How lucky we all are to live in this great county

By Sheffield City Region Mayor Dan Jarvis MBE MP

Today is Yorkshire Day. A celebration of our historic county and the people and places that make it great. Yorkshire is thriving; from dynamic cities and bustling towns to the beauty of our countryside and stunning coastline.

For those of us that call Yorkshire home, it is not surprising that visitors often leave astounded by the breathtaking beauty that our county has to offer; nor does it surprise us that parts of our region often top the polls as the friendliest and most welcoming places in the UK to visit.

Yorkshire’s tourism is booming. The industry is now worth a reported £9bn to our economy, creating jobs and opportunities for our residents. In fact, in South Yorkshire, 9% of all jobs are in the tourism industry – this amounts to 50,000 people.

The strength of our tourism offer means that people from across the world enjoy what we have to offer.

One of my priorities as Mayor of the Sheffield City Region is to make the most of our unique cultural assets. The visitor economy already makes a huge contribution to our region, and this could be strengthened further by giving our tourist attractions the investment they need to thrive.

Last year, we invested £5m from the Local Growth Fund in Yorkshire Wildlife Park in Doncaster – home to England’s only polar bears – to support plans to double visitor capacity to 1.5 million, creating 300 jobs in the process. The park opened in April 2009 and currently attracts around 750,000 visitors each year. It aims to grow to 1.2m visitors by 2022, which will put it in the top four zoos and wildlife parks in the country.

We also recently pledged to invest £1.5m support to Gulliver’s Valley, which plans to create a theme park resort in the Rother Valley that will create jobs and attract further investment. And in January, we approved £4.8m for the Parkwood Springs extreme sports development in Sheffield, which will continue to support the city’s reputation as the ‘Outdoor City’.

The resort will also offer family-friendly accommodation in the form of “glamping”, woodland lodges, and hotels. The project is anticipated to bring £37m in private sector investment to the City Region and create around 250 new jobs.

But, equally, we must support some of the other hidden gems tucked away in parts of our region. Elsecar Heritage Centre and Cannon Hall Farm in Barnsley, and Wentworth Woodhouse in Rotherham are well known locally as great days out and are tremendously popular.

We also helped fund the Vulcan to the Sky project which created a permanent home in Doncaster for the restored Vulcan XH558 bomber.

The new hangar is a significant heritage attraction, telling the story of the Royal Air Force during the Cold War and providing public access to the plane as part The Vulcan Experience.

The spectacular Wentworth Castle Gardens has recently reopened and is the first National Trust site in South Yorkshire. The result of the investment by the National Trust is a truly stunning place to visit.

As is the inspirational Yorkshire Sculpture Park. If the park was in the South, it would be one of the UK’s most famous and successful tourist attractions. It is an amazing shared asset that sits on the border between South and West Yorkshire and is home to some of the most extraordinary and creative artistic works anywhere in Europe. Recently, The Weston, an exquisite new gallery, was shortlisted for 2019 RIBA Stirling Prize for the UK’s best new building, further emphasising the world class stature of the park.

These attractions help to preserve our unique heritage and cultural identity – and we must continue to support them.

Sheffield Theatres is the largest producing theatre complex outside London, while Sheffield also boasts more trees per person than any other European city. Sheffield itself is the only UK city to have a part of a national park inside its boundary.

Tourism isn’t just about visitors enjoy a day out; it is a vital part of our economy and its health is a hugely important to economic growth.

For example, the Great Yorkshire Way in Doncaster has provided a new link road from the M18 at junction three to Doncaster Sheffield Airport with links into Rossington, iPort development, and, for the first time, directly links the motorway network to the Yorkshire Wildlife Park. From an initial £56m investment – and because of both the public and private sectors working together – our region unlocked £1.8bn worth of investment; created 1,200 jobs; supported national airport capacity; and aided the development of the iPort – one of the UK’s largest logistics developments. All of which was achieved whilst also regenerating a former coalfield community and improving the life opportunities of our residents.

Yorkshire’s economy can be improved, and, with added Brexit uncertainty, we need to ensure that every corner of our economy is the very best it can be.

We need to maximise our outstanding cultural, historical and tourism assets, and ensure, through partnerships across the city region, Yorkshire, and the Northern Powerhouse, that it is robust, and driving growth in our communities.

We are lucky to live, work, and play in Yorkshire. We have countless attractions, picture perfect countryside, entertainment venues, and world class artistic exhibitions.

Let’s take the time to fully appreciate what we are lucky to have right on our own doorstep for this year’s Yorkshire Day.