Bradford delegation meet with Chancellor Rishi Sunak

BRADFORD business leaders say Chancellor Rishi Sunak has held out fresh hope of a new, through rail station in the city.  He met with members from Bradfod Breakthrough, which represents big business and organisations across the district, along with the district’s five MPs, three Bradford peers and the President of Bradford Chamber.  The delegation argued that dropping the proposed Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) station was a “huge mistake” that could cost the district up to £30bn in growth and investment – and 27,000 extra jobs by 2060.

There was fury last November when the Government’s long-awaited Integrated Rail Plan (IRP) confirmed weeks of rumours and leaks that a new high-speed NPR line between Leeds and Manchester, via Bradford, had been scrapped.  It was described as a  “betrayal of Bradford”, but business leaders said the Chancellor this week committed to “looking in detail at the report from the Select Committee” reviewing the rail plan and invited the delegation to set up a follow-up meeting with Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.

 Dr Trevor Higgins, the group’s chief executive, said: “Bradford’s terrible transport infrastructure was right at the top of the list and it remains there all these years later.  In November 2018, we met with the then Secretary of State for Transport, Chris Grayling, who said ‘Bradford has a third world transport infrastructure that is simply not acceptable today’.  He promised to take action but was replaced soon after, so nothing got delivered and here we are again.”

Dr Higgins said a new city centre station on a new mainline route connecting the city to Manchester “would secure £30 billion in growth and investment to the district, generate £3 billion in additional GVA and create 27,000 additional jobs by 2060”.  And while plans for the electrification of the Leeds/Bradford section of the Calder Valley line and increasing the frequency of trains were welcome “this should be delivered in tandem with the provision of a new station”.

“Not to build a station is a huge mistake given that Bradford was recently named as having the worst rail connections of any major British city,” said Dr Higgins.  He added: “Bradford is the biggest levelling up opportunity in the country and we will continue to push for our people and businesses to be given the opportunity to fulfil their potential.”

Dr Bob Gomersall, chairman of Bradford Breakthrough, said: “Most journeys from Bradford to Manchester and London go via Leeds and direct journeys are slow and infrequent.  Essentially Bradford is on a branch line to Leeds, and this has to change for Bradford’s economy to really lift off.  We don’t care about the details of the solution and see that as the job of government and local government.  Our role is to grow and create wealth and jobs, and we think it is reasonable to expect the infrastructure to keep up with us.”

Professor Zahir Irani, Deputy Vice-Chancellor at the University of Bradford, told the Chancellor: “I want to leave you with a clear message, the job of levelling-up-Bradford is not yet done.  We want to ask Government to re-draw those strong connections between a new city centre hub station and its role in unlocking a mega-regeneration project that will create a modern European city that can attract and retain talent, boost productivity, increase employment, and leverage the district’s diverse cultural assets, whilst continuing to build a more inclusive, sustainable, and resilient economy that allows all our communities to thrive.”

Mark Cowgill, director of Exa Networks, said Bradford had been in need of a properly connected rail network for decades and the poor transport infrastructure was hampering the district’s growth by preventing businesses from attracting the right skills.  Well-connected cities, such as Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool have thrived, Bradford has not,” he said.   “Bradford has the youngest population of any city in the UK, which presents a tremendous opportunity, not only for the city but as a workforce for the wider Northern region, with the right transport options. If we do not do this, the impact to the rest of the North in the future could be severe.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Transport said: “We are already spending up to £500m on the electrification and upgrade of the Calder Valley Leeds-Bradford line, cutting journey times from 20 minutes to as low as 12 minutes – around a 40 per cent reduction on typical journey times.  However, we will consider the recommendations of the Transport Select Committee’s report when it is published”.

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