TL: Yorkshire Devolution

Chapter 2

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York in all it's glory.

Chapter 2: The Absence of Devolution

The 1980s, and Thatcherism with it, saw a rapid realignment of the economy in favour of the free market and entrepreneurship, moving away from the welfare state and power of the trade unions. Public figures in opposition to her had been largely swept away with the removal of the London and Yorkshire Councils, and whilst Scotland retained it's devolved Assembly, it was largely toothless. Yorkshire was hit, alongside much of the north, as the United Kingdom transitioned towards a more service-orientated economy - although the writing was on the wall well before Thatcher came to power. In Scotland, by example, in 1954 Scottish shipyards built 1/8th of the worlds shipping tonnage; by 1968 it had shrunk to 1/100. Yorkshire was hit just like many other areas of the north as the economy shifted and deindustrialised, with few areas escaping. Southern Yorkshire (*1) was particularly hit, but several Yorkshire cities also weathered the storm by modernising and diversifying local economies. Hull became a energy and maritime centre, with a marina and important port which competed against Middlesbrough and Grimsby, whilst Leeds embraced the service economy. York developed in to the political centre of Yorkshire with several institutions headquartered in the city despite the lack of a unified Yorkshire authority - predominately "AYA", or the Association of Yorkshire Authorities - a semi-official group of Yorkshire Borough local leaders in order to co-operate with each other and align policies where possible, allowing the Yorkshire economy to continue to modernise.

One of these was the continued backing for the new Leeds East Airport (despite many attempts to name it "Yorkshire International Airport"), owned by a consortium of the Yorkshire Boroughs. It had received a people mover to transport people between the airport terminal itself and the mainline railway station at Church Fenton in 1993 to balance competition against Manchester Airport (it's key rival), and saw rapid growth during the 1990s. This period saw the introduction of lower cost airlines, whilst European aviation rules began to allow easier access for European airlines to each other's airports, allowing European airlines such as KLM, Aer Lingus and Lufthansa to serve the airport. Motorways in Yorkshire continued to slowly expand, finalising links between cities, as well as to the airport and allowing vehicles to more easily transit through Yorkshire from one side to the other. (*1)

Conservative rule was concrete through the latter 1980s, and despite winning the 1992 election, Conservative power seemed to be on the wane as the 1990s crept on. The campaign period for the 1997 election saw a new type of Labour party emerge, pushed forward by a new coalition of southern and northern Labourites. Potential voters from Yorkshire saw a chance for a resumption of devolution; "In the last 15 years, Westminster and the Conservatives have eliminated our government, emptied our cities, ransacked our economy and destroyed our jobs. We need a better devolved government to protect us from this happening again". Whether or not a "Yorkshire Government" could have protected Yorkshire from the effects of Thatcherism, it inspired commitments to devolution in the Labour 1997 manifesto, with initial plans focussed on restoring or introducing devolution to the Celtic Home Nations as well as to Yorkshire and London within England.

1997 saw a sweeping away of the Conservative Government, replaced by a Labour Government committed to devolution. Significant anger over the effects of Thatcherism remained, and proved a force in the devolution arguments to ensure top-down economic reforms couldn't take place without at least some local consent - especially not those perceived to be for the benefit of the south of England at the expense of the north and other constituent nations. Although the Scottish Assembly still existed north of the border, it remained a glorified county council, and following Labour's return to power under the Blair Premiership a referendum on wholesale change was held with a significantly enhanced Scottish Assembly - both in terms of a wider range of powers, and also a larger assembly reflecting the more prominent role in Scottish affairs the Assembly was expected to play. The referendum was a comfortable victory for the "Yes" side, with majorities of 70%-75% in favour of it. A similar referendum was held in Wales, and in turn brought forward a Welsh Assembly on a similar but different model to the Scots (reflecting the combined English/Welsh criminal law system), although the referendum only saw 56% of voters back the Welsh Assembly.

1998 saw the signing of the Good Friday Agreement between the United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland, and Northern Irish political parties - duly backed by a referendum there. Although the referendum was technically held on the acceptance of the Good Friday Agreement itself in Northern Ireland, the agreement contained provisions for restoring devolution to Northern Ireland who had previously had their own Parliament following the withdrawal of what became the Republic of Ireland from the United Kingdom. The new Northern Ireland Assembly held a suite of powers broadly similar to the Welsh Assembly - with control over policing and justice "temporarily withheld" and retained by Westminster until such a time cross-party agreement could be reached over such powers.

By late 1998, England was the only UK nation without some level of devolution, and attention duly turned towards England. Planning for a new London devolved assembly had been an explicit part of the Labour manifesto in 1997 too, and implicitly for other areas in England, under the name of "English Provincialism" once again. The Greater London Assembly Act of 1999 duly authorised a London Assembly if backed by referendum to govern the "Province of Greater London", and after some pressure by Yorkshire Labour MPs, a Yorkshire Assembly Act also passed in 1999 to create the "Province of Yorkshire" once again. Referendums near the end of 1999 saw a far lower turnout then the other areas of the United Kingdom, but both referendums duly backed the creation of each assembly. The enactment of English devolution after referendums was an attempt to put the devolved bodies on a more permanent & constitutional footing, avoiding the potential future whims of Westminster given that the Scottish Assembly avoided elimination during the Thatcher years.

