Lobbying the government for a better transport deal  

So much of our economic future depends on the infrastructure investment Kirklees – and the north of England in general – desperately needs. But while we all know the potential return on that investment, securing the funding and the commitment from national government is incredibly difficult.

A train

That is why I spent some time this week in London lobbying the Transport Minister Chris Grayling for a better deal for the north.

Across the region, we regard transport investment as the most important contributor to economic success. If we are to attract the industry and employers we need to attract the people who will work with them to deliver our economic goals.

If we want to cut pollution associated with cross Pennine travel, as people head to and from Leeds and Manchester through Huddersfield and Dewsbury, it is vital our rail infrastructure is up to the job.

Along with other council leaders from West Yorkshire, I asked the Minister to intervene to reverse the decades of under-investment by successive governments that are holding back the jobs creation and economic growth in Yorkshire.

It cannot be right that that London – as important as it is as our capital city – benefits from more than 10 times the transport investment in the north of England. I am not saying we should stop investing in transport in the south, I am arguing that everybody benefits more if government also invests in the north of England as well. That has to be in the national interest.

A devolution deal will unlock some of the decision making on investment, but we have to get on with the job of lobbying for more funding now. The West Yorkshire Plus Transport fund is a step in the right direction, but does not go far enough to turn round the legacy of decades of under-funding.

The Minster assured us that he was well aware of the need to improve all the Trans Pennine links and he demonstrated that he was fully aware of our concerns and demonstrated his detailed knowledge of the proposals currently being considered.

Reducing carbon output in Kirklees

In Kirklees, we are proud of our track record as a council committed to carbon reduction.

Over several years we have developed and delivered a wide range of projects. Some have been on a very large scale and some have been smaller, but they have all made a difference in cutting the carbon footprint across Kirklees and tackling climate change.

We all know that saving energy is a win-win situation. Saving energy not only helps our climate but also saves money, which is really important for all of us at a time when the cost of utilities has risen.

Often working with our partners, we invest in practical measures with positive, practical outcomes for local people – making a difference environmentally, financially and in terms of better health.

For example, air quality is an issue that we are keen to tackle. So, as part of our planning processes, we consider traffic flow and the possibilities to reduce congestion. There are hot spots such as Cooper Bridge, where queuing traffic is a source of concern and we are working hard to alleviate the problem – because faster journeys are also cheaper, greener journeys.

We support local communities to become greener, we have introduced smoke free zones and we switch off hundreds of street lights when they aren’t needed in the early hours of the morning. Many people will also remember – and will still be benefiting from – the Warm Zone scheme.

Warm Zone was the first scheme of its kind in the UK to offer free loft and cavity wall insulation to all residents without the requirement of means testing. It improved the comfort and energy of over 51,000 suitable households in Kirklees, reducing fuel poverty into the bargain, and won a national award as the best local authority sustainable energy scheme in the UK.

Working with Kirklees Neighbourhood Housing, we also have a target to cut CO2 emissions from the council’s housing stock by 30 per cent. Solar panels have been installed in council homes and a thermal render programme is benefiting all concerned.

In Dewsbury, a new biomass fuel boiler is providing heat and hot water to nearly 200 homes in a project funded by the energy supplier. Overall, the energy efficiency rating of our council homes is among the best in the country, but we still aren’t satisfied and there is now investment in ‘hard to treat’ homes in order to become even more efficient.

All of this work tells only part of our story and, despite all the financial pressures we face due to government cuts, we remain committed to doing whatever we can. I will soon be attending a major climate summit for local leaders, which has the aim of bringing together different voices, experiences and perspectives and reaching an agreement on how best to combat climate change.

It’s an honour for Kirklees to be invited to this event and we will use it not only to express our support but also to ensure Kirklees can gain tangible benefits. Traditionally we have led the way in reducing carbon output, but other places will have great schemes and ideas of their own – ones we can bring back and adapt for the benefit of local people.