Politically Speaking column in the Wakefield Express

Monday just gone is commonly known as the most miserable day of the year. ‘Blue Monday’ is weeks from the festive Christmas cheer, New Year diets are getting tough, bills pile up, and it’s dark and cold to boot.

Times are really tough at the moment; with unemployment rising, heating bills still high and living standards under pressure. I believe we need action now to ease the pressure. But this week I want to strike a more optimistic note. Because here in Wakefield I believe our city is on the up. Look at our brand new shopping facilities and rejuvenated city centre. And Wakefield’s new jewel in the crown, the fabulous Hepworth Gallery on the banks of the Calder, is really putting Wakefield on the map.

We took the family to visit the Hepworth again recently, with some visiting friends. It’s a great place to spend a few hours, especially at this time of year. The views from the windows are spectacular and of course there’s plenty to see inside too.

Not content with smashing anticipated visitor numbers in the months since it opened, the Hepworth has also won three major awards in the last 8 months. Its latest accolade is ‘Best New Public Building’ at the Design Awards where it beat competition from buildings in Japan, China and Spain.

The Hepworth is attracting ‘celebrity’ visitors too. I hear the Chancellor himself, George Osborne popped in with his family for a look round when he was in Yorkshire last week. They didn’t call in on us in Castleford to say hello though. Shame!

Last week the Government announced their plans for new high speed rail. We’re pretty well connected in Wakefield and I get to London in 2 hours each week. But journeys to other major cities are slower; Leeds to Manchester still takes an hour for a journey of under 50 miles.

We need infrastructure projects to kick-start the economy. When I was a member of the Northern Way a few years back, we supported high speed rail, but said it had to be value for money.

High speed rail proposals promised to be a real shot in the arm as an infrastructure project and to support northern cities. But Government concessions between London and Birmingham have made the plans more expensive. That’s put the brakes on the second phase, for high speed trains between Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds.

I’m worried the Government is now spending so much on tunnels, in efforts to bypass the countryside. That could have paid towards extending the line to Leeds. If the Government is serious about high speed rail travel to Leeds, they should put it in their legislation. lt’s not too late to do the right thing.

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Posted January 20th, 2012 by Ed's team