The new iteration of Yorkshire provincialism saw immediate wrangling over the siting of the new administration. By 2000, Leeds was undoubtedly the economic leader in Yorkshire, followed by Sheffield and Hull - and to a lesser extent Middlesbrough, but few wanted to see the administration in Leeds, fearing it would entrench a Leeds-focussed (and to a lesser extent West Riding focussed) administration which failed to serve the whole of Yorkshire. As such, there was only one candidate city which all could compromise and accept; York (*2). The old council buildings had been sold off in the 1980s for private use, and so a new set of buildings were built just inside York city walls and almost adjacent to the railway station on the grounds of the old station - and refurbishing the old station itself to accommodate offices. This would allow easy access to the Assembly by those elected to represent the people within the historic "capital" of Yorkshire, whilst preventing a long and convoluted process of trying to find an alternative city to host.

The Assembly itself would, similar to the other British devolved assemblies (bar the Northern Irish one due to the need for very proportional representation even on a constituency-by-constituency basis), be modelled on the Additional Member system and the existing Westminster constituencies. 55 seats would be elected on a first-past-the-post constituency basis, with an additional 35 members elected on a list system - 5 members elected from each of 7 regions across Yorkshire, resulting in a 90 member Assembly chamber. Learning from history, northern Lincolnshire was discounted from the start and not attempted to merge in, whilst the Yorkshire portions of Cleveland were now reformed in to Yorkshire Boroughs within the province. The only change from the Westminster constituencies was for Stockton South given that it crossed the border between Yorkshire and County Durham, with the (Yorkshire) constituency of Middlesbrough balanced with Stockton South - a situation planned to be rectified in the next periodic review of constituencies.

The first elections would be held on the 4th May, 2000 for the inaugural "new" Yorkshire Assembly. Unlike in London, this election would be just for the assembly with the new leader of Yorkshire chosen by the it.
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(*1) Just mentioned about the airport growing as it's in a better location now then stuck between Leeds and Bradford and a pain for anyone outside that area to get to to avoid it's own chapter at some point. Probably eliminates any stab at an airport in the Sheffield or Middlesbrough airports, and gives Manchester more competition.
(*2) Personally I just can't see any city other than York becoming "capital" of Yorkshire. It's the only neutral city, as well as historic and cultural centre of Yorkshire.

Chapter 2....where nothing much happens...!
 
Chapter 3

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David Blunkett, first Premier of Yorkshire

Chapter 3: The Blunkett Years

It's hard to see what role David Blunkett may have played longer term in the Labour Government at Westminster, but he sacrificed his comfortable seat at Westminster in 2000 where he had represented Sheffield Brightside since 1987 - 13 years in Parliament, spending the latter 3 years as a Secretary of State for Education & Employment. However, when the new provincial assembly for Yorkshire was unveiled, and then confirmed in a referendum, the opportunity to swap Westminster for a potentially bigger role on the provincial stage became apparent and Blunkett was backed or put forward (depending on who you believe) by the Blair Premiership.

The 2000 election was, in fairness, a walk in the park for Labour, who were riding high in the polls nationally - let alone in one of their northern heartlands. The AMS electoral system tempered the results somewhat, in comparison to a Westminster election, but the results were still a triumph for Labour as it ended up comfortably the largest party even if not quite a majority.

CON:27 LAB:35 LD:19 UKIP:4 GRN:5

This left Labour only 10 seats short of a majority once the speaker was accounted for, and comfortably in control with Liberal Democrat backing. Blunkett therefore became the first Premier of Yorkshire, taking control of the Yorkshire Executive and administration for the historic county - a county which started his political career as a councillor in Sheffield, on what some would term "the militant left" section of northern politics.

Blunkett immediately began with the powers allocated to him under the terms of English devolution, although the majority of them fell in the regional strategy, emergency services and transport realms. Declaring that "work would now continue from where it paused", in reference to the elimination of the Yorkshire County Council in the 1980s, Blunkett's Yorkshire Executive continued to invest in infrastructure. District heating networks received funding & investment to expand from being focussed on city centre public buildings and shopping centres to the inner suburbs, attempting to reduce heat poverty in many of the deprived inner suburbs, with initial efforts starting in Hull, Rotherham and Bradford. For the first five or six years, Blunkett was almost bullet-proof. Labour's popularity on the national stage, along with a degree of separation from the furore over the Iraq War, left him even able to waltz past questions about his personal affairs.

Transport powers were a significant part of Yorkshire's range of powers, and much of this was administered through the government agency Transport Yorkshire. Much of the effort in the early years was aimed at the now privatised rail sector, aiming to eliminate the vestiges of the hated "Pacer" trains - little more than a "bus on rail wheels", and improving accessibility. 2003 saw a partnership with Transport for London begin, as both TY and TfL lobbied for further powers over local rail networks, and 2004 saw the commencement of a review in to the rail industry by the UK Department for Transport. The outcome, announced by the then Transport Secretary was for establishment of a Yorkshire Rail Authority, under the Yorkshire Executive, although this was later simplified in to just further powers for Yorkshire so it could better administer the local network.

