickly as possible.

Flood Alleviation

The Chamber wrote to the Chancellor in January setting out our concerns over flooding in this region and while we are yet to see the details it was pleasing to hear commitment to fund alleviation measures on our patch.

Devolution

In announcing devolution settlements for East Anglia, West of England and Greater Lincolnshire, it was disappointing to hear there is still no agreement for West & North Yorkshire.  With the right powers and funding, West & North Yorkshire could be making an even more significant contribution to increasing UK economic output. We call upon our region’s politicians to reach a deal as quickly as possible in order to give certainty to businesses that we will not be disadvantaged as devolved powers are handed down to other parts of England.

The following documents are available for your information.

Table breakdown, based on categories (rates, tax, skills etc – 3 pages)

British Chambers of Commerce reaction (2 pages)

Economic Summary (GDP forecasts etc – 1 page)

 

BCC Budget Submission no new business costs or taxes

Ahead of the Chancellor’s Spring Budget on March 16, the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) is urging the government to avoid introducing new taxes, costs and obligations that could dent business confidence in a softening economic environment. 

The business group urges the Chancellor to use his fourth fiscal event in 12 months to opt for a steady approach that gives businesses, individuals, and government itself the time needed to work through existing commitments and reforms. BCC seeks three commitments from the Chancellor at the Budget:

  • No new taxes on businesses or entrepreneurs for the remainder of this parliament. Pensions auto-enrolment, the National Living Wage, the apprenticeship levy, higher dividend taxes and other measures have significantly increased up-front burdens for business;
  • Deliver the long-overdue business rates reform by April 2017, and focus on resetting the valuation, collection, and setting of the rates, as opposed to changing who gets to keep and spend the revenue;
  • Address shortcomings at HMRC to support, not undermine, business growth.  BCC wants HMRC focused on supporting businesses, particularly SMEs, and making compliance easier – rather than heavy – handed enforcement campaigns.

Dr Adam Marshall, BCC Acting Director General, said:

“In an increasingly uncertain economic environment, the Chancellor should avoid any and all moves that could damage business confidence. At a time when many businesses already face sharply higher costs and taxes, the Chancellor must avoid adding any new obligations on our firms.

“Ministers must also finally take action to ease the burden of business rates. Reform of the rates system is long overdue, and a source of uncertainty for companies everywhere.”

View the full budget submission here.

Bradford business leaders urge Chancellor to intervene over devolution deal

BUSINESS leaders in Bradford have urged the Chancellor to break a political deadlock over a multi-million-pound devolution deal before it is too late.

Hopes are fading that a political impasse over a devolution deal for Yorkshire can be resolved in time for next week’s Budget.

With Chancellor George Osborne seemingly still unwilling to choose between two rival bids, and little chance of a compromise being struck between the two sides, it is looking increasingly likely that the region’s ambitions to secure more cash and powers in exchange for an elected mayor could be severely delayed.
Bradford Chamber of Commerce has now written to Mr Osborne saying local politicians have failed to agree on which bid is best and calling on him to break the deadlock.

The frontrunner bid was thought to be one put forward by the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, covering the Leeds City Region area, and backed by mainly Labour politicians.

But a rival bid, dubbed Greater Yorkshire and covering West, East and North Yorkshire, secured the backing of many Conservatives.

Andy Caton, president of Bradford Chamber of Commerce, called for the Chancellor to step in and choose the Leeds City Region option.

He said such a deal would complete “the missing piece in the Government’s Northern Powerhouse”.

Alluding to the failure of politicians to agree on one unified bid, he added: “We cannot allow politics to get in the way of devolving the powers needed to grow the economy and in turn deliver more jobs.”

The existence of two competing bids meant no devolution deal was announced in Mr Osborne’s Autumn Statement last year.

Sheffield, Greater Manchester, Liverpool, the Tees Valley and the North East, which have already struck devolution deals, are set to go to the polls next year to elect metro-mayors.

But if no deal is reached here within the next few days, the rest of Yorkshire is unlikely to be able to join them on the same timetable and could fall behind considerably in the race towards devolution.
This week, the Treasury reiterated that it was up to leaders in Yorkshire to agree on the area covered by any deal.

A spokesman said: “We’ve already agreed five historic Northern Powerhouse devolution deals giving the north access to billions of pounds of new funding.

“The key to these deals is that they are led by local areas who choose which regions it will cover.”

Now, with frantic discussions continuing behind the scenes ahead of the Budget on Wednesday, each side is blaming the other for the impasse.

Councillor David Green, Labour leader of Bradford Council, accused the Conservatives of gerrymandering, saying they were pursuing the Greater Yorkshire idea because it was more likely to produce a Conservative mayor at the polls.

He denied the Labour party was doing the same, saying if they had wanted to do so, they would have been seeking a devolution deal for Labour-dominated West Yorkshire rather than the wider, and more politically mixed, Leeds City Region area.

He accused some Conservative MPs and council leaders of in-fighting and being too concerned with the status of their own powers if a devolution deal was struck.

He said: “I do think there’s real fear and concern about politics and status on one side and wanting to deliver economic growth on the other, and unfortunately politics and status appears to be the one that has got the ministers’ ear at the moment.”

Cllr Green called on the Chancellor to proceed with the Leeds City Region bid, for the sake of his Northern Powerhouse project.

He said that if there was no devolution deal for Leeds and Bradford, two of the biggest cities in the North, “nobody would be able to take the Northern Powerhouse seriously.”

