The latter is vital to the economic prosperity of Bradford and my constituents in Bradford South, as well as the wider region and the nation as a whole.
A report seen by The Yorkshire Post revealed the Government’s thinking. Documents for the trans-Pennine route upgrade setting out development and capacity improvements for NPR between Ravensbourne and Dewsbury are among the key elements of that scheme.
I am not arguing against the trans-Pennine route upgrade – far from it. The modernisation of the existing cross-Pennine rail route is long overdue and desperately needed.
It has been on and off the Government’s agenda – upgraded, downgraded, paused and rethought at regular intervals – and I am pleased that it might at last get the green light to go ahead.
But that must be as well as, not instead of, Northern Powerhouse Rail.
I suppose I should not be surprised by the revealing of the Government’s intentions; after all, this has become an all too familiar pattern when it comes to investment in transport infrastructure spending outside London and the South East.
I am, however, outraged and, frankly, incredulous – outraged that yet again the Government plan to short-change the North and think they can get away with it, and incredulous at such short-sightedness.
The transport infrastructure of the North has endured decades of underinvestment and generations of unfulfilled economic opportunity as a consequence, and yet the potential of the north of England to deliver not just for itself but to provide a national uplift is unparalleled.
The North is home to seven of the UK’s 20 largest cities, and Bradford is one of them. Despite the short distances between them, the economic interaction of those cities has been restricted.
With £343bn in economic output, eight of the UK’s top research institutions and 27 universities, the potential of the North is right there for all to see.
We need action more than ever before. Instead of the commitment required to address the inequality at hand and reap the benefits of investment to change it, we have seen prevarication, fudge and delay.
And Northern Powerhouse Rail is the very essence of levelling up. It is not about trains: it is about people. It is about unlocking potential, attracting investment and creating jobs. It is a catalyst for a regional and national economic boost: integration, rather than fragmentation, of the great cities and economic powerhouses of the North.
The preferred route for Northern Powerhouse Rail – the one that delivers the greatest economic boost to the region, as set out by Transport for the North with the backing of northern leaders and both the West Yorkshire and South Yorkshire metro mayors – includes a city centre stop in Bradford, which is currently the largest UK city without a mainline station.
Bradford is the UK’s youngest city, and its fifth biggest. It is home to more than half a million people and 17,000 businesses, and has £10.5bn in its economy.
The reduction in journey times between Bradford and key cities in the North, and the UK, would be transformational, enabling a journey from Bradford to Leeds to take seven minutes.
Currently, that journey takes 20 minutes, between two cities that are about eight miles apart as the crow flies. It would be possible to get from Bradford to Manchester in 22 minutes – it currently takes an hour – and from Bradford to Liverpool in 50 minutes; it currently takes two hours.
Done properly, Northern Powerhouse Rail will create an integrated urban area larger than Birmingham, linking Bradford and Leeds to form a coherent economic unit, with a labour market of more than 1.3 million people, and more than 600,000 jobs.
Done poorly and half-heartedly or – as increasingly seems to be the Government’s aim – on the cheap, with the very least they can get away with, it would fail to support the economic and societal advances we require.
It is time for the Government to level with the people and the cities of the North. They are either going to deliver in full on Northern Powerhouse Rail or they are not.
Which is it to be?
Judith Cummins is Labour MP for Bradford South and spoke in a Parliamentary debate on Northern Powerhouse Rail. This is an edited version.
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