The chairman of the Midlands Engine has demanded better transport links after arriving late for a keynote address in Derby because of bad traffic on the A52.
Sir John Peace was scheduled as the first speaker at Rail Forum East Midlands’ annual conference at Pride Park Stadium.
But Maria Machancoses, programme director for Midlands Connect, had to step in and deliver the event’s first presentation as Sir John had yet to arrive.
Sir John arrived mid-way through Maria’s speech, 15 minutes after his own address had scheduled to begin.
The rail conference was staged at Pride Park Stadium
After taking to the stage, Sir John apologised for not arriving on time and explained how his delayed journey from Newark demonstrated why better transport links are needed.
Sir John said: “I’m a Midlander. I know all the good things the Midlands has to offer. But one of the things it doesn’t have to offer today is good east-west connectivity.
“If I had been travelling to London this morning, I’d have got the train and would have been there half-an-hour to an hour quicker than it’s taken me to drive from Newark and across here to Derby.
“If I had tried to get here by rail, I’d have got a cab, jumped on a train, then changed train, then arrived in to Derby and jumped into a taxi. I worried how long it would take me, so I thought I’d drive – and it’s taken me about two hours to travel what is, frankly, a relatively short distance.”
Sir John argued the region’s top priority “by a mile” must be improving its connectivity.
The businessman – who is chairman of global fashion house Burberry – said productivity levels in the Midlands were “well below the national average” and that better transport links would help the region “not just catch up, but get ahead”.
He spoke about the Midlands Engine’s newly-published Vision for Growth report – a 48-page document which sets out a string of investment priorities, which it claims will accelerate productivity across the region.
Sir John – who was knighted in 2011 for services to business and the voluntary sector – said: “In our Vision for Growth report, we’ve set ourselves an aspiration for 2030.
“If by 2030 we can bring the Midlands just up to the national average of productivity, we add over £50bn to the gross value added GVA of the country.
“To do that, there are many things we have to do. We don’t just need north-south connectivity, we desperately need east-west connectivity. We need to be able to get from city to city much slicker.
“Also, let’s not forget the non-metropolitan areas, as many of the innovative start-up businesses of the future are growing in towns and villages, not just core cities.”
The conference was attended by rail professionals from across the region
Other priorities listed in the report include investing in strategic infrastructure, growing international trade and investment, increasing innovation and shaping ‘great places’.
Sir John revealed positive talks have been held with ministers over how the objectives might be funded and achieved.
“We’ve had some excellent meetings with the Secretary of State as we look to the future,” Sir John said. “We certainly have the Government’s attention.”
Members of the Rail Forum – which represents over 150 businesses across the East Midlands – were then urged by Sir John to adopt a positive outlook, despite anger over the Government’s recent U-turn on electrifying the Midlands Mainline.
“The huge disappointment was very understandable because a promise wasn’t kept,” he told delegates. “[But] forget it – it’s the past. Now is the time to look forward and we must have vision.”
After the rail conference, delegates attended a dinner hosted by legendary football commentator John Motson at the Roundhouse in Pride Park.
The Mayor of Derby John Whitby and his wife standing with BBC football commentator John Motson
Around 600 industry players attended the popular Dinner at the Roundhouse, which has previously been hosted by the actor Brian Blessed and explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes.
As well as entertaining guests with stories about his 50 years in the national spotlight,“Motty” introduced two keynote speakers.
These were Phil Verster, managing director of the multi-million East-West Link – the new “M25 railway” linking Oxford with Cambridge, and Charles W Moorman, chief executive of American railroad company Amtrak.
Mr Moorman flew from Washington to talk about running 2,200 commuter trains alongside 185mph expresses, and trying to move into profit.
Supporters of the dinner included Bombardier, Hitachi, Faiveley/Wabtec, SNC-Lavalin, Resonate, Linbrooke Services, Eversholt, Porterbrook, Arriva Train Care, Arcadis, Comech, and Tecforce.
After the event, the Mayor of Derby John Whitby shared a picture on Twitter of him and his wife standing with Motson, famed for his iconic sheepskin coat.
The tweet said: “We had such a great evening at the Roundhouse with the legend that is Motty! The Mayoress even got to wear the famous sheepskin.”
Source: Derby Telegraph