'Time for Doncaster to bid to be a city again’
Doncaster should fight for city status again, business leaders have been told.
Doncaster Chamber chief executive Dan Fell told 200 delegates at the Doncaster Business Conference that it was time for the borough to fight for city status again to help boost the borough’s profile and reputation, after Goverment ministers declined to address the conference.
He told his audience at the event at The Legacy Centre, Shaw Wood Way, Wheatley Hills: “Sadly, this year – as with previous years – around half a dozen ministers declined to to come and speak to you. This is despite being one of the top five growing economies in the UK. I doubt that we would have suffered from this lack of engagement if Doncaster was a city.
“For this and many other good reasons, I think it is about time that we re-fired the starting gun on going for city status. Doncaster is punching above its weight and setting city standards, so lets get the badge to go with it. It is my conviction that securing city status will cement Doncaster’s reputation as a place of national and international significance.
“It will also send a powerful message that we are not the kind of place that will be placated with derisory crumbs from the table – such as the recently announced and highly cynical Stronger Towns Fund – but that we are instead an investment-ready proposition that is ready to to do business with Government, entrepreneurs and the wider world.”
He said he was positive about Doncaster’s fortunes, but there was still much to do. in terms of improving the borough’s town centres, localising supply chains, increasing the amount of commercial property available, helping more firms to work internationally, and make firms greener, while thinking about how Doncaster can lead in technology industries.
He also called for action to solve the traffic bottleneck at junction three of the M18, and spoke of the importance of the borough also being ‘people friendly’, adding the increasing prominence of the arts sector was helpful in that respect.
The keynote speech also recognised progress on local devolution, with the impasse broken on devolution to the Sheffield City Region, particularly if that can be a stepping stone to a bigger deal.
He said: “I know there are many in the room who are still to be convinced that the city region is the right spatial area for ambitious policymaking and implementation. Nonetheless it feels as though we are emerging into a new world now and it is therefore incumbent on us all to be good partners and to try.”
Among the high profile speakers at the conference was Henri Murison, director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership.
He told delegates that the north had strengths in both technology and energy production, with the bulk of renewable, green, energy coming from the north.
He raised concerns about the low comparative number of people in the north with degree-level skills, praising the setting up of the National College for High Speed Rail in the borough.
He also praised the borough's inclusion in the Opportunity Area scheme. He said a lot of money had been put into improving London schools, but areas like Doncaster had communities where education was affected by serious social deprivation.
“We believe the opportunity areas have to continue to be funded, not just for a few years, but permanently,” he said.
He also called for transport links to be improved so that people in Doncaster could take advantage of opportunities in other Northern cities like Manchester and Leeds. He said the north was getting better trains because leaders in the north had got their act together to demand a better settlement.
“We need to push for more and better,” he said. “East to West connections are as important as North to South. No one told London to chose either the high speed link to to France or Crossrail.”
Mayor of Doncaster Ros Jones spoke of projects in Doncaster including the new White Rose Way, which has led to the development of the iPort, near Rossington, and the proposals for a major rail link to Doncaster Sheffield Airport.
But she also said it was important to to stop a North – South divide within the borough.
The delegates gave outgoing Doncaster Council chief executive a standing ovation after what was her final address to the conference before leaving for a new job in New Zealand.
She urged delegates to make sure Doncaster was a diverse and inclusive borough.
She praised improvements in the borough, and told businesess that the borough was special not just for the connnectivity of its transport links, but also the connectivity of its people.