TRANSPORT Minister Andrew Jones admitted the country has failed to properly invest in railway stations as the southern entrance to Leeds station was officially opened.
The Harrogate MP defended the Government’s record on transport spending but admitted it will take time for passengers to feel the benefits.
The £20 million southern entrance built across the River Aire gives direct access to the station from the south for the first time and is expected to be used by 20,000 passengers a day.
Mr Jones described the suggestion that Leeds station had fallened behind in recent years as “fair comment”.
He said: “If you look around stations across the UK as a whole I think we’ve seen over many many years a long term failure to invest. That is being corrected and this is one part of that correction.
“We have had a long term historic underinvestment in infrastructure and we are trying to catch up.
“We can see the Government places a huge priority on that which is why transport was at the centre of the Spending Review last autumn.
“We are trying to catch up that historic underinvestment. Can it be done quickly? I wish it could but you can’t deliver everything so promptly.”
Mr Jones said the arrival of new companies operating the Northern and TransPennine rail franchises from April 1 would make a “significant difference” to the Yorkshire passengers.
Leeds station is set for a transformation in the coming years after a report from Sir David Higgins, the chairman of the Government company delivering the HS2 high speed rail project, last year recommended the new lines should be incorporated into the existing station.
If agreed by the Government, the high speed lines would be carried on a new bridge across the River Aire from the south and form a T-shape with the existing station.
Leeds City Council has welcomed the proposal which replaces and earlier plan for a separate HS2 station south of the river.
But the authority has also called for further investment in the station ahead of HS2’s scheduled arrival in 2032.
Station operator Network Rail has drawn up plans which would see the creation of a new canopy at the front, the installation of a mezzanine floor and a remodelling of the congested drop-off zone at the rear with the introduction of new parking.
Business leaders in Leeds have long complained the station gives visitors and potential investors a poor first impression of the city.
Council leader Judith Blake said: “Coming here, you really get the wow factor and that is what we have been asking for Leeds station because, to be frank, the contrast between getting on a train at King’s Cross where you have that wow factor and getting off at Leeds, they couldn’t be further apart.
“I think the momentum is with us, people are ambitious, and this is a boost for us but we are already in active conversations with Network Rail over improving the existing footprint of the stations and we look forward to getting funded schemes in place to enhance the experience of people using the station.”
West Yorkshire Combined Authority transport committee chairman Keith Wakefield said improvements at Leeds had benefits for the wider region.
He said: “This is the biggest station in the North with 27 million people using it and if you are to become a transport hub then you need the infrastructure and the station that reflects that.
“This is the start of putting the pieces in the jigsaw to get the station ready for HS2.”