LEEDS and Sheffield are two of the nation’s great cities, powered by world-leading universities, home to innovative industries and only 30 miles apart. Our cities have ambitions for sustainable and inclusive growth that supports greater prosperity for all our communities.
However, despite our ambitions, we have outgrown the existing rail infrastructure we inherited from the Victorians. The ongoing failure to commit to and prioritise investment in rail connectivity in the North is causing long-term damage and constraining our economic potential and future growth.
Leeds and Sheffield share one of the poorest rail connections of any two European city neighbours. Currently, a train between Leeds and Sheffield takes at least 40 minutes and sometimes over an hour. This is compounded by services often being delayed and late.
In 2019, this accounted for more than a third of services. So it’s not surprising that almost 90 per cent of journeys between our cities are by road. Without a step change in the quality and reliability of rail services, we will continue to be over-reliant on roads which will become ever more congested and constrained.
Both cities have invested heavily in local transport routes, making travel across our cities quicker, healthier, and more efficient. There is a clear, strong need for enhancing rail connectivity, with rail passenger arrivals doubling at Sheffield Midland Station and trebling at Leeds City Station in the last 20 years.
We are committed to ensuring prosperity and health equality for all our residents, and supporting major international businesses based in our region, by improving access to skills and supply chains. We are hugely ambitious, and to achieve these ambitions the transport links between Leeds and Sheffield must change – and quickly. Delivering HS2 would unlock major potential for growth in future years.
Over-reliance on cars and lorries travelling along the congested M1 is also harming our planet. Transport produces 27 per cent of the UK’s carbon emissions, making it our most polluting sector. We must implement proposals to tackle this issue now.
We have developed plans for HS2 over the past 10 years, and we must not throw this good work aside with further years of planning, review and delay. Building HS2 from the North and advancing the Leeds to Clayton Junction section now presents an ideal opportunity to deliver 21st century rail connections between Leeds and Sheffield. It will help decarbonise our transport, radically change travel habits between our cities, and create increased capacity that will take cars and trucks off the road and onto rail.
There is simply not enough room on our outdated rail network for intercity connections, local stopping services, or increasing freight between our Humber ports. Leeds City Station, one of the North’s busiest transport hubs, is already at capacity, with 50 per cent of passengers in 2019 arriving late. Making do and mending will not work.
Incremental improvements are a sticking plaster which do not address the fundamental long-term problem of outdated rail connections that do not have the capacity to meet the needs of our modern and growing economy.
As well as inter-city connections, HS2 would provide many new opportunities for local rail travel including new stations in Rotherham and the Dearne Valley, connecting more people and encouraging growth. South Yorkshire’s tram-train network would also benefit from HS2, with more services required between Sheffield-Rotherham and Doncaster to meet the increased capacity HS2 would bring. In Leeds, the Government’s pledge to deliver mass transit is welcomed, but with 85 per cent of people travelling into Leeds City Station from outside the district, the value of vastly improved regional and national connectivity cannot be underestimated. The plans to improve east-west links to Manchester including a new station in Bradford are also vital.
The much-needed capacity that a new rail line will provide will transform our regions, and we are ready to deliver it. Rail infrastructure investment in London and the South East has been transformational for their economy. Crossrail and the Jubilee Line extension will further grow their economies, creating a further north-south imbalance, and the HS2 line between London and Birmingham will also help turbocharge the Midlands economy; we must not be left behind.
HS2 is not about getting to London quicker. We can dispel this myth by building from the North, advancing the Leeds to Sheffield connection. Collectively these proposals will unlock the benefits for our region decades earlier than expected, make a step change in connections between Yorkshire’s three largest cities, and demonstrate how we can level up the North – leaving a legacy lasting for generations. Let’s hope the long-awaited Integrated Rail Plan gives us the opportunity to do just that.
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