Ministers’ rejection of One Yorkshire is an opportunity to give Yorkshire’s cities the powers they need

Clouds over the dales. Image: Getty.

On Tuesday the Government revealed its long-awaited response to the proposal for a One Yorkshire devolution deal. James Brokenshire MP, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, wrote to all the councils that had sought a Yorkshire-wide plan setting out his views as to why he was rejecting this plan and also setting out that his preferred way forward is to adopt the city-region model.

The rejection of the One Yorkshire proposal for devolution will be a blow to the 18 Yorkshire authorities who first came together publicly to push for it in August 2017. Aside from the effort and money invested in the One Yorkshire plan, the delay has meant Yorkshire cities and towns have missed out. The Sheffield City Region devolution deal was put on the back burner as councils pursued a county deal. This has left the city region without access to a £30m investment fund that had been set aside for them.

Meanwhile, metro mayors in neighbouring Tees Valley and Greater Manchester have been accessing extra government money and using extra policy freedoms and flexibilities to invest in growth.

The Secretary of State’s letter now provides some clarity on what devolution the government will support in Yorkshire: an empowered Sheffield City Region deal, and then deals for the Leeds City Region, Greater York and the Humber Estuary. Irrespective of whether it is their preferred devolution model, at least leaders in Yorkshire now have the outline of a viable offer that they can accept or refuse, and other places also have more of a sense of the government’s thinking about the future of English devolution.

Sweetening the devolution deal

The government’s position is a reflection of the importance of Yorkshire’s city-regions in driving the Yorkshire economy. But it’s also a recognition that increasing the prosperity of the city-regions requires giving the local leaders need money, as well as power over areas such as skills, transport and strategic planning.

This is the economic rationale for devolution; it recognises that the policies needed in Leeds city-region will look different to those in the Hull and Humber city-region, and that the benefits of investment in one city-region will be largely restricted to that city-region.

Devolving power to functional economic geographies with clear and accountable leadership should be restated as the model for devolution that government has rightfully, if slowly, got behind.

Now the government has shown its hand on the preferred geography for Yorkshire devolution, it should also take this opportunity to go further on the devolution agenda.  In addition to offering all of what’s already on offer to other places, it should also offer Yorkshire’s city-regions additional fiscal powers and flexibilities – from devolved Vehicle Excise Duty, a slice of local VAT revenues, tourist taxes or council tax flexibility – and a guaranteed increase in funding from the UK Shared Prosperity Fund.

Yorkshire’s city-region economies are too big and too important to the county, and the country for any more time to be wasted.   In May 2020, over 20 million voters across the seven mayoral combined authorities and London will have the chance to have a greater say over their economic destiny. Government and local leaders from the West Riding to the East can’t allow voters in the majority of Yorkshire’s cities to miss out again.

Simon Jeffrey is a policy officer at the Centre for Cities, on whose blog this article first appeared.

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Does it matter that TfL are renaming White Hart Lane station Tottenham Hotspur?

New White Hart Lane. Image: Getty.

Pretend for a moment that you’re travelling in the London of 1932. You’re taking the Piccadilly Line northbound and alight at Gillespie Road station. The name should be obvious: it’s inscribed in bespoke brown tiling on the platform.

But that 31 October, following an intense campaign by the eponymous football club, the London County Council changed the station’s name to Arsenal (Highbury Hill). The area’s growing association with the name “Arsenal” ended in a lengthy negotiation that changed maps, signs and train tickets alike. Football had acquired so much power that it changed the name of not just a Tube station but an entire suburb, even before the era of Wenger or the Emirates.

Now the spectre of name changes is on the horizon once again. As Tottenham Hotspur FC inches closer to completing its new stadium, the club is clamouring for a renamed Overground station. Despite the fact the new stadium is located on almost exactly the same site as the old just off White Hart Lane, and fans have long been calling the scaffolding-laden mess “New White Hart Lane”, the club’s executive director is adamant that the station’s existing name cannot stand. White Hart Lane station, on the Overground line leaving Liverpool Street, is set to be renamed “Tottenham Hotspur”, at a cost to the club of £14.7m.

Little has been made of the fact that this peculiar PR kerfuffle is tied to Spurs’ failure to convince Nike to sponsor the venue. Some sources have even claimed that the sponsorship is yet to be finalised because it is somehow contingent on the renaming of the Overground station; beyond the ridiculous Johnson-era vanity project that was the Emirates Air Line, it seems improbable that TfL will allow any more corporate-flavoured information pollution. There will be no “Nike Stadium” station on the way to Enfield, much as there is no “Emirates” on the way to Cockfosters, especially if public consultation gets a look in.

The scene of the crime. Image: TfL.

But there’s a problem with the new name, all the same. “White Hart Lane” already means “football stadium”, in the same way Loftus Road or Stamford Bridge do. Changing it to “Tottenham Hotspur” risks opening the floodgates to an “O2 North Greenwich” or a “Virgin Euston” at some point in future, names as banal as there are dystopian. The Greater London Authority has promised to spend the £14.7m fee on community programmes in the local area – but that’s not much money to set the precedent that a private company can mess about with the Tube map.

What’s more, as CityMetric has often observed, there are plenty of station names across London that could do with a tidy up. Picking one that’s perfect already and asking for £14.7m to change it is adding insult to injury. How much would it cost a community group if they asked to change the name of Goodge Street to Fitzrovia? Why does a vast corporate entity backed by international sponsors and thousands of season ticket holders get to set the standard?

Back in Arsenal’s day, changing names on the Tube must have been easy; changes could be accommodated gradually without bothering the every day traveller. But in our world of online information, maps and apps, name changes are rather more complicated.

The question is – if TfL can bring itself to balefully accept this particular proposition, why can’t it accept ours? Why sort out a single non-issue on the Tube Map when you can catch lots of real ones in one go? A day’s pandemonium might just be a price worth paying to fix the Bethnal Greens problem once and for all.