Urban development of Leeds' south eastern area continued, with the link road to a new section of motorway opening development in the area. One of the first names down was that of Leeds United, who planned a large new stadium in the area. The club itself had sold the Elland Road stadium to the local council many years ago, and although seeking to repurchase it had left their options open. By 2003 construction had begun on what would become Skelton Arena, the home stadium for Leeds United, along side a planned new stretch of railway as part of Yorkshire Hub railway scheme by the nationwide rail infrastructure owner Network Rail, which would allow for greater cross-Leeds services.

Although actions were then delayed by the 2004 Yorkshire election, Blunkett retained his seat as Premier of Yorkshire with only small losses, and with his Lib Dem backing comfortably retaining a majority in the Yorkshire Assembly.

CON:26 LAB:31 LD:21 UKIP:7 GRN:5

This new level of popularity in Yorkshire (and London) for devolution was not matched elsewhere in the country however. Yorkshire and London stood apart from the rest of the country with having had previous regional administrations, even as a super-charged county council - which gave a certain definition and cultural existence to the provinces. This was a different story elsewhere; despite both being largely in Lancashire, Liverpool and Manchester were rivals to the bitter end and attempts to bring some kind of mutual understanding in seeking provincehood was scuppered early on. The North East of England saw greater progress, with a political agreement to establish a new province based on the former counties of Northumberland and County Durham - or largely based on Newcastle on Tyne and Sunderland, and a referendum was held in 2005. This, however, returned a negative result, with the public rejecting the proposed North East Assembly - largely attributed to a fear of being dominated solely by Newcastle, and a traditional Geordie/Mackem rivalry. The only region of England, other than Yorkshire and London, to gain provincehood was potentially not even English (depending on your viewpoint) - Cornwall. This was only in recognition of the isolated nature of Cornwall, it's low productivity and wealth, as well as a cultural region.

Following this, in 2006, came a substantial devolution agreement on the railway network to Yorkshire, at the same time as London received the capability to operate what would become the London Overground network; these routes in Yorkshire became part of the Network Yorkshire train service. These routes were largely geographically separate from the rest of Northern Rail's network, and so could be devolved with out too much worry over cross-charging mechanisms and charges for delays - and conveniently were electrified on several of the shorter routes. These routes were based around the Leeds/Bradford North-West network, forming some commuter routes in Airedale and Wharfedale, along with longer distance routes via Skipton. Less successful were efforts to turn the Holbeck Viaduct, abandoned since 1987, into a civic foot and cycle path through the urban area, with the project labelled a white elephant from nowhere to nowhere. With costs spiralling, the project was later cancelled, and was used by the Conservatives in Yorkshire as welcome ammunition in the Assembly.

However, not everything was as clear. As police funding decreased, pressure on the three Yorkshire police services - each based on the ancient divisions of the three Ridings. This was kickstarted a UK initiative in 2006 to reduce the number of "small" police forces, and instead create larger "strategic" police forces. Blunkett saw an agreement reached with Westminster to merge the Yorkshire forces too; although widespread community feedback on it led to the development of the current operational commands areas around the larger urban areas, and the large rural area across northern Yorkshire. This also saw the dissolution of Cleveland Police, with the areas south of the River Tees now transferred to the new Police Yorkshire, whilst those areas north of the river were merged back in to Durham Constabulary. This allowed the creation of a single "Vice Premier for Policing", responsible for policing across the entirety of Yorkshire; it also enabled considerable harmonisation and either the establishment of higher quality specialised units (and cost-cutting). Divisions such as motorways police, scientific support, police divers, horseback policing, organised crime, intelligence all became centralised, often allowing for increased effectiveness with the removal of internal borders.

Things went from bad to worse in 2007, as the significant rain descended on Yorkshire (and many other areas in the United Kingdom). More than double the average rainfall for June fell within just 24 hours in some areas, causing widespread flooding across all three Ridings. Hull received the brunt of flooding, with only 12 schools (out of 88) remaining open due to flooding and people needing to be evacuated by boat - along what was supposed to be a road. The RAF ended up deploying helicopters across Yorkshire in efforts to rescue stranded people, whilst flooding was so widespread it cut off whole villages and towns. In the weeks afterwards, significant criticism and anger was levelled at the government - both provincially for not doing more (despite some of the suggestions not being within the realm of powers for the province) and nationally, where it was felt that if the same level of flooding had occurred in the south there would have been far more help rendered. The Environment Agency itself came in for criticism too, with some calling for the devolving of the Agency's responsibilities to a new Yorkshire agency.

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Notes: The rail parts are obviously influenced by the existence of London Overground in London and Scotrail in...well, Scotland. The police merger inspired by real suggestions for Yorkshire police mergers around the mid-2000s, as part of the Labour drive for "super police forces" - here's it's gone through as the Yorkshire Executive seeks to centralise a single police force under it's view.

The devolution attempt to North-East England still fails however, but probably much closer than before; I reckoned the absence of Middlesbrough would make the NE even more Newcastle-dominated which would counter the example of devolution to the south of the area.
 
Chapter 4

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Andrew Jones, the second Premier of Yorkshire and to date only Conservative Yorkshire Premier.

