Who would believe that Sheffield is the fourth largest city in England?
In the middle of February, I had an interchange with the Transport Minister in the House of Lords about the future of HS2.
This was on the back of the government announcing HS2 was to ‘go ahead’, even though they’d never announced it wasn’t.
However, it wasn’t as simple as that. In the Prime Minister’s statement, which was reiterated in the House of Lords, it became clear after just a few moments there was one thing missing - any mention of Sheffield, or South Yorkshire.
After six mentions of Manchester, and mentions of both Liverpool and Leeds, I was getting restless. It was clear that while the London to Birmingham leg of HS2 was reaffirmed, and warm noises were made about the continuance of ‘Route A’ to Crewe and Manchester, no such reassurance was present about ‘Route B’.
This is the line that was supposed to come through the East Midlands, South Yorkshire and to Leeds. Whether you’re in favour of spending up to £106 billion or not, there is one thing very clear. If this massive infrastructure investment is to go ahead, it’s crucial the East Midlands and the east of the Pennines should benefit just as much as the North West.
You can be certain Manchester will remain the focus of what George Osborne coined the ‘Northern Powerhouse’. Not because Manchester is the ‘Northern Powerhouse’, but because that’s how people in London see it.
This is in part because some years ago, the local authorities, Chamber of Commerce, universities and the like started to get their act together in making Greater Manchester a magnet for inward investment and political attention.
I know I’ve banged on about this before, but it is a simple truth. Here in South Yorkshire, we’re being outgunned, out voiced and outdone by Greater Manchester.
At least now, with the work of the Sheffield City Region mayor, Dan Jarvis, we are making some progress in getting a sense of reality in South Yorkshire.
Dan has also appointed a new head of communications, which is crucial to getting our messages out there.
The local authorities have agreed to work together and somewhat belatedly will be able to draw down on the resources and the access which comes from having finally, or it will have shortly, agreed with the Government to go ahead on the original proposal. That proposal, to turn the Combined Authority into a functioning City Region, is the delayed prelude to pulling in all those in the community, education and business who can contribute to lifting the economic, social and cultural horizons of our sub-region.
Leeds is clearly going to be included in the final investment leg of HS2.
Probably, and I’m only surmising here, by the link to Manchester being continued to Leeds on what would be an extremely fast route, probably reducing the time between the two cities to less than 20 minutes.
That would fulfil all sorts of pledges about linking Leeds and Manchester, but of course, leave the Sheffield City Region high and dry.
I remain astonished that MPs in the East Midlands, and the new MPs in South Yorkshire, have not actually cottoned on to this obvious danger.
It’s not rocket science, but I’ve been around long enough to know ‘further review’ spells danger.
Back to the central point. What are we going to do about promoting the image, skills, and incredible quality of life that exists here?
One idea might be to get anyone who loves Sheffield and South Yorkshire, anyone who spent time here, who came to love the place, perhaps as a student at the two universities, or who grew up here, to be drawn together in an extravaganza which in itself would catch both national and international attention, but would be a major driver in promoting both higher education and the economy of the area to those who know nothing about us.
Scientists, academics, authors, musicians, businessmen and women, athletes and, dare I say, politicians could all be drawn together, to celebrate what we have anddiscuss where we should be going!
Ian McMillan, our home-grown poet from Barnsley and presenter on BBC Radio Three, recently wrote in the Radio Times about the lack of Yorkshire voices as presenters on radio and television. He is right, but it goes a lot further than that.
Who would believe Sheffield is the fourth largest city in England – with a population greater than that of the core cities of Manchester or Liverpool? Let’s try to not only to get our act together, but to start ensuring other people know we have.