It is very important that rural areas, such as our own, are supported whether through improved transport and digital infrastructure or positive changes to environmental and agricultural policy.
I support investment in healthy, sustainable British food production that is better for both the environment and animal welfare. Food and farming is a bedrock of our economy and leaving the European Union has meant leaving the Common Agricultural Policy – and moving to a system where farmers are paid public money for public goods. This was another topic raised with farmers, landowners and CLA representatives near Bolton Abbey, I will continue to monitor developments in these areas closely.
I also welcome the news that farmers and foresters across Skipton and Ripon have been awarded nearly £1.2 million as part of the Government’s Farming Equipment and Technology Fund. In a recent letter, the Minister for Food, Farming and Fisheries confirmed that the budget nationally had been doubled to £31 million, in response to the huge uptake from farmers.
The fund will help boost productivity, reduce waste and cut costs, as well as increase environmental sustainability and improve slurry management. Farmers can apply for funding that will help them invest in over 90 pieces of farming equipment that support greater food security.
Improving transport infrastructure and digital connectivity is key to levelling up the local economy. For many years, I have campaigned for the realignment of the landslip prone A59 at Kex Gill. Since 2000 there have been six road closures, lasting a total of 22 weeks with the most recent major closure taking place in 2018.
Proposals were submitted to the Department for Transport for a permanent solution, which involved realigning the route to the other side of the valley. In February 2023 the Roads Minister Richard Holden announced that the A59 Kex Gill project has been granted full and final approval. This is excellent news as this will mean those travelling on the A59 at Kex Gill will have increased safety, faster commutes and better connectivity, especially improving the road links between Skipton and Harrogate.
The project is receiving £56 million in government investment, with North Yorkshire County Council contributing the remaining £12 million and has been reported as being one of the most ambitious highways projects ever. The work on the A59 at Kex Gill will soon be underway, with the replacement of the landslip prone route due to be complete by May 2025.
Since I was first elected, I have supported the reopening of the Skipton to Colne railway line. This is a proposal to reopen the railway line between Skipton and Colne, a 12 mile stretch of railway that would connect the Airedale line to East Lancashire’s Colne to Preston line so creating a direct route from Preston to Leeds. The plan is currently at the development stage.
I continue to engage with SELRAP (the Skipton-East Lancashire Rail Action Partnership), which has been campaigning for the reopening of this stretch of railway, and the MPs for constituencies that are also involved. I was pleased with the announcement that, following a year-long feasibility study by the Department for Transport, the then Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling MP gave his support for re-opening of the Skipton to Colne rail link, moving the project one step closer to proceeding.
The rail link, which has been closed since the 1970s, could provide a huge boost to businesses in Craven, and be a real demonstration of how this Government is backing local businesses by improving vital infrastructure across the North of England. SELRAP continues to work closely with the Department to push this forward.
As far as digital infrastructure, everyone in my constituency should have access to high speed internet. Over the years, I have engaged locally and made representations to ensure homes and businesses have the access they need. Superfast North Yorkshire is bringing super-fast broadband to North Yorkshire. The project is now in its fourth phase and it is predicted that there will be 97% Superfast coverage by the end of this phase in 2024.
The Treasury made a £5 billion commitment to support the roll-out of gigabit-capable broadband to the hardest to reach areas of the UK.
In Spring 2022, the Minister for Media, Data and Digital Infrastructure, Julia Lopez, indicated that the UK had reached 50 per cent gigabit-capable coverage as part of the £5 billion ‘Project Gigabit’ – a dramatic rise from 5.8 per cent in January 2019. Furthermore, the Government is working with industry to target a minimum of 85 per cent gigabit-capable coverage by 2025, as set out in its National Infrastructure Strategy, with the ambition to accelerate roll-out further to get as close as possible to 100 per cent.
With more people working from home and the increased need to communicate digitally I will continue to monitor this issue.