The human toll, and the impact it has had on our businesses and communities, will be felt for decades to come. In Bradford, we begin 2021 with renewed energy to build a better future.
Our golden opportunity is Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) and a city centre station in Bradford.
Last month saw the publication of the National Infrastructure Commission’s Rail Needs Assessment. It concluded that investment in rail connectivity in the North has been neglected for too long and must form part of a wider regional growth strategy, something that Bradford Council and our partners have been working on for many years.
Despite the economic turbulence, Bradford remains best-placed to drive the North’s shared ambitions. We are the nation’s eighth largest economy; the UK’s youngest city bursting with talent; home to world-renowned industries, university facilities, advanced manufacturing, filmmaking; and we have the ability to enable clean growth industries. Despite this, we remain the largest city in the UK not on a mainline train line.
Our city has boundless potential, as evidenced in the latest masterplan for the city centre, which highlights the opportunities within the Southern Gateway and our sector strengths in cyber, health tech and innovation. We need to make smart investments that aren’t just the quickest and cheapest, but those that will unlock the greatest potential long-term.
Securing an NPR station would go far beyond improving transport connectivity. This investment would bring the two largest economies in the North – Leeds and Manchester – within 10 and 20 minutes respectively of the youngest workforce in the country, a digitally talented and entrepreneurial workforce.
A further 6.7 million people, with an annual economic output of £167bn, would be brought within a 35-minute journey time to Bradford city centre: around a 200 per cent increase on the population and economy within reach of Bradford currently.
This means that businesses looking to attract talent will have greater access to a broad and deep skills pool. People wanting to live in attractive, affordable homes in our district will be able to easily travel across the North.
The city’s highly productive firms and its university will be linked with more markets, talent and ideas. And investors will have both a thriving economic centre and vibrant cultural assets on their doorstep. In economic terms, a city centre NPR station would more than double the size of the Bradford economy by 2060.
The economic recovery post-Covid presents an opportunity for a renewed focus on clean growth, or as the Government refers to it, the “green recovery”. With NPR in our city centre, high-quality walking and cycling routes can be created. This investment will help create a city where more people want to live, work, visit and play. And by having the right transport infrastructure in place, we can focus on the opportunity to build high-quality new houses, with an ambition to deliver 30,000 new homes over the next 20 years.
Simultaneously, our aim is to alleviate fuel poverty across our district by ensuring houses are fit for purpose and are spaces people and families are proud to call home.
At this critical moment in our nation’s history, investment in NPR is vital to the whole nation’s recovery. Without investment at this necessary scale, we risk creating a disadvantaged environment for our businesses and young people.
The promises of levelling-up will remain rhetoric unless we make serious investment in rail infrastructure, both East-West and North-South, to fully connect our great towns and cities. Whilst we understand the huge pressures on public finances, we have a chance to make Bradford and the North a leading contributor to the national public purse.
If the Chancellor is committed to reforming the Treasury Green Book, NPR in Bradford city centre will be one of the first tests. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation says that £1 out of every £5 of Government funding is spent alleviating poverty. Therefore, an investment in connectivity is good value for money if it gives people access to more economic opportunity.
The question should be this: can we afford not to seize this once-in-a-generation opportunity to make good on the Government’s levelling up agenda and ensure the country’s eighth largest city drives and enables northern and national growth?
Susan Hinchcliffe is leader of Bradford Council and Kersten England is chief executive of the authority.
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