Grant Woodward: Train station needs to be a better advert for Leeds

As the third busiest in the UK, should Leeds railway station be better?
As the third busiest in the UK, should Leeds railway station be better?
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There’s traffic chaos outside and inside the dingy concourses are stuck in a 1960s timewarp.

Fourteen years ago (blimey, I’m getting old) I was at Leeds railway station to welcome the Queen.

Not just me, obviously. There were a fair few other people there and I barely got within a dozen metres of her.

It was my job to cover the first leg of her Golden Jubilee visit to the city, which would later take Her Majesty to Harewood to see a postbox being blown up on the Emmerdale set.

Needless to say, I didn’t get to shoot the breeze with Liz on the platform, but I did chat to the train station’s manager who said she’d told him she thought its recent £240m revamp was “brilliant”.

And, to be fair, it was a massive improvement. Certainly the work hauled the station into the late 20th century, even if we were already two years into the 21st.

The most obvious changes were the increase in platforms from 12 to 17 and the addition of a new glass roof to replace the metal canopy that dated back to Beatlemania.

But a decade-and-a-half on, as I took my sister to the station last weekend, I couldn’t help but think the station is now woefully behind the times.

This is many people’s first impression of Leeds – and to say it’s underwhelming would be something of an understatement.

If you’re picking someone up or dropping them off it’s nothing short of a nightmare. On Sunday we were stuck in a queue of traffic waiting to get access to the “Western entrance” (next to Wetherspoons) where the car parks are.

As usual, it was essentially a free for all, with harassed drivers coming from every direction and no one there to try and calm the chaos.

The entrances are uninspiring and, once inside, the passenger concourse areas dingy and uninviting.

Compare them to the likes of York, Liverpool, Manchester Piccadilly, Brimingham or Sheffield and it all looks distinctly second division.

Sheffield’s station is particularly impressive, managing to feel both light and airy.

Nice touches such as the huge water feature as you walk out into the city centre make you feel like you’re arriving in some continental city rather than the heart of South Yorkshire.

Of course, there used to be fountains in City Square but they kept going on the blink so the council switched off a few years back, a decision which still puzzles me to this day.

The good news is that another bout of redevelopment is on the way and the new southern entrance has made access easier from that part of town – even if for my money the end product doesn’t look quite as impressive as the artist’s impression.

Network Rail now plans to improve the south concourse by opening up the skylights to allow in (hallelujah!) some natural light and is thinking about creating a mezzanine level for more shops.

They’re also “looking at the feasibility” of adding a new roof to the concourse in conjunction with developers Bruntwood, who are in the middle of the much-needed beautification of City House.

If done well, this in itself would make a huge difference to the look and feel of the station and go a long way to lifting it out of its 1960s timewarp.

We certainly shouldn’t be waiting for the arrival of HS2 to get a train station worthy of the city’s stature – and the importance of its railway hub.

With around 30 million passengers using it each year, Leeds is the busiest railway station in the North of England and the third-busiest in the whole of the UK outside London, after Birmingham New Street and Glasgow Central.

It’s time the station was given the kind of overhaul befitting of such significance.

As the entry point to our city for so many people, it needs to be a much better advert for a Leeds that can hold its own with anyone.

That means sorting out the traffic carnage outside and, a personal plea, can we restore the tourist office while we’re at it?

Ellie’s death all too avoidable

A COUPLE of weeks ago in this column I argued we were betraying children who had died at the hands of abusive parents – and condemning others to suffer the same fate – if we found it too heartbreaking to learn what happened to them.

So I forced myself to take in the tragic story of little Ellie Butler, the six-year-old murdered by her brutal, bullying dad.

In the past I’ve been critical of social services for not acting when there were, as far as I could see, clear signs that a child was in danger.

In Ellie’s case, social workers did everything they could to try and keep her well away from her father Ben, but were undone by a blundering judge.

Mrs Justice Hogg, who ruled Ellie could be returned to Butler and his partner Jennie Gray must now be suffering untold agonies. Ellie’s grandfather’s warning that she’d “have blood on her hands” has come true.

Fatally, she gave Butler the power to fend off police, doctors, teachers and social services whenever concerns about Ellie’s welfare were raised.

You could say that mistakes happen, you can’t get it right every time. But courts can’t afford to get it wrong when doing so may condemn a helpless child to an early grave.

Ellie’s fate offers yet more proof that the safety net for children is still full of holes. That it’s still too easy for parents to get away with it.

Sleep tight angel, he can’t hurt you now.

Tim’s plans leave me a bit Peakey

A COLLEAGUE watching footage of Briton Tim Peake returning to Earth the other day described him as “the most boring man in space”.

That’s a bit harsh. Ok, so he was never going to compete with that Canadian astronaut’s cover of Space Oddity in tribute to David Bowie, but the live link-ups to schools have been brilliant.

My kids were captivated when he played table tennis with a water bubble and it’s got them thinking physics is fun.

He’s also managed to stay relentlessly cheery – which can’t be easy when you have to wee in into a hose every day.

Still, I do wonder what Major Tim’s wife makes of his comments after six months away from home. He’d go back “in a heartbeat”, he says, and is even talking about a mission to the Moon.

Me, I had to get permission three months in advance for this weekend’s golf trip with a few mates.

And that’s 24 hours in Birmingham, not several months in the outer reaches of the solar system.