Chapter 4: The Jones Years

The 2008 Yorkshire election was somewhat of a forebearer for the next UK general election. The Labour vote continued to decline, with growing weariness of the UK Labour government, and despite local Yorkshire politics, the nationwide picture usually shaped voting choices. For the first time, the Conservatives ended up with more Yorkshire Assembly members elected then Labour did, whilst the introduction of two new right wing parties did much to shape the complicate the formation of the next Yorkshire government. Fighting his first election as leader of the Conservatives in Yorkshire, Andrew Jones had been thrust into the headlights by a combination of fortunate (or unfortunate depending on your point of view!) factors. Despite having little in the way of history in politics, having spent the majority of his time in the private sector, Jones had become leader with few others rivals seen as being able to win an election.

CON:27 LAB:23 LD:18 UKIP:8 BNP:7 GRN:7

Although the number of Tory, Lib Dem or even Green Assembly members stayed roughly similar, voters had shifted a party to the right in significant numbers across the board, resulting in a loss to Labour of 8 members, and the introduction of 7 British National Party members and an extra UKIP member. The cause and effect was much debated; many blamed the BNP electoral successes for then driving racism, many others called it a result of racial divides in many of Yorkshire's cities, with local identity seen by some as now under a threat as eastern Europeans now "swamped local communities" as they migrated to the United Kingdom.

However, despite growth in the Conservative vote being by 1 member, and thus hardly the huge growth which had been sought, it was now the largest party in the Yorkshire Assembly. This was still somewhat of a victory for the party, but now came the awkward job of forming a coalition of sorts. Electoral mathematics placed a right-wing alliance of the Conservatives backed by UKIP and BNP as still short of the miracle number - thankfully for Jones, who was hardly enamoured by the prospect of working with either party. For once, the Liberal Democrats found themselves in a more powerful Kingmaker position; they could have thrown their lot in with a Labour-Green-Liberal Democrat coalition which would have made the numbers work, but seeing Labour's popularity rapidly slide was hardly an appealing option. The most likely prospect was therefore a Conservative - Liberal Democrat agreement which after taking the Speaker out of the equation, gave just enough members to form a majority; as such a Conservative - Liberal Democrat Coalition Executive took place to govern Yorkshire for the next 4 years.

This was a first - not in the history of Yorkshire politics, even including the 1970s existence of a large Yorkshire county council had the Conservatives run (even in part) the house, nor even via a coalition. The coalition with the Liberal Democrats also fitted in far more easily with Jones' personal political views; far more centre-ground Tory then right-wing Tory, and the coalition would see Jones name a record 8 "Vice-Premiers" for portfolios in Yorkshire, covering:
  • Policing & Crime
  • Fire & Emergencies
  • Housing & Spatial Strategy
  • Finance & Local Government
  • Business & Infrastructure
  • Culture
  • Environment & Energy
  • Transport

The Conservative - Liberal Democrat agreement would later be seen as an important step towards the formation of the same two parties forming a governing coalition at Westminster, helping both sides trust each other and establishing at least some common ground. All was not over for Blunkett though; a compromise on House of Lords reform saw senior political positions from across the UK granted automatic life peerages after stepping down from their positions; the Premier of Yorkshire was one of the roles.

The new coalition Executive still operated partly hamstrung however. The razor sharp majority gave little wiggle room in contentious topics or votes in the Assembly, and Assembly business could be easily derailed as shown in 2009 when the Assembly ended up - with an unusual coalition of parties - almost endorsing a symbolic motion for the closure of the RAF Fylingdales base, heavily used by the US military. A mixture of UKIP, BNP, Green and some rebel members from the big three parties, as well as a large amount of Assembly members away on other business led to the vote occurring, and was only denied in a final vote amongst large publicity.

Of the few major projects to be worked on during this Executive, the largest was the Hull Lagoon idea, beginning conceptual work due to the devastating impact of the 2007 years flooding. Following this up was a 2009 English report in to rail route reopening, which advocated for the reopening of Skipton-Colne line (allowing a new Yorkshire-Lancashire Transpennine route), and the Harrogate-Ripon-Northallerton route (also a diversionary route). Pressed for by the Liberal Democrats, and also backed by Labour and the Greens, the Conservatives had little option but to back it - especially when contrasted against the £1 billion provided to London for it's Crossrail project.

Elsewhere, the protection of many former railway routes - of which there were plenty in a province which served as one of the heartlands of the British industrial revolution - would now see them reborn to be used as a province-wide cycle route network. The inaugural route was a winding route stretching across the entire province - from Doncaster to Scarborough in a large arc - via Castleford, Leeds, Harrogate, Boroughbridge, Helmsley and Pickering. The circa 175km route took much in of the province, and sections of the route were later used in the 2014 Tour de France, which started in Yorkshire.

The strategic review of 2010 in to the Highways Agency saw the public body reformed as Highways England, and becoming a government-owned company. This was accompanied by the creation of a new Yorkshire Highways private company, to be owned and accountable to the Yorkshire Executive. Although the ultimate control over the English Strategic Road Network still remained at Westminster, this was the first example of the devolution of much of the day-to-day administration of the network to a provincial body - and was later accompanied by similar devolution to Cornwall. In Yorkshire, this saw the introduction of Yorkshire Highways taking over the administration and maintenance of the entire motorway network in the area, as well as many dual carriageways - and also a few smaller key strategic routes in the North Riding which were crucial to mobility. This all introduced a new set of responsibility on Yorkshire, although little has happened with it in the years since.

