HIGH-speed rail can have a “transformative effect” on large regional cities like Leeds which use their new station as a springboard for regeneration, a major new study has found.
A report by the Independent Transport Commission (ITC) think-tank highlighted how massive city centre development projects which have surrounded high-speed rail stations in Europe have proved the catalyst for wider economic regeneration.
Leeds city centre is to host a new high-speed rail station as part of the Government’s £50bn HS2 project, which will cut journey times to London to under an hour and a half.
Some opponents of high-speed rail have argued that regional cities may actually be damaged by faster and more efficient transport links with the capital.
But the ITC said cities in France and Holland - which have enjoyed high-speed rail for many years - have seen enormous benefits.
“The change in some of the cities since the arrival of high-speed rail has been dramatic,” said Dr Matthew Nisbett, chairman of the ITC.
“You only have to look at pictures of the centre of Lille before and after the arrival of the international station to see how much it has changed.”
Lille, in northern France, was in the 1950s a city “faced with the challenge of regenerating a declining textile and coal mining economy”, the report states, and struggling to compete “with the dominance of Paris to the south.”
But after a decade of concerted lobbying, the city secured a high-speed rail station as part of the Eurostar link to London. The station was part of a massive redevelopment project.
“The economic decline has been reversed,” Dr Nisbett said. “There is no doubt that cities such as Leeds can see similar benefits.”
The report was warmly welcomed by town hall bosses locally.
Coun James Lewis, chair of West Yorkshire transport authority Metro, said: “HS2 affords the Leeds City Region with the opportunity to accelerate growth, create thousands of jobs and increase prosperity on a scale we have never seen before.”
Leeds City Council’s executive member for the economy and development, Coun Richard Lewis, added: “The arrival of HS2 will reshape our city, bringing a prestigious new railway station to the city’s south bank and bolster one of the largest regeneration projects in Europe.
“HS2 will add to the momentum already being generated for this part of the city creating a large numbers of jobs and homes. In all, HS2 presents a great opportunity to rebalance Leeds and bring prosperity.”