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DECISIONS taken in the next few years on transport and infrastructure have the power to shape Yorkshire's economy for a generation.

That is the verdict from organisers of the definitive run-down of the fastest growing companies in the region, the Ward Hadaway Yorkshire Fastest 50.

Lawyers at the Leeds office of Top 100 UK law firm Ward Hadaway say what happens with landmark projects such as HS2 and the proposed ‘HS3’ rail link across the North will have a major bearing on the growth and direction of Yorkshire’s businesses for decades to come.

Frank Suttie (pictured left), Partner in the Commercial team at Ward Hadaway, who has advised a range of transport operators for over 15 years, said: “We are now entering what is arguably one of the most crucial periods of development for transport across the North since the coming of the railways.

“The transformative effect which the arrival of rail transport had on the economies of the North is well documented – in many ways it literally powered the industrial revolution and helped to make the North of England the powerhouse of the world.

“Whilst times have changed, the potential for improved transport links to drive the Northern Powerhouse in the 21st century is there for all to see.

“More frequent services and shorter travel times between the main centres of the North can bring the various areas of the region closer, increasing the ability for companies to work and trade more together as well as expanding the available employee pool.

“The local picture also continues to be a vital component of our economy. The local transport fund initiated by the Leeds City Region LEP in conjunction with West Yorkshire Combined Authority is rapidly becoming a vital transformative tool calculated to deliver many positive outcomes for the regional economy.”

Frank also mentioned Leeds City Council’s moves towards delivering a rail link to Leeds Bradford Airport and an important partnership with First Leeds that secures investment in new ‘greener’ customer friendly buses.

He added that the Bus Services Bill currently passing through Parliament aims to deliver a more powerful set of tools for transport bodies to secure the future of local bus services with better developed partnerships with bus operators encouraged.

Frank said: “There remain threats to successful business growth within our transport system. Congestion is recognised as the biggest challenge to local transport services and for businesses striving for success in rural areas recruiting and retaining staff is far from easy if the means of getting to work has been lost and access to further education and training becomes a challenge.”

The increased impetus on trading with the rest of the world post-Brexit has also contributed to the importance of an improved transport infrastructure in the North.

Frank explained: “A recent report commissioned by Transport for the North showed that improved international links from Yorkshire and the rest of the North could see up to 75 million passengers travelling to and from the region by 2050.

“International investors are already showing increased levels of interest in the North so accelerating that process could see even more overseas funding being put into harnessing and developing the potential of the region.

“Better connections to the North’s airports and ports can also help Yorkshire businesses to go global.

“Many of the companies who have appeared in the Ward Hadaway Yorkshire Fastest 50 in previous years have seen rapid growth thanks to their success in selling internationally so a better transport system could help many more businesses to follow in their footsteps.”

Transport for the North, which aims to help bring about sustained improvement to the region’s transport system, estimates that a ‘transformational’ plan along these lines could see the North contributing an extra £97 billion to the UK economy by 2050 with 850,000 more jobs in the region compared to ‘business as usual’ projected growth.

Frank Suttie said: “Figures like this underline why decisions taken over the next few years on improving our transport system are so crucial to future prosperity – get it right and the region could really win big. Get it wrong and it will be a huge opportunity missed.”

Funding the kind of schemes to bring about such a transformation will not be easy with estimates ranging from £10bn to £15bn – not counting the projected £55bn cost of HS2. Expectations are realistic, however, particularly when compared to investment planned for London particularly as the Transport for the North blueprint encompasses not just rail but also road, air and port infrastructure.

Frank Suttie pointed to various innovative funding routes which can be pursued to unlock finance for projects which can be proven to be affordable and to deliver returns on investment.

He added: “There is also the question of how much it will cost us to do nothing about the situation – can we really afford to let this opportunity pass us by?”

Transport operators will be watching the situation with interest since the prospect of new routes and more investment in infrastructure is likely to boost their businesses.

Edward Nuttman (pictured right), Partner in the Employment team at Ward Hadaway in Leeds, who advises household name bus, coach and haulage companies throughout the country, said: “Transport companies are naturally keen to see real progress on this front.

“With more investment in the sector, they can develop their services further and have greater scope for innovation.

“If road, rail and other connections are all improved, it is also likely to increase competition between different modes of transport, with a knock-on effect on fares.

“It may also see more transport-related companies making their presence felt in the Ward Hadaway Yorkshire Fastest 50 lists of the future.”

The current prime movers of Yorkshire business will be revealed next month at the Ward Hadaway Yorkshire Fastest 50 Awards 2017.

The Yorkshire Fastest 50 identifies and highlights the privately-owned, profit-making companies who have seen the biggest annual expansion in their turnover in recent years by analysing company financial figures.

This process creates a definitive list of the 50 fastest growing companies in Yorkshire, with the 2017 version appearing in The Yorkshire Post at the end of next month.

Then in March at a special event, awards will be handed out to the fastest growing small, medium-sized and large businesses, for companies with annual turnover of between £1m and £7.5m, between £7.5m and £15m and turnover of more than £15m respectively.

One of those three winners will then receive the accolade of being crowned Yorkshire’s overall fastest growing business for 2017.

* Find out more about the Fastest 50 Awards.

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