A strong commitment from all parties to a new station for Bradford is needed - Zahir Irani

It’s often said that a week is a long time in politics. Recent events rather prove the point. Since the summer of 2022, we have had three prime ministers, three chancellors, three transport secretaries, and first a ‘yes’, then a ‘no’, then a ‘let’s have another look’ and now a ‘yes’ again in response to our calls for a new city centre hub railway station in our great city of Bradford.

The latest development came as the government scrapped the Birmingham to Manchester leg of the HS2 high-speed rail line and promised to spend the savings on improved transport across the North and Midlands, including £2bn for a new station at Bradford and a new 30-minute connection to Manchester.

To be fair to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, he appears to have honoured the commitment he made as Chancellor to the Bradford Breakthrough and Chamber of Commerce delegation last summer, where I amongst others, gave a speech outlining the social, economic and cultural case. He agreed to look in detail at the report from the Transport Select Committee scrutinising the Integrated Rail Plan.

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Remember, this was the government plan that denied Bradford a new station and, in the words of the select committee, risked squandering the district’s potential “as an engine room of the Northern Powerhouse… if it is not given opportunities to thrive through better connectivity”. In response to the Prime Minister’s recent announcement, Labour has said it is talking to local mayors about improving transport links between northern cities but cannot commit to reversing the decision to scrap the northern leg of HS2.

The government has scrapped the Birmingham to Manchester leg of the HS2 high-speed rail line. PIC: HS2/PA WireThe government has scrapped the Birmingham to Manchester leg of the HS2 high-speed rail line. PIC: HS2/PA Wire
The government has scrapped the Birmingham to Manchester leg of the HS2 high-speed rail line. PIC: HS2/PA Wire

Whatever happens next, we need a strong commitment from all parties to a new station for Bradford. I welcome the opportunity to advance our cause by presenting the facts-of-the-matter to the Secretary of State for Transport when he meets our next delegation of Bradford Breakthrough business leaders that we rescheduled from later this month to early in the new year; when more details will be known of the government’s plans.

Bradford is a friendly, vibrant, creative place with an abundance of art, music, theatre and wonderful public spaces, all of which are nestled among some of the most stunning and dramatic scenery in the UK. For these reasons, Bradford has been crowned UK City of Culture 2025. However, our district often remains overlooked and underestimated by so many across the country and in government.

I am the Deputy Vice-Chancellor at the University of – and for – Bradford and an active member of Bradford Breakthrough and Chamber leaders’ group. I was also chair of the Bradford Economic Recovery Board that produced the 2021-2026 Economic Recovery Plan; I’m pleased to confirm our efforts are bearing fruit with signs of economic improvement across our district.

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The civic university is one of Bradford’s largest employers with more than 1,500 full-time academic, professional and technical staff, and a further 400 casual staff. We also educate 12,000 full-time students and have a strong ambition to grow our home and international student numbers even further.

This growth will allow us to deliver more impact through our innovative research and knowledge exchange partnerships, while also improving the health and educational outcomes of citizens across disadvantaged communities in West Yorkshire. The university and metropolitan council put great value on the importance of ‘place’. Bradford is known for its proud heritage, rich culture and innovation. The University of Bradford was the first in the world to develop a Peace Studies department, while others focused on maintaining their War Studies offer. This year, Bradford established itself as the UK’s largest student population for Applied Artificial Intelligence and Data Analytics, giving us a strong position in this emerging field with no doubt many business start-ups to follow through our entrepreneurial ecosystem.

The university is very proud to have been ranked first in the Social Mobility Index rankings for two years in a row. We literally change lives and equip the district’s young and diverse population with the skills and confidence they need to succeed. We are proud of making a real difference.

However, to continue being a destination of choice, we need to attract and retain talented staff and students. Increasingly, we develop this talent and then see it leave. We need to attract those in search of highly skilled jobs or who want to develop their skills to support businesses that drive innovation. We want entrepreneurs seeking a creative environment to start up companies and then scale them up across the Bradford district, and beyond.

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A new Bradford city centre hub station will renew pride, spur on regeneration, support clean growth and wellbeing and improve the visitor experience. It will act as a catalyst for social, economic and cultural growth.

Professor Zahir Irani is deputy vice-chancellor at the University of Bradford and former chair of the Bradford District Council Economic Recovery Board.