Three reasons a Yorkshire devolution deal probably isn't going to happen

The Ribblehead Viaduct: emphatically not part of the Leeds City Region. Image: Getty.

The ancient English county of Yorkshire contains more people than Scotland, and an economy worth twice that of Wales. Consequently, there are those who believe that it deserves its own political identity.

There’s a Yorkshire Party (formerly Yorkshire First), which aspires to be a sort of SNP-of-the-dales. And, because no English devolution can ever take place without involving at least two warring factions, there’s also the Yorkshire Devolution Movement, which used this year’s Yorkshire Day (1 August, of course) to launch its campaign for a Yorkshire Parliament.

Both are, I fear, whistling in the wind.

There’s nothing inherently ridiculous about the idea of a Yorkshire-based devolution deal, of course: more than 5m people live in the county, which is more than enough to constitute a small country, let alone a regional government. We might even have had a Yorkshire Parliament already, if only proposals for regional assemblies hadn’t been so comprehensively shot down in 2004.

So why my cynicism? Am I just another uppity Londoner trying to keep god’s own country in its place?

Well, possibly. (I do hate parkin.) But I have three more solid reasons, too.

It’s the economy, stupid

The current round of devolution deals, which was started by George Osborne and which may or may not continue now he’s history, has generally focused on economically coherent units: city-regions or smaller counties, whose identities come as much from commuting patterns as from boundaries dating back to King Alfred.

Two deals didn’t do this. The North East deal covered almost an entire government region (Teeside got its own deal). The East Anglian one originally included both the M11-Cambridge corridor (in which the population looks south to London), and Norfolk and Suffolk (in which they don’t).

Both have since collapsed. That suggests it’s easier to get diverse councils to put their differences aside and agree on a deal when they can see themselves as a single economic unit, with something to gain from working together. It’s far from clear Yorkshire does.

A block in the pipe

So far, the most visible result of the campaign for Yorkshire-wide devolution has been a negative one: to stop Leeds from getting a deal.

Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool are all getting set for their own metro mayors next year. Leeds isn’t, because no one in Yorkshire could agree on what a Yorkshire deal should look like.

The Labour-led West Yorkshire councils – Leeds, Bradford, Wakefield and so forth – got behind a Leeds City Region deal. But local Tories, frightened of handing local power to the Labour opposition, lined up with the more rural North Yorkshire and East Riding councils to call for a “Greater Yorkshire” arrangement, which would have subsumed Leeds into a single deal covering most of historic Yorkshire.

Result: deadlock, and no deal.

The problem of Sheffield

Actually, that’s not quite true: one bit of Yorkshire may very well get a devolution deal, and is working with bits of neighbouring counties to get it. The Sheffield City Region doesn’t only include Sheffield proper, but the neighbouring cities with which it once shared South Yorkshire (Doncaster, Rotherham, Barnsley etc.), as well as the parts of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire that are economically connected to it.

Not everyone is happy about this. Derbyshire County Council is a bit miffed about being cruelly abandoned by Chesterfield and its lovely business rates, so is threatening legal action to block the deal.

Nonetheless, there’s a pretty good chance that the Sheffield City Region will happen. A large and heavily populated bit of Yorkshire has decided to pursue its own devolution deal in partnership with places that aren’t in Yorkshire at all.

Traitors to the rose, the lot of them.

So – the Yorkshire Party and the Yorkshire Devolution Movement can hang on for an all-Yorkshire deal all they like. But it probably isn’t going to happen, probably wouldn’t work if it did, and anyway a chunk of the county has made other plans.

Given all that one has to wonder – was it really worth leaving poor old Leeds out in the cold?

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @jonnelledge.

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12 things we learned by reading every single National Rail timetable

Some departure boards, yesterday. Image: CC-BY-SA

A couple of weeks ago, someone on Twitter asked CityMetric’s editor about the longest possible UK train journey where the stations are all in progressive alphabetical order. Various people made suggestions, but I was intrigued as to what that definitive answer was. Helpfully, National Rail provides a 3,717 page document containing every single timetable in the country, so I got reading!

(Well, actually I let my computer read the raw data in a file provided by ATOC, the Association of Train Operating Companies. Apparently this ‘requires a good level of computer skills’, so I guess I can put that on my CV now.)

Here’s what I learned:

1) The record for stops in progressive alphabetical order within a single journey is: 10

The winner is the weekday 7.42am Arriva Trains Wales service from Bridgend to Aberdare, which stops at the following stations in sequence:

  • Barry, Barry Docks, Cadoxton, Cardiff Central, Cardiff Queen Street, Cathays, Llandaf, Radyr, Taffs Well, Trefforest

The second longest sequence possible – 8 – overlaps with this. It’s the 22:46pm from Cardiff Central to Treherbert, although at present it’s only scheduled to run from 9-12 April, so you’d better book now to avoid the rush. 

