SIR KEITH BURNETT: Political strife will not stop our dreams coming true

Image by architecture student Ives Ma
Image by architecture student Ives Ma

I have fears for the future of our country, and I’m not alone in that, but I also have a dream.

The sister cities of Rotherham and Sheffield are poised to flourish in a new innovation revolution, transforming not only the Don Valley but the lives and possibilities of the people who live and work here.

Image by Kun Shen

Image by Kun Shen

Indeed, I have no hesitation in explaining to governments and companies from Sydney to Shanghai that this revolution of data-driven services, education, manufacturing and healthcare will make the whole of the valley that connects our cities a ‘world centre of this fourth industrial revolution’.

This dream is founded not only on faith but on the evidence of what we have already shown.

The question is, how? Like all families facing hard times, we declined to accept our fate and decided to fight for a future for our children.

We were blessed. We had people who knew that change was possible. It started small on the desolate site of Orgreave, and now we see the world’s great companies moving production facilities alongside our brilliant engineers, sure in the knowledge that there is no better place to produce the highest performance cars and planes in the world.

Image by Zak Nicoll and Nam Kha Tran

Image by Zak Nicoll and Nam Kha Tran

So what next? How do we rebuild our valley?

It must be done in a way that improves the quality of services for all of our citizens.

And what will it look like? I’ve been looking at drawings by our architecture students that show what a green and pleasant place it can be.

When I look at them, in my mind I see the pictures of Orgreave before and after we built the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre.

Now we know that we can attract major global companies to relocate or build factories here, allowing our local firms to bid for work with the world’s best.

What we have already built in Rotherham and Sheffield, with the support of government, both national and local, a centre that is the envy of the world.

In the early days, the EU helped too and our university has invested in the vision of a better future.

So what should we be doing as a city, as a region?

Should we wait until there is a clear devolution deal? No. Should we be halted in our tracks by worries about Brexit? Not unless we fail to make this the ultimate go-to place for international talent from around the world.

The world-leading capabilities of the AMRC are a beacon. And we are working internationally, bringing opportunities home as we do, combining the needs of global giants with the skills and innovation of a community who are surely up to the task.

I won’t be dismayed by a hiatus in political cooperation or struggles for power.

Our children cannot wait. We have an opportunity now. Let’s join hands and work for a future for our children’s sake.

n Plans for a £20m Boeing factory on Sheffield Business Park were approved this week

n McLaren Automotive has signed a 20-year lease for a property in Rotherham as part of a £50m deal