'A wasted decade': We will not give up on new high speed rail lines for West Yorkshire, say regional chiefs
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The cancellation of the HS2 eastern leg, as well as the proposed east-to-west Northern Powerhouse Rail scheme, has meant no new rail lines will be built in West Yorkshire over the coming years, with the government opting instead to improve the region’s existing tracks in its new Integrated Rail Plan (IRP).
This means Bradford, a district with the seventh largest population in the country, would still only be connected to the UK’s rail network via branch lines.
One of the region’s foremost business experts has also predicted that failure to boost the economy of the North of England could cost the UK up to £1 trillion of lost economic activity over the next two decades.
But council leaders speaking at a meeting of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority have insisted the fight is not over, and that ministers would be pressured into looking again at the plans.
Speaking at the meeting, West Yorkshire Mayor Tracy Brabin said: “You will all be aware how frustrated and disappointed we were with the IRP. We waited 10 months for it, and we were promised again and again and again the Northern Powerhouse Rail with a stop in Bradford, and we were disappointed. The public were understandably quite angry.
“The promises have been thick and fast but there has been very little delivery.
“We are not giving up, and we are working together with mayors across the north to try and get government to go back to the table.
“If it’s about money, we can talk potentially about a local contribution – we don’t know what that is yet, but let’s just keep the conversation going.
“HS2 ending on the boundary of Yorkshire was very disappointing as well for the work that has been going on in Leeds.”
Bradford Council leader Susan Hinchcliffe (Lab) said plans to improve current rail lines going into Leeds would be impossible without a new rail station in the city, such are the current capacity problems faced by Leeds station.
She said: “This is not asking for handouts – this is trying to get up to the same economic activity and connectivity that the rest of the country currently enjoys.
“I am right behind you in fighting to continue that work. Having HS2 into Leeds is something that is important to the regional economy – it has been planned for years.
“There is no capacity for Leeds Station to have all the new services they are talking about without having a new station there.
“Bradford is another issue, in that NPR going from Manchester to Leeds and beyond. We cannot give up because people in the north deserve it.
“We have a general election coming up in the future and that should be a general election issue because it is important to the welfare of this region.
“It is so upsetting when we planned for so much but have received so little. The planning they have put in place, they could use that money to get better results.
“There is more talking to be done here. Ministers need to listen to us and not make decisions behind closed doors.”
Plans for a “Y-shaped” HS2 route, which would have seen separate lines running from Birmingham to both Manchester and Leeds, were first announced in the early days of the Tory/Lib Dem coalition government in 2010.
Leeds City Council leader James Lewis (Lab) said: “This has been 10 years of actions by central government that have got us nowhere.
“As chair of the transport authority I welcomed the announcements over a decade ago, and in the decade since, nothing has been achieved, despite the fact we have had the same government in power over that time.”
Instead, the Government has pledged £100m towards a study on how to get high speed trains to Leeds in the future.
Coun Lewis added: “I don’t know what we need to know that couldn’t have been established in the last 10 years, but it is what those down in London have decided we need.
“We will engage with that, but we have positively engaged on all the transport agendas over the last 10 years, but I am disappointed that has got us nowhere.
“I do it with a bit more cynicism and a desire to get improvements over the next few years.”
The chair of the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership – a regional government organisation tasked with helping stimulate the economy of West Yorkshire – claimed that more long term thinking was needed by those in power.
Sir Roger Marsh told the meeting: “The aim is to keep going on this agenda.
“A thriving economically successful north, pre pandemic, would save UK PLC £50bn a year of lost opportunities. If we continue to wait another decade or two, that’s a trillion pounds of today’s money in lost opportunity.”
Members agreed to challenge the finding of the IRP. A report by WYCA officers stated: “This may require further West Yorkshire work to understand the comparable costings between the
Transport for the North and local proposals and the Integrated Rail Plan, especially in relation to Northern Powerhouse Rail, and Leeds-Bradford options. Work is also needed to consider the wider implications and economic and social impacts of the Integrated Rail Plan.”
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