 

But Councillor Simon Cooke, leader of the Conservative group at Bradford Council, laid the fault firmly at the door of West Yorkshire’s five Labour leaders, saying they had shown a “complete refusal” to negotiate with the Greater Yorkshire team.

He denied claims of Tory in-fighting, saying every Conservative group leader in North, West and East Yorkshire was behind the Greater Yorkshire bid.

He said: “It’s not about in-fighting, it’s about the five West Yorkshire leaders refusing, and especially [Combined Authority chairman] Councillor Peter Box in Wakefield and David Green here, refusing to engage with the process and refusing to consider Greater Yorkshire as an option.”

 

He said: “Sadly, from Bradford’s point of view and Yorkshire’s point of view, there is a very big risk that because of the approach that has been taken by the chairman of the Combined Authority and supported by the leader in Bradford, the result could be no deal for Bradford.

“That is probably bad news for Bradford but it is the way they have approached it that has caused this.”

A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government stressed it was for local leaders to unite behind one deal.

He said: “The Government is making huge progress towards rebalancing the economy and empowering local areas through the devolution of powers and resources away from Whitehall.

“Ministers have been repeatedly clear this is a bottom-up process and we will pursue discussions with places at a pace that is right for them.”

Politicians lobby for HS3 Leeds/Manchester rail link to come through Bradford

BRING high-speed rail to Bradford – that’s the rallying cry from the city’s leaders to the Government today.

Chancellor George Osborne will use his Budget to give the go-ahead for a high-speed rail link, dubbed HS3, between Leeds and Manchester.

One of the options being looked at is a route through Bradford and its political and business leaders are now lobbying hard for this to become a reality – saying it would be a “game-changer” for the city.

Bradford Council deputy leader Councillor Val Slater said the council would push for the high-speed link to call into the Bradford Interchange, or even a new, purpose-built high-speed rail station.

And the city’s business leaders are backing this call, with the Chamber of Commerce saying it would be a “dereliction of duty” if those leading the Northern Powerhouse project snubbed Bradford when drawing up the route.

HS3, also known as Northern Powerhouse Rail, would see a new 30-minute link created between Manchester and Leeds, rather than the current 49-minute journey, with trains reaching speeds of up to 125mph.

No formal timetable has been set out to deliver the scheme, although it’s not expected to be up and running for at least a decade.

The Chancellor is today setting aside £60m to fully investigate where HS3’s new railways and tunnels should go – and which towns or cities the route should pass through.

 

“Now is the time for us to make the bold decisions and the big investments that will help us to lead the world in infrastructure, and create jobs, push up living standards and boost our productivity for the next generation.”

The job of scoping out the options will fall to Transport for the North, a consortium of transport authorities across the north of England working on the Chancellor’s Northern Powerhouse project.

The three options are understood to be upgrading either the existing Transpennine route through Huddersfield or the Calder Valley line through Bradford, Halifax and Rochdale, or constructing a brand new line entirely – possibly by tunnelling under the Pennines.

Transport for the North is expected to unveil a preferred route by next year.

Julian Jackson, Bradford Council’s assistant director of planning, transportation and highways, said there was now a “window of opportunity to make sure we put our case forward”.

He said bringing high-speed rail to Bradford would be “a game-changer for the city”.

Cllr Slater, whose portfolio includes transport, said if high-speed rail came through Bradford, journey times to Manchester could be slashed to under 25 minutes.

She said they now hoped to convince transport chiefs that taking the route through Bradford would offer better value for money as it would boost the economy by linking businesses across the North with the potential workforce here.

She said: “Yes, it would be great for Bradford, but also Bradford has got an awful lot to offer the Northern Powerhouse.”

A spokesman for Transport for the North said when weighing up the options, they would be taking into account a variety of factors, such as how many people would use the line, engineering practicality, the impact on the environment and how to develop a network that works with the existing rail infrastructure.

He said: “This includes looking at how best to serve the key towns and cities on the corridor, such as Huddersfield, Halifax and Bradford.

“We are still at a very early stage in our development process and a number of options remain under consideration, including upgrades to the Huddersfield and Calder Valley lines.

“We are also looking at the performance benefits that a completely new line would bring.”

Andy Caton, president of the Bradford Chamber of Commerce, said the Chamber would be speaking to Transport for the North to underline the importance of taking the route through Bradford.

He said: “We welcome the investment plans to help progress the HS3 project – trans-Pennine connectivity is as important to businesses as the plans for improving north-south links.

“However, it’s important that Bradford is part of that connectivity.

“If the Northern Powerhouse is to live up to its name, genuinely boosting economic growth across the North and not simply be a vanity project to placate us, then connectivity is key – and not just reducing travel times between Leeds and Manchester.

“Bradford’s growing population, its ongoing regeneration, its ability to innovate and repeatedly produce the great businesses and entrepreneurs that it has, means that to leave it off the High Speed 3 line would be a dereliction of duty on the part of those responsible for seeing this through.”

Councillor Simon Cooke, leader of the Conservative group at Bradford Council, said the HS3 link would be even more important for the North’s economy than the HS2 route to London.

He said the point of the HS3 line was to link places together, “not to make it ever more easy not to go to Bradford”, so it was crucial they lobbied hard for the city to be included.

He said: “Let’s make sure that the Bradford option is seen as the one that is the best option in terms of linking these places together.”

And Cllr Cooke said it was also critical for the HS3 line to be fully funded and delivered as soon as possible.

He said the announcement of the £60m towards feasibility work was “real big progress”, but said: “We have got to put as much effort in for them to get the money on the table.”