Kersten England: Get Bradford back on track – and watch city power ahead

Bradford Council chief executive Kersten England.
Bradford Council chief executive Kersten England.
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“THE time to invest is now” was the clear message from Bradford Council leader, Councillor Susan Hinchcliffe, as she launched a new campaign to secure a Northern Powerhouse rail station in Bradford city centre.

Supported by business, civic and community leaders and our Parliamentarians, the Next Stop Bradford campaign has a clear objective – to better connect Bradford with major towns and cities across the North.

Bradford is the fourth largest metropolitan authority in England, home to over 530,000 people and growing. This young and diverse city already contributes much to the Northern economy – we are home to over 17,000 businesses which report the highest rate of international trading of any district within the UK.

Some of the UK’s largest companies are based here, including Provident Financial, Morrisons, Santander and Yorkshire Bank. In fact, Bradford is home to more FTSE 100 companies than any other city in the north of England.

Our industrial heritage is rich – the Unesco world heritage site of Saltaire attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year with Haworth and Brontë Country attracting visitors in their millions. The city boasts strengths in advanced manufacturing – lending itself the name of “Producer City” – as well as digital technology, energy and health and financial and professional services.

Yet over the decades the city has been hampered by underinvestment in our rail infrastructure. This has resulted in Bradford remaining the largest city in the UK not on a mainline rail connection. Although improvements to the rolling stock have been made already and we have seen an increase in frequency, this only begins to scratch the surface.

With Transport for the North currently developing their Northern Transport Strategy and a potential decision on the routing of Northern Powerhouse Rail moving closer, we have a unique opportunity to get Bradford off the branch line and deliver transformational growth for our city.

Currently, a train journey from Bradford to Leeds takes over 20 minutes and averages only 33mph, whilst Bradford to Manchester takes around an hour, averaging just 42mph.

With a city centre Northern Powerhouse Rail station, Bradford would be just seven minutes from Leeds and 20 from Manchester. Initial reports suggest connecting Bradford in this way would generate an economic boost of at least £1.3bn annually.

While Bradford is only 10 miles from Leeds, there is scope to much improve transport links between two of the strongest economies in the North, with a combined GVA of £29.2bn.

At present, there are 42,000 commuters between Bradford and Leeds each day, the largest flow between any two cities in the UK. Providing faster, more frequent trains between these urban centres would not only ease congestion but help create an economic powerhouse at the heart of the country and better connect people to jobs.

Bradford is the youngest city in the UK, with nearly 25 per cent of our population under 16. This means our people will be a key asset to a future skilled workforce across the country.

Greater Manchester alone is predicted to create a further 180,000 jobs by 2040 and with one of the largest redevelopment projects in Europe underway at the South Bank in Leeds, we need set the foundations now so that our people can access these job opportunities in the future.

Enabling talent to become more mobile aligns with the work we are doing with the Inclusive Growth Commission to ensure the greatest number of people can benefit from and contribute to growth, and is vital to all our current and future investment activity.

I also believe an investment of this scale will act as a catalyst for further regeneration opportunities in the city. With significant regeneration plans in the pipeline at sites such as One City Park, Jacobs Well and Exchange Court, it is a pivotal moment for city centre redevelopment. Bradford is well placed to build on this momentum and capitalise on the further regeneration opportunities that investment in rail connectivity could bring.

Our creaking Victorian infrastructure and out-of-date rolling stock can only last so much longer. That is why I, alongside the many civic, business, community and political leaders from across our region, are doing all we can to secure this investment.

Shortly, the Department for Transport and Transport for the North will decide which cities to include on the Northern Powerhouse Rail route. This decision will have economic ramifications which will persist long beyond our lifetimes. If we secure a Northern Powerhouse Rail stop in the city centre, I believe we can elevate Bradford to effectively become the seventh core city on the network and deliver transformational growth.

If the Government are truly committed to a prosperous Northern Powerhouse, the question is not if Bradford will be part of Northern Powerhouse Rail, but when?

I encourage readers of The Yorkshire Post to support the Next Stop Bradford campaign by joining the conversation on social media using #NextStopBradford.

Kersten England is chief executive of Bradford Council.