Make ‘second city’ dream first priority

David Fletcher outside the old Youth House, Hebden Bridge
David Fletcher outside the old Youth House, Hebden Bridge

A Calder Valley businessman has called on the Government and major city councils to provide the finance, infrastructure and vision to make the Pennine Way Britain’s “second city”.

David Fletcher controversially proclaimed Hebden Bridge to have second city status - somewhat tongue-in-cheek - during an interview on the BBC Two programme “Mind the Gap: London v the Rest” on Monday.

This is because of its proximity to major cities - Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool, Sheffield and Bradford - making it the only town outside London accessible to over seven million people within one hour by public or private transport, said Mr Fletcher.

But, he said, the “Trans-Pennine” route is not reaching anywhere near its full potential because of “under investment” and a “lack of vision”, with a so called “over-investment” in London.

Mr Fletcher, who owns Innovation Mill in Hebden Bridge, said: “Whilst London has the underground, we have the overground, a marvellous collection of Victorian branch lines connecting everywhere to everywhere. All they need is electrification, slicker, faster and more frequent trains with better interchanges.

“With investment on the London scale, we could give Britain a ‘second city’ to be proud of, with a quality of life far ahead of the congested South-East and the significant boost to national prosperity that we need. London may peak in the not too distant future – we must plan now for continuing growth elsewhere.

“Mind The Gap is a wake-up call. We need a ‘second city’ to share the load and secure prosperity more widely. A Trans-Pennine polycentric mega-city exists in embryo. To achieve it will require vision, courage and passion in the first instance, in order to secure the necessary resources to invest, to raise the profile, to re-invent a once creative, world-beating regional economy that has now fallen upon harder times in an ever more competitive world.”

Mr Fletcher, who first put forward the idea for a “coast to coast region across the north” nearly 50 years ago, also said improvements need to be made to the “fragmented highway network”,

Mr Fletcher’s proposal has been backed by politicians and aspiring politicians.

Calder Valley MP Craig Whittaker said: “It makes absolute sense to have some sort of economic hub between all those great cities of the north. I think to some extent we already have that - Leeds is the legal capital outside London, and Manchester and Liverpool are incredibly diverse. The next step has got to be some kind of joined up thinking. That means infastructure.”

Calderdale Councillor Steve Sweeney said the authority had held discussions about more collaboration between regional authorities, but said it would take a lot more time and investment before a “linear city of built-up, rural and residential areas” was achieved. He said: “I understand that conversations are taking place between West Yorkshire and Greater Manchester but one of the main issues is going to be integrated transport. We need more trains, more railway lines and the electrification of the lines, as well as a better connected bus network. But where will the investment come from for all this?”

Josh Fenton-Glynn, Labour’s parliamentary candidate for the Calder Valley, said: “I want to see business given the opportunity to grow throughout the country and national growth, not just growth for the square mile in London. From fast broadband to better road and rail links this means seeing the potential of the Calder Valley as part of a broader region.”