Amid the traffic jam of complaints about the problem of York’s congestion bandied by top businesspeople at a meeting in Clifton Moor, two issues became clear.

Grand infrastructure solutions like dualling the city’s ring road and A64 or creating a super high-speed rail link between Edinburgh and London were needed, but were too costly and too far in the future to make an immediate difference. What was required, they felt, was a change of public attitude, and conceded they were in a position to help in the process of convincing staff not to rely on their own cars.

The influential bosses were taking part in a quarterly forum, titled Transport and its Implication for Business, organised by York & North Yorkshire Chamber Of Commerce and chaired by Steve Hughes, managing editor of The Press.

It was timely, given that City of York Council is seeking views on what should be in its new Local Transport Plan from April 2011.

As Mr Hughes pointed out, when setting the scene for debate: “York in the rush hour can take the best part of an hour to travel two or three miles” – cue, he said, for complaints by some of the city’s main players.

It was apt – and ironic – that the venue for the forum should have been at Yorkshire Bank’s North Yorkshire Financial Solutions Centre in Aviator Court, Clifton Moor – extremely hard to get to in anything but a car.

But therein lay lessons to be learned, said Brian De Vere, business partner at the centre. He recognised the difficulties of getting his staff to car share, when some needed their vehicles at lunchtimes to shop at Clifton Moor.

For as long as he could remember, he said, the Clifton Moor Association had discussed the transport problem and encouraged businesses to work on a more flexitime basis to ensure that not all staff arrived and left at peak times.

He said: “There are some who have started this. Some were asked if they had to be in the office at all. Could they use technology at home to do what they had to? Yes, there are cost issues, but throwing a whole lot of money at transport isn’t the miraculous answer because it simply isn’t going to work.

“There must be several areas explored as to what businesses can do to work in a more efficient way.”

Shaun Watts, president of the York & North Yorkshire Chamber, suggested that all business parks should create a website so that every company there contributed and had access to a broader car share scheme.

David Cullen agreed. He is the chief executive of NY Net, the organisation tasked to bring high-speed broadband links to the region. But he asked: “Do you actually need work to be done in the office at all? Do you actually need places for work in the same way as traditionally you have done since the 18th century?”

That, everyone argued, needed co-ordination. One way this could be achieved came from City of York Council, pointed out Dave Alexander, the managing director of First buses. It promoted a “car-free day” which was subscribed to by between 350 and 400 people who caught a bus rather than relied on their cars on one day a week.

“We need that ten times over. If only we could work better together we could achieve a 20 per cent reduction of car traffic,” he said That was important to Mr Alexander. Three-quarters of his bus services are commercial. “The biggest problem we have is certainty for the customer. Congestion is a huge issue for us and impacts massively on our ability to turn up where everybody wants it at the time it is publicised. If it is not there, then people look for an alternative – to take the car, walk or some other means.”

Earlier Lindsay Ross, managing director of Severfield Reeve, suggested that in the short term the problems of York’s ring road could be alleviated by phasing the direction of traffic flows, turning parts of it into one-way or making Park&Ride as much a facility for businesses as shoppers.

Mr Alexander also did not believe that widening of the ring road was affordable. In ten years we would all be discussing the same problem again, he argued. The solution, he said, had to be a lot more radical.

“It is more about managing the space – clearing out some of the pinch-points. It means making politically sensitive decisions about traffic management,” he said, expressing his hope that City of York Council would get Government approval to expand the Park&Ride network.

Yes, but Park&Ride vehicles also get stuck in traffic, said Jackie Mathers, the dean of York St John Business School. “There are a lot of working mums out there that use public transport that gets stuck in traffic when they have childcare arrangements. So I agree – get traffic off the road, but have very frequent bus services that can facilitate that.”

The issue of clogged public transport again formed part of Ms Mathers’ theme when she described how York St John University now controversially makes a charge for parking, with permission on a points basis and with levies based on salaries and ability to pay.

“A lot of our people come from areas with relatively good bus routes such as Shipton, Wigginton and Haxby, but they still come in cars because with congestion it is easier to get in early and find somewhere to park.”

Naturally, congestion charges reared its controversial head, thanks to Matthew Lamb, managing director of the Selby-based rail and road logistics firm, the Potter Group. He suggested that fees raised by City of York Council could be ring-fenced and reinvested in the transport infrastructure of the city.

“Post-General Election there will be no money to spend on anything except essential services. That’s a problem, because every road should on average be resurfaced every 25 years, yet the average in the UK is 80 years.

“So as a nation we are hundreds of millions of pounds per annum underspent on road maintenance, which is why in the latest severe weather the roads literally fall apart.”

Chris Williams, managing director of Eborcraft, agreed.

The voice of the cyclist was not forgotten. It belonged Alastair Jackson, a design engineer for Arup, who has the last word: “It doesn’t take long to cycle to York, in and out.”

Meet the experts

Susie Cawood
Susie Cawood is head of York & North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce, and represents member interests across the region.

Brian De Vere
Newcastle-born, moving to North Yorkshire in 1985, Brian has spent 35 years in banking, latterly nine years with Yorkshire Bank, based in York. Manages a portfolio of the bank’s larger SMEs across North Yorkshire, with a predominance of property/hotels and professional connections.

David Cullen
David is director of SAND Consulting, which provides strategic level business support to the local government and voluntary sectors, particularly regarding social and economic transformation initiatives. Currently, his major client responsibility is as chief executive of NYnet, a broadband social enterprise provider in North Yorkshire, established in March 2007.

Matthew Lamb
Matthew Lamb has been managing director of the Potter Group since October 2005. He has occupied a variety of management roles for major third-party logistics companies and spent the previous seven years with Saint-Gobain in the UK, most recently as Jewson's logistics director. Prior to that he worked at Hays and TDG. He began his career as a graduate trainee with NFC in 1987. He is a member of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport.

Dave Alexander
Dave has more than 20 years experience working within the UK bus industry. In his present role as managing director for First West & North Yorkshire he is responsible for more than 1,200 vehicles and 3,000 staff and a turnover of about £160 million.

Chris Williams
Chris is managing director of Eborcraft, a well-established manufacturer of wood veneer office furniture, founded in 1895.

Shaun Watts
Founded Chameleon Business Interiors in1998, a company specialising in interior design, fit out, furnishing and project management throughout the UK. Shaun is also a non-exec director of Pure Business Solutions, the commercial division of York College. He is the president of the York & North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce and has been a board director since 2004.

Alastair Jackson
Alastair Jackson is an associate director with design, engineering and business consultants Arup. He has a broad range of engineering experience both within the UK and abroad and leads Arup’s new office in York.

Lindsay Ross
Lindsay Ross has more than 30 years experience gained in the highly competitive construction and property industries. He has worked as a senior and founding member of the successful Yorkshire-based business, Severfield-Rowen PLC, for 25 years.

Jackie Mathers
As dean, Jackie is responsible for strategic management of York St John Business School, working across all areas and building partnerships regionally, national and internationally. Jackie influences both the direction of the business school and the university through membership of a wide variety of university and external committees.

Patrick Shepherd
Patrick Shepherd is deputy chairman of the Shepherd Group. 1977-2003 – various roles within the group’s manufacturing division, ending up as executive chairman and divisional chief executive 1996-2003. 2003-2008 – chairman of Shepherd Construction and SES. CBI regional councillor (and chairman 2001/02) from 1994-2005. Board member of Venturefest Yorkshire. Chairman of York Against Cancer since 2002. Member of the Court of the University of York.