  • Cardiff Central, Cardiff Queen Street, Cathays, Llandaf, Radyr, Taffs Well, Trefforest, Trehafod

Not quite sure what you’ll actually be able to do when you get to Trehafod at half eleven. Maybe the Welsh Mining Experience at Rhondda Heritage Park could arrange a special late night event to celebrate.

Just one of the things that you probably won't be able to see in Trehafod. Image: Wikimedia/FruitMonkey.

There are 15 possible runs of 7 stations. They include:

  • Berwick Upon Tweed, Dunbar, Edinburgh, Haymarket, Inverkeithing, Kirkcaldy, Leuchars
  • Bidston, Birkenhead North, Birkenhead Park, Conway Park, Hamilton Square, James Street, Moorfields
  • Bedford, Flitwick, Harlington, Leagrave, Luton, St Albans City, St Pancras International

There is a chance for a bit of CONTROVERSY with the last one, as you could argue that the final station is actually called London St Pancras. But St Pancras International the ATOC data calls it, so if you disagree you should ring them up and shout very loudly about it, I bet they love it when stuff like that happens.

Alphabetical train journeys not exciting enough for you?

2) The longest sequence of stations with alliterative names: 5

There are two ways to do this:

  • Ladywell, Lewisham, London Bridge, London Waterloo (East), London Charing Cross – a sequence which is the end/beginning of a couple of routes in South East London.
  • Mills Hill, Moston, Manchester Victoria, Manchester Oxford Road, Manchester Piccadilly – from the middle of the Leeds-Manchester Airport route.

There are 20 ways to get a sequence of 4, and 117 for a sequence of 3, but there are no train stations in the UK beginning with Z so shut up you at the back there.

3) The longest sequence of stations with names of increasing length: 7

Two of these:

  • York, Leeds, Batley, Dewsbury, Huddersfield, Manchester Victoria, Manchester Oxford Road
  • Lewes, Glynde, Berwick, Polegate, Eastbourne, Hampden Park, Pevensey & Westham

4) The greatest number of stations you can stop at without changing trains: 50

On a veeeeery slow service that calls at every stop between Crewe and Cardiff Central over the course of 6hr20. Faster, albeit less comprehensive, trains are available.

But if you’re looking for a really long journey, that’s got nothing on:

5) The longest journey you can take on a single National Rail service: 13 hours and 58 minutes.

A sleeper service that leaves Inverness at 7.17pm, and arrives at London Euston at 9.15am the next morning. Curiously, the ATOC data appears to claim that it stops at Wembley European Freight Operations Centre, though sadly the National Rail website makes no mention of this once in a lifetime opportunity.

6) The shortest journey you can take on a National Rail service without getting off en route: 2 minutes.

Starting at Wrexham Central, and taking you all the way to Wrexham General, this service is in place for a few days in the last week of March.

7) The shortest complete journey as the crow flies: 0 miles

Because the origin station is the same as the terminating station, i.e. the journey is on a loop.

8) The longest unbroken journey as the crow flies: 505 miles

Taking you all the way from Aberdeen to Penzance – although opportunities to make it have become rarer. The only direct service in the current timetable departs at 8.20am on Saturday 24 March. It stops at 46 stations and takes 13 hours 20 minutes. Thankfully, a trolley service is available.

9) The shortest station names on the network have just 3 letters

Ash, Ayr, Ely, Lee, Lye, Ore, Par, Rye, Wem, and Wye.

There’s also I.B.M., serving an industrial site formerly owned by the tech firm, but the ATOC data includes those full stops so it's not quite as short. Compute that, Deep Blue, you chess twat.

10) The longest station name has 33 letters excluding spaces

Okay, I cheated on this and Googled it – the ATOC data only has space for 26 characters. But for completeness’ sake: it’s Rhoose Cardiff International Airport, with 33 letters.

No, I’m not counting that other, more infamous Welsh one, because it’s listed in the database as Llanfairpwll, which is what it is actually called.


This sign is a lie. Image: Cyberinsekt.

11) The highest platform number on the National Rail network is 22

Well, the highest platform number at which anything is currently scheduled to stop at, at least.

12) if yoU gAze lOng into an abYss the abySs alSo gazEs into yOu

Image: author's own.

“For I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved”, said Thomas.

Ed Jefferson works for the internet and tweets as @edjeff.

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