Other actions during Jones' 4 year role of Premier included many smaller efforts. One was the introduction of standardised road signs for the individual boroughs and province wide welcome signs - many labelled this as a waste of money, but it did (at least in the long run) provide some economies of scale for the production of such road signs. Other smaller actions included the Yorkshire Libraries Partnership; despite libraries being a competency of the local authority, the partnership was an agreement to allow reciprocal access to library services between each of the Yorkshire boroughs, enable more inter-library borrowing and offer more internet facilities in return for some extra funding. The agreement of each Yorkshire borough to this partnership created what was for local residents in effect a Yorkshire-wide library network.

Following the 2010 UK general election, which resulted in a hung Parliament, the Yorkshire model of a Conservative - Liberal Democrat coalition served as a blueprint, with the nationwide parties adopting this model. Early UK legislation under the coalition included the Localism Act 2011, which in general allowed local and provincial authorities to do anything an individual could do, as long as it did not fall in to the competencies of another layer of government. Whilst a seemingly innocuous piece of legislation at the time to much of the public, the act had significant impact in the longer term - especially at the provincial level with more spending power.

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I've taken a stab at what I think Andrew Jones' politics would have been as an unlikely Conservative leader of Yorkshire, grant me some wide with him! :) I thought about William Hague, but given there was no Yorkshire Executive when he was entering Parliament, I can still see him being Opposition Leader in Westminster and therefore not entering Yorkshire politics.

And lastly, because I love a good map, and my transport head needs an outlet, a rough stab at a Yorkshire Highways strategic road network (given all other roads would be managed by the local Yorkshire Borough).

Darker blue: Yorkshire-managed motorway
Darker grey: Yorkshire-managed non-motorway trunk route

Lighter colours are correspondingly motorways and trunk routes outside of Yorkshire borders. The primary differences are:
  • M62 reaches further east as far as the division between running to Hull or across the Humber Bridge
  • M18 continues north via York, and then northwards. The A1 therefore remains the "old road", with the M18 taking the place of the A1(M).
  • There's a trunk route (likely dual carriageway) which runs to the Yorkshire airport (at Church Fenton)
  • The road west from Bedale is "trunk route" despite being a single carriageway as it serves a large swathe of northern Yorkshire in what is core "Blue Yorkshire" territory.


yorkshire-srn.jpg
 
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Well, that is an interesting transport network developing at the very least. Although...
The strategic review of 2010 in to the Highways Agency saw the public body reformed as Highways England, and becoming a government-owned company. This was accompanied by the creation of a new Yorkshire Highways private company, to be owned and accountable to the Yorkshire Executive. Although the ultimate control over the English Strategic Road Network still remained at Westminster, this was the first example of the devolution of much of the day-to-day administration of the network to a provincial body - and was later accompanied by similar devolution to Cornwall. In Yorkshire, this saw the introduction of Yorkshire Highways taking over the administration and maintenance of the entire motorway network in the area, as well as many dual carriageways - and also a few smaller key strategic routes in the North Riding which were crucial to mobility. This all introduced a new set of responsibility on Yorkshire, although little has happened with it in the years since.
Quite surprised in regards to the need to completely new agency (by a Tory-led goverment nonetheless) to handle the road network instead of being administered directly by (an just slightly expanded) Transport Yorkshire (like what Transport Scotland does IIRC, although I could be wrong in this regard)
 

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Well, that is an interesting transport network developing at the very least. Although...

Quite surprised in regards to the need to completely new agency (by a Tory-led goverment nonetheless) to handle the road network instead of being administered directly by (an just slightly expanded) Transport Yorkshire (like what Transport Scotland does IIRC, although I could be wrong in this regard)
Firstly, the reason for it; the north has always long complained about a lack of focus and investment compared to the south, which is something I can't help but agree with, so I figured there was a good chance of a Yorkshire highways agency being sought, and Westminster/Conservatives granting it as a commitment to local government (something the LibDems would back too) and as long as it's not really devolving "real" power from Westminster.

I semi modelled it after the Welsh "trunk road agents" (horrible name right?), although given that the UK turned the former Highways Agency agency in to a wholly owned Highways England company at the time, that's the format I considered most likely. I fully expect Yorkshire Highways to be integrated in to Transport Yorkshire at some point, but that point ain't yet sadly.

PS; never underestimate Westminsters ability and desire to try and cripple devolved/local authorities…
 
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Have they managed to dual all the York Ring Road and the A64?
(I can hear the groans of almost all of the other readers of this thread. Lindseyman and that road again. Sorry, but it IS that bad!)
 
Firstly, the reason for it; the north has always long complained about a lack of focus and investment compared to the south, which is something I can't help but agree with, so I figured there was a good chance of a Yorkshire highways agency being sought, and Westminster/Conservatives granting it as a commitment to local government (something the LibDems would back too) and as long as it's not really devolving "real" power from Westminster.

I semi modelled it after the Welsh "trunk road agents" (horrible name right?), although given that the UK turned the former Highways Agency agency in to a wholly owned Highways England company at the time, that's the format I considered most likely. I fully expect Yorkshire Highways to be integrated in to Transport Yorkshire at some point, but that point ain't yet sadly.

