Bradford city centre could see investment like London's Kings Cross if it gets Northern Powerhouse Rail station, says MP Kevin Hollinrake

A new high speed rail station in Bradford could bring investment to the city comparable to that around London's St Pancras and Kings Cross stations, according to a Yorkshire Conservative MP.

Thirsk and Malton MP Kevin Hollinrake backed the calls by Labour's Judith Cummins in calling for the Government to include a Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) station in Bradford to stop the city being "left behind".

Mrs Cummins, MP for Bradford South, told a Westminster Hall debate that Ministers have failed to offer any "concrete" assurances that the proposed NPR between Leeds and Manchester would have a stop in her city.

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Fears of 'hammer blow' to Northern Powerhouse Rail and Bradford city centre stop...
A new high speed rail station in Bradford could bring investment to the city comparable to that around London's St Pancras and Kings Cross stations, says MP Kevin Hollinrake. Pic by PA

And Rail Minister Andrew Stephenson, responding for the Government, said no final decisions had yet been made about NPR amid fears the route will not be a new line and will instead just see the existing Transpennine Route via Huddersfield upgraded.

The Yorkshire Post has seen documents which show the Government is planning a major investment in the Transpennine Route which would improve capacity and reliability but that this would also include development work for NPR to follow the same route.

Northern leaders have told the Government their preferred option would be for a new line between Leeds and Manchester with a station in the centre of Bradford as this would have the most transformative effect on the city's economy.

Mrs Cummins, who led the Westminster Hall debate today, said Bradford was currently the largest UK city without a main line station and that NPR would be "a real game-changer for The North and Bradford".

She said: "Time and time again, I have asked Ministers to confirm that Northern Powerhouse Rail would get the go ahead, and that it would include Bradford, not pass it by.

"Time and time again, ministers have responded with warm words but nothing concrete. More shallow promises, but no more action than before.

"Instead of the commitment that is required to address the inequality at hand and reap the benefits of investment to change it, what we have seen is prevarication, fudge, and delay."

She added: "Northern Powerhouse Rail is the very essence of levelling-up. It’s not about trains, it’s about people - it’s about unlocking potential, attracting investment and creating jobs. It’s a catalyst for a regional and national economic boost. Integration rather than fragmentation of the great cities and economic powerhouses of the north.

"And, to put it bluntly, upgrading existing lines will not fulfil the manifesto promise this Government made or provide the transformational improvement that the north needs, and that our nation needs the North to make too."

Kevin Hollinrake said he did not believe Northern Powerhouse Rail, which was the subject of a major speech by Boris Johnson shortly after he became Prime Minister, was under threat and that Chancellor Rishi Sunak was committed to east-west links across the North.

He said: "The key to this is the agglomeration effect as economists call it, critical mass, that's what we need, it brings 10 million people together in exactly the way London has 10 million people together, highly connected and ensures the economic opportunity, based upon that.

"And as she sets out cities like Bradford would be left behind without this, you can't connect Bradford into the rest of the North, without northