Politicians are often criticised for not giving a straight answer. So it was refreshing to hear Transport Secretary Chris Grayling get to the point at the Conservative Party conference last week: “I really want to see Northern Powerhouse Rail come to Bradford and I am committed to making sure that really does happen.”
His endorsement was perhaps the strongest yet from a senior politician for the proposed Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) station in Bradford city centre. As Chair of the Bradford Economic Partnership, I welcome the words – now an NPR that works for Bradford has to be delivered.
The Yorkshire Post’s readers will be familiar with NPR: a modern rail network to link Newcastle, Sheffield, Leeds, Hull, Manchester and Liverpool as well as other economic centres. NPR would create around 850,000 jobs by 2050 and deliver a £100bn economic boost to the country.
We are campaigning for a stunning new Bradford station to be constructed on a purpose-built line between Manchester and Leeds; the former would be 20 minutes away from Bradford and the latter a mere seven. Bradford is the largest city in the UK not to have a through rail line. Getting to and from our great city is made so much more difficult by having a single rail route in and out, deterring investment and opportunity. It shows decades of underinvestment in the city’s infrastructure. Now is the time to change it.
It’s no exaggeration to say that an NPR station in Bradford would be transformative. Transport is so important because business needs clear, easy access to customers and markets. In my role, I’m clear that a station would open up new businesses and investment and bring people to the city: it would renew our appeal as a fantastic place to live and work. Our assets – the beautiful heritage buildings, an entrepreneurial community and our dynamic, talented workforce – have never been in doubt. And the unique character of our streets, our cultural jewels, a welcoming community and the beauty of the surrounding countryside make this a fantastic place to live. But poor transport links have acted as a deterrent to this potential being fully realised. Research has suggested that an NPR station would turbocharge the economy, delivering an annual £1.3bn economic boost to the Bradford region.
Bradford has a rich business community which stands proud on its own. But improved rail links would better place us to benefit from – and contribute to – the economic success of cities like Leeds and Manchester. Better transportation would make it easier for more people to commute to work in Bradford, or live here. We will always have to compete with other cities and regions for business and investment opportunities, but the North’s future success will be determined by working together. The NPR brings the arms and legs of the North closer together; an NPR station in Bradford joins us at the hip.
Improvements are also planned at another transport hub, Leeds-Bradford Airport (LBA). Last month, it set out proposals to invest £12m in a new terminal building to enable larger aircraft to use the airport, opening up new destinations. A parkway station on the Leeds to Harrogate rail line is also planned. LBA passenger numbers are expected to reach 7 million per year by 2030 according to the Department for Transport, making it the UK’s fastest-growing airport. To my mind, the rail link can’t come soon enough.
An improved airport, combined with NPR would boost Yorkshire’s economy. High-Speed Rail 2 (HS2) is another important part of the plan. HS2, the new network between London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds, seems to have been with us for an age: it actually got the green light back in 2012. Progress since has seemed slow, but things are happening. Work got started last week when workers broke ground at the HS2 building site in Birmingham.
HS2 has its doubters – some argue that NPR should be delivered before HS2. But for my money, the North needs both. People moan about the concentration of business, jobs and opportunity in the south east. But the fact remains that’s where so much of the money is and we need better access to it.
This is a crucial time for NPR. Transport for North (TFN) is finalising its NPR plans to send to the Treasury in December. I will watch with interest: Bradford needs NPR. Commitments have been made, and should be kept.
• Dave Baldwin is chairman of the Bradford Economic Partnership and chief executive of Burnley Football Club.