PS; never underestimate Westminsters ability and desire to try and cripple devolved/local authorities…
Ok then..thanks for the explaination
P/s:
IMO, I am pretty sure the Welsh goverment name it that way as a way to encourage usage of the Welsh language /s (Although, Asiant Cefnffyrdd looks and sound much better than even the 'National Highways" of England honestly. I would update & change the font used in the Asiant Cefnffyrdd logo to the Transport for Wales font tbough since the logo seem very dated.)
Meanwhile, it is pratically ASB if Westminster (especially the Treasury) somehow not try to meddling in any decentralized authorities, whether it is devolved/local authorities, agencies and company (British Rail anyone) and even ministries.
 
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Chapter 5

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Judith Blake, third Premier of Yorkshire

Chapter 5: The Blake Years

The 2012 election saw fortunes change significantly, largely attributed to actions at Westminster, with a coalition in power across the UK nicknamed the "ConDem Coalition". The Conservatives lost a quarter of their seats in the Assembly, the Liberal Democrats lost almost a half, whilst Labour's vote rose significantly almost back to it's previous popularity. The elephant in the room however was the large number of UKIP assembly members now voted in, whose party occupied roughly 1/8 of all the assembly seats, whilst even the British National Party retained a seat (despite much of their vote share moving to UKIP).

CON:21 LAB:34 LD:11 UKIP:18 BNP:1 GRN:5

Assembly mathematics meant that, once again, a Labour-Liberal Democrat Coalition Executive could take place; whilst many LibDem members were wary of entering a coalition once again, after 2 years of the Conservative-LibDem UK Coalition, what did they have to lose? They had already lost half their seats in Yorkshire following the UK Coalition - they were hardly going to lose more for a coalition with Labour. Unlike the previous Executive however, this time there would be some a third party adding agreement - the Green Party - which helped to make a more solid majority in the Assembly and better able to govern effectively. The introduction of Green political backing, implicitly implied an added green focus to Yorkshire policies - but this often mirrored anyway in LibDem policies. Following the resumption of a Labour-led Executive, larger scale public works resumed, with a collaboration between several local authorities and the Yorkshire Executive for investment on building new district heating networks. In exchange for financial contributions to the works, Yorkshire retained the right to lay down cables in the trenches.

One of the first things the new Blake Executive began to work on was transport in Yorkshire, attempting to emulate London's strides forward under TfL. The introduction of a new smart card - later marketed (after several poor attempts at branding before) as Yorkshire's "Rose Card" was a hope to make public transport simpler and easier and attract more people on to it. This was achieved by reaching a partnership agreement with Transport for London, and sharing the costs of operating a combined Oyster/Rose card system (and therefore cards being interoperable). This rapidly introduced the technology required to Yorkshire, and allowed the individual Yorkshire Boroughs to push out the technology to their local bus operators through the licensing mechanisms. It also allowed Network Yorkshire to push out smartcard ticketing to their rail operations within Yorkshire, simplifying the journey for thousands of trips on the network, and later allow contactless credit/debit card for payment directly.

Following the Localism Act 2011, which freed the hands of the province to do more, one of the interesting topics was the provision of internet access given that BT Openreach was lagging behind in their deployment of faster technologies such as fibre to the premises. The new network, dubbed Lightstream, was a fibre-optic network for an area of England often overlooked in favour of the more densely populated south-east and north-west areas. For legal reasons, it did not offer any major services itself (only a quasi "operator of last resort" internet access operator, and rebroadcasting free-to-air television via the network), but allowed operators to install equipment on to their network in gateway locations, which offered services to customers across the Lightstream network - a similar position to BT Openreach today. By 2020, all the main nationwide operators use it, offering a combination of internet access and television (public and subscription) with some also offering VoIP telephone solutions.

Historic Yorkshire, established in 2012, was a department which worked for the regionalisation of many of England's heritage organisations. Much of Heritage Yorkshire's history owes to the abolition of the British Waterways group in 2009, with it's slow transition away from a public body beginning in 2010. This saw the transfer of it's operations to various bodies; to Scottish Waterways in Scotland, the Canal & River Trust in much of England, and Yorkshire Waterways within Yorkshire, which became a body under Historic Yorkshire. This became the first strand of Historic Yorkshire, and later expansion saw the group work closely with the National Trust and English Heritage to market their properties within Yorkshire as Historic Yorkshire and allow membership benefits to each other within Yorkshire. Historic Yorkshire, in it's new role as local custodian of the Yorkshire Dales (as well as the Yorkshire Moors), also took the lead in the province's efforts to build small scale hydroelectric facilities in the Dales, where mills often once stood using the water power. By 2016, 8 locations had been installed with new hydro-electric machinery, resulting in a total of approximately 1.5MW of installed capacity, and generating between 5-6GWh - or enough electricity for 1,000 - 1,500 homes in Yorkshire annually.

On an important economic basis, the growth in Yorkshire's service economy - and transition away from the traditional manufacturing jobs the province had depended on for centuries - continued. A major boost in 2015, was the relocation of HSBC's regional headquarters; HSBC UK was now a ringfenced business unit of HSBC (the global business), and the new UK headquarters looked to move out of London. After an exhaustive piece of research by the bank, including a return to it's historic UK location of Birmingham (where it's UK predecessor the Midland Bank was headquartered), HSBC UK settled on West Yorkshire; it would occupy new offices in the Whitehall area of Leeds. This was a short walk from Leeds city centre and main railway station, bringing much of the region within easy commuting distance of it's location (given it would introduce over 1,000 new jobs to the area, and more jobs indirectly), but also within easy reach of London - just over 2 hours by train. This meant that West Yorkshire was now home to several major UK banking institutions; in addition to HSBC UK, there are headquarters for Halifax, Yorkshire Bank, Yorkshire Building Society, Skipton Building Society, Leeds Building Society, as well as regional offices for NatWest, Lloyds, Barclays and even the Bank of England. This made the wider Leeds-Bradford area the third major banking area after London and Edinburgh, and the area was well populated with other supporting professional services such as the legal profession, corporate financing & restructuring, trade & investment.

This upswing since the 2007/2008 financial issues, led to a second tenure as Premier of Yorkshire for Blake with the 2016 Yorkshire Assembly election - although Labour did lose 2 seats, as did the Liberal Democrats, largely benefiting the Green Party who now became an essential part of the governing equation.

CON:23 LAB:32 LD:9 UKIP:17 BNP:1 GRN:8

Following the 2016 election, which saw little change, Blake announced her intention to continue as Premier. The first move post-election was a 2016 agreement with Westminster on the administrative devolution for some healthcare policies, but in reality, there was little real devolution bar the grouping together of NHS services to act more collaboratively across the province. Examples included a new unified Yorkshire Ambulance Service (as well as the closely related Yorkshire Air Ambulance), as well as NHS Yorkshire shared services, to conduct several services province wide such as pathology testing. That turned out to be Blake's final political contribution to Yorkshire, with the first female Premier of Yorkshire stepping down in 2018 to allow a new generation to take the reins.

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Notes: It was difficult to find a suitable Labour politician for this segment, given the electoral fortunes on the national stage for Labour, and a newer generation not really coming through until 2015 at the earliest. Blake, who served in Leeds City Council for just over 2 decades, including being the leader of 6 years (2015-2021) was about the best fit I could find. So I hope no-one is going to tell me she's not the best choice! :)
 
I've been lurking and reading this scenario for not quite a long time, and I thought of the media landscape within Yorkshire, most specifically broadcast media.
 

Devvy

Donor
I've been lurking and reading this scenario for not quite a long time, and I thought of the media landscape within Yorkshire, most specifically broadcast media.
I've been pondering for a few weeks now whether I can twist Yorkshire TV in to still existing, which would de facto create two ITV networks, maybe with the Trident group of ITV companies transitioning to becoming a competing Channel 5? Would rob ITV of some of it's prized shows, but who knows....

Something I intend to revisit at some point! Future chapters:
- 4th Premier of Yorkshire
- English Devolution
- Railways in Yorkshire (what did you expect considering I'm the OP?)
- Something on the media landscape if I can fill out a chapter on it.
 
Chapter 6

Devvy

Donor
Helen_Joanne_Cox.jpg

Jo Cox, fourth Premier of Yorkshire and incumbent.

Chapter 6: The Cox Years

Jo Cox won her seat in the Yorkshire Assembly in the 2012 election following a decision to enter politics to enter politics the year prior. Rapidly becoming an understudy to Judith Blake, she became a Vice-Premier of Culture in her career, attempting to bring the sometimes socially segregated areas of Yorkshire together, firmly believing that there was more in common between the people of Yorkshire than not. By the time of Blake's decision to step down - a first for the province, with both former Premiers losing their job in an election - Cox was seen as the successor, a member of the "next generation" to lead Yorkshire. In 2018, she was duly elected as Premier of Yorkshire by the Assembly as the fourth Premier, and second female leader of Yorkshire.

Cox was setting off at speed by 2019, with plans to expand the Lightstream network offering in order to provide a boost for households often in rural areas, but also to provide rural businesses with a new online presence. The network was also expanded south in to several towns and villages in the West Riding, with the larger numbers of connected households providing better incentives for companies to offer services via the network and stimulate competition. Her last triumph before fortunes shifted was the devolution of a number of rail routes following the collapse of the local rail operator, allowing Network Yorkshire to substantially expand it's network to the north, east and south.

All this was turned upside down however, as a global pandemic hit in 2020. Despite awkward politics and no English-devolved powers of public health (in contrast to Northern Ireland, Wales & Scotland), Cox proved adept at forcing changes in policy regarding "Tier" status for Yorkshire Boroughs on several occasions. The difference in political treatment of north and south had been a long running saga for many in Yorkshire and across the north of England, but the seemingly different criteria applied to lockdown tier/status in London and southern areas, as contrasted to the north rankled. The long running lockdowns did however provide significant more public demand for even further expansion of the Lightstream network and an increase in household connections as people spent more time online at home and shifted habits.

With the Yorkshire 2020 election postponed due to the pandemic (as was common in many areas of the United Kingdom), the election was postponed to 6th May 2021. This coincided with the Welsh and Scottish elections, but was also legislated for in order to allow Yorkshire Assemblies to last 5 years instead of 4 - the same as the Westminster Parliament and other devolved institutions. Much of the election debate circled around the impact of the pandemic; in terms of the provision of healthcare within Yorkshire, as well as the control over lockdowns - who should have the right to lock down areas of Yorkshire and control them? In the end, the results were:

CON:23 LAB:29 LD:12 BRX:16 GRN:8 YF:2

This allowed the continuation of the "rainbow coalition" - Labour, Liberal Democrats and Green Party, although the increased seats for the Green Party allowed further influence especially in terms of the environment. Notably, it also saw the first members elected to represent the Yorkshire Party - a regionalist party in favour of further devolution for Yorkshire, and the treatment of Yorkshire as a Home Nation rather than just a region of England - all whilst the UKIP vote collapsed and switched to the Brexit Party. Despite the drop in a few seats for Labour, the election was a victory for Cox, comfortably remaining the largest party in the Assembly although seeing a greater vote split amongst the left-wing parties. The victory for Cox, and her efforts to integrate different Yorkshire communities brought occasional comparisons to New Zealand's leader Jacinda Ardern. Both younger women in charge of large entities (despite New Zealand being a country and Yorkshire an English province, they had roughly the same populations), both progressive social democrats wanting to be seen as a leader for all.

This would all culminate in a 2022 devolution deal between Yorkshire (and the other English provinces) and Westminster to devolve some level of public health administration to the provinces, bringing further local oversight of NHS Yorkshire. In some ways, this resembled a recreation of the former Strategic Health Authorities which had been abolished in the early 2010s, allowing Yorkshire to influence the strategic provision of healthcare in the province, without touching or being involved directly in the provision of healthcare. This had all the trappings of a complicated devolution agreement, over an area which Westminster didn't really want to devolve power but needed to be seen doing given the lack of real control over much of it. This allowed Cox, working with the Westminster Government, to announce the renovation of a designated "big 6" hospitals within Yorkshire; Leeds, Sheffield, Hull, Middlesbrough, Scarborough and Northallerton by 2030. The last would be delivered in conjunction with the Ministry of Defence, such that the hospital could also serve the military establishments at Catterick and Leeming Bar.

Finally, in 2023, the Westminster Government began to research and investigate the notion of "expanding" Yorkshire to become "North England", bringing devolution to the areas outside Yorkshire. This would potentially settle many of the concerns around devolution in other northern English areas given the large and multi-centric territory, where town and rural communities could get over fears of being dominated by the large cities. Whilst tentatively called Northumbria, as the closest historic name, it's future would be uncertain by 2023, given that it substantially divided opinion in Yorkshire. Yorkshire had been a largely unified county or devolved province for much of the last 70 years, and was a closely knit cultural area, and the whole concept of Northumbria would see Yorkshire effectively dismantled to become part of a larger Northumbria.

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This chapter is a little shorter - but then it covers the period of COVID where not much happens apart from COVID politics and I'm loathe to really enter that area as it's a) super difficult and b) treading on current politics.

Sure, Cox is probably a little on the young side, but hey, I thought it was a nice way to finish the rundown of Premiers.
 
Now caught up with the thread. Nice focused timeline, and both well written and nice idea.

Sure, Cox is probably a little on the young side, but hey, I thought it was a nice way to finish the rundown of Premiers.
A lovely choice to lead Yorkshire into the future, yes.
 
Have they managed to dual all the York Ring Road and the A64?
(I can hear the groans of almost all of the other readers of this thread. Lindseyman and that road again. Sorry, but it IS that bad!)
For what it's worth, I agree. And while they're at it dual the A19 between Thirsk and York. According to the map in Post 24 they do both.
 
Part of Post 6.
Don't take it as gospel, but this is the kind of thing I can imagine some crazy Yorkshire local official drawing up. Based on existing motorways in 1970ish, proposed motorways, trunk dual carriageway roads and "missing linkages". Environmentalism wasn't a key word in the 1960s/1970s! (Motorways outside Yorkshire not necessarily shown). And just to be clear, like the London Ringways, large portion of these "gridways" aren't going to be built - at least not as full motorways.

View attachment 832916
Part of Post 24.
And lastly, because I love a good map, and my transport head needs an outlet, a rough stab at a Yorkshire Highways strategic road network (given all other roads would be managed by the local Yorkshire Borough).

Darker blue: Yorkshire-managed motorway
Darker grey: Yorkshire-managed non-motorway trunk route

Lighter colours are correspondingly motorways and trunk routes outside of Yorkshire borders. The primary differences are:
  • M62 reaches further east as far as the division between running to Hull or across the Humber Bridge
  • M18 continues north via York, and then northwards. The A1 therefore remains the "old road", with the M18 taking the place of the A1(M).
  • There's a trunk route (likely dual carriageway) which runs to the Yorkshire airport (at Church Fenton)
  • The road west from Bedale is "trunk route" despite being a single carriageway as it serves a large swathe of northern Yorkshire in what is core "Blue Yorkshire" territory.
View attachment 839420
The Dishforth Link is conspicuous by it's absence from both maps. What are the chances of it being built in this timeline?
 

Devvy

Donor
For what it's worth, I agree. And while they're at it dual the A19 between Thirsk and York. According to the map in Post 24 they do both.
For what it’s worth, a trunk road isn’t necessarily a dual carriageway, so the grey routes aren’t 100% dualled.

PS; the map is basically the strategic road network for Yorkshire (heavily inspired by the former English SRN network), so those are the roads managed by Yorkshire, as opposed to others managed by the Yorkshire Boroughs.
 
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Re transport in Yorkshire, could I suggest a motorway link across the north of Doncaster, running from the end of the A1(M) at Redhouse to the M18/M180 junction? It would provide a good alternative route around Doncaster and make access to Immingham easier.
 
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