CALLS for a new airport for the region have emerged as a Yorkshire council urged the scrapping of HS2 in favour of a wider package of transport improvements.
Wakefield councillors yesterday voted to oppose the HS2 scheme which would see high speed trains passing through the district to a new stop in the centre of Leeds.
Council leader Peter Box called for a broader debate on the future of transport in the North including alternative proposals for high speed rail, investment in the road network and a possible long term replacement for Leeds-Bradford Airport.
The Yorkshire Post understands early stage discussions have been held over whether Leeds-Bradford, which has long been criticised over its location, can ever match the area’s long term economic ambitions.
Questions are being asked about whether it makes better economic sense to invest money in improved transport links to the existing airport which may have limited scope for growth or consider the more radical option of a new airport on a site better connected to major roads and rail lines and with room to expand over the longer term.
Coun Box said: “What Wakefield wants to do is to campaign for what we need and not what we have been given.
“What we need is greater connectivity. We need investment in our highways network to go alongside improving rail, including east-west links, and we need investment in a new airport.”
He pointed to an alternative plan, known as High Speed UK, as an example of how high speed rail could be built in a different way and improve connections between more towns and cities.
High Speed UK, devised by rail engineers and backed by the Mid Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce, would follow the M1 corridor with a spur heading west from Leeds and Sheffield across the Pennines to Manchester and a further heading north to Scotland.
Leeds City Council remains supportive of HS2 but is also among those suggesting that there could be a case for a new airport.
Coun Wakefield said: “We want Leeds and Yorkshire to be as ambitious as any other region.
“The existing operators of Leeds-Bradford have been very good and increased passenger numbers but if we are to make sure aviation is a key part of our transport strategy we have to recognise there are limitations on the existing location.
“If we are looking 20, 30, 40 years ahead there might be a better location so it can link with HS2 and create a transport hub.”
Talks are at a very early stage but it is likely any new airport would be on land around the M1, A1 and M62 and connected to a new high speed rail line.
Tony Hallwood, aviation development and marketing director at Leeds-Bradford Airport, said it was the fastest growing UK airport last year and would continue to grow this year by offering eight new destinations.
“Leeds-Bradford can meet the long term need for air travel in Yorkshire and we can continue to grow at a fast pace.
“That would be assisted through road and rail links from across the region. We could invest in those now and we could be ready to deliver over the next four or five years. A new airport could be decades away.
“A new airport could cost £5 billion. Who is going to pay for that?”
The Government is pressing ahead with HS2 with work due to start on the first phase between London and Birmingham in 2017. Services on the second phase of the project stopping at stations at Meadowhall and New Lane, in Leeds, are due to start in 2032.
Mark Goldstone, head of policy at the Leeds, York and North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce, said: “HS2 must be viewed as part of a wider integrated transport network for the Leeds City Region and we need to be thinking now about how each part of the region benefits from the increased capacity it will provide.
“There is little point being able to get into and out of Leeds city centre more efficiently by HS2 if there is poor connectivity onwards to Bradford, Wakefield or Huddersfield for example.
“We are hopeful that the proposed Combined Authority with access to significant funding for regional transport schemes should address some of these connectivity issues.”
HS2 Ltd, the Government company developing the project, is currently consulting on the route it will take through Yorkshire and the North West.
In its current form it will split north of Birmingham into a Y with one section taking trains to Manchester and another going through the East Midlands before arriving in Yorkshire.
It is proposed that trains will stop at a new station at Meadowhall before heading north to a point east of Leeds where one spur will head into the city centre and another will continue to a point eight miles short of York where it will connect with the existing network.
North Yorkshire County Council has expressed its support for HS2 but questioned the decision to have a second station in Leeds and the difficulties that could cause passengers connecting using existing services.
A Department for Transport spokesman said: “HS2 is set to boost the economy in West Yorkshire by around £1bn a year.
“Wakefield could also benefit from released capacity as result of journeys moving on to the high speed line and we are eager to hear from the council about how this could be used.
“But HS2 is just one part of the plan. Westgate Station has recently had a £8.6m upgrade to improve facilities and access, while plans for Kirkgate are set to completely renovate the station.”
He added: “Motorways in the area have benefited from investment too – £150m has recently been spent on improvements to the M62.”