What do the new scaled down rail plans mean for Bradford and Leeds?

Commuters at Leeds station Credit: PA

The scrapping of the Northern Powerhouse Rail and the eastern leg of HS2 has been strongly criticised by many in the region who accuse the government of abandoning parts of the North. 

Bradford, one of the worst connected cities in the UK, has been “completely short-changed” by the government’s decision to pull Northern Powerhouse Rail, one Tory MP said in response to the Grant Shapp's announcement to shelve the two projects.

Northern leaders and businesses hit out at the downgraded plans for the HS2 high-speed line and the east-west Northern Powerhouse Rail network which Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham describing them as a “distinctly second best” option.

Transport for the North recommended in June that new lines should be built between Liverpool and Leeds via Manchester and Bradford.

But under the new plan, a line will be built between Warrington, Cheshire and Marsden, West Yorkshire. Existing lines on the remainder of the route between Liverpool and Leeds will be upgraded.

Under previous recommendations, the journey between Bradford and Leeds journeys would take eight minutes. The journey will now take 12 minutes under revised links.

How HS2 was due to work, before the eastern leg to Leeds was scrapped. Credit: PA

Professor Jillian Anable from the Institute of Transport Studies at the University of Leeds, said scrapping Northern Powerhouse Rail, in particular, left Leeds and Bradford far behind Manchester in terms of connectivity. 

“It (HS2) was not going to arrive in Leeds until late into the 2030s and it was only going to pass by major (relatively well off) cities of Sheffield and Leeds and secondary towns and cities (e.g. Bradford, Coventry) were not going to benefit. 

“However, the Northern Powerhouse rail route had much more potential to address the deficits in this region and this is the most concerning part of the announcement today. The new route was about freeing up capacity on the existing line which cannot be achieved through upgrades," she says.

Greg Marsden, Professor of Transport Governance at the Institute of Transport Studies at the University of Leeds said that while Manchester, Nottingham and Sheffield stand to benefit, the revised plan offered “nothing to Leeds".

“Not even clarity over the station which the city has worked so hard on as a key regeneration area,” he said. 

"The decision to focus on strengthening the existing TransPennine route brings benefits to the communities already well served. Bradford and Halifax fare poorly yet again and the arguments on inclusive growth have been ignored."

An artist's impression of HS2

Speaking earlier in the Commons, Robbie Moore, told MPs he was “deeply disappointed” by the rail announcement as his Keighley constituency is one of the most “socially deprived” parts of the UK.

“The Bradford district has been in my view completely short-changed. We are one of the most socially deprived parts of the UK and we must get better transport connectivity and I still want to see Northern Powerhouse Rail delivered with a main stop in Bradford, so that we can unlock our economic opportunities,” he said.

But transport secretary, Grant Shapps, said the new plans slashed journey times between Bradford and Leeds. 

“Twelve-minute journey from Bradford to Leeds, that’s nearly half of the current journey time. Thirty minutes off, at least, off the Bradford to London journey after these upgrades are complete,” Mr Shapps said. 

Conservative Kevin Hollinrake (Thirsk and Malton) raised concerns over the impact of the new plan on previously proposed reductions in travel times between Bradford and Manchester.

He added: “The new station in Bradford, which would have given a King’s Cross-style regeneration opportunity for Bradford, which is really very severely in need of it, will now be missed.

“And would he confirm that this really is an economic price that will be paid for generations for not doing that?”

Mr Shapps replied: “No, with the greatest respect I don’t accept that narrative.”

The minister insisted there are “lots of benefits” for Bradford under the new plan.

Leaders from dozens of authorities across northern England, including Bolton’s Tory leader, Martyn Cox, have written to the Prime Minister demanding that he gives MPs a free vote on the plans in the Commons.

An artist's impression of how the HS2 station in Leeds would have looked.

That would allow northern Tory MPs to vote against the measures without breaking the whip.

In the letter they said: “We are concerned that by omitting both the Eastern Leg of HS2 and the new Leeds to Liverpool route of Northern Powerhouse Rail – with stops in central Bradford, Manchester and Warrington – you have failed to fully consider the advice of independent rail reviews, the ambitions of Northern leaders, and the appeals of our businesses.”

At a press conference responding to the plans, Greater Manchester mayor, Andy Burnham said: “This is not politics, this is about the future of the North of England for the next 100 or 200 years – that is the significance of the decisions that are being announced today.

“We are not prepared to consign our grandchildren, great-grandchildren and beyond to being second-class citizens when it comes to transport in this country.

“We have got to fight for better for them and we have to do it together, we have to stand together as one North.

“If Bradford loses, if Leeds loses out, Liverpool loses out, then we lose out as well, and that’s the way we are approaching this today.

“We need the plan that we were promised, a plan that would unlock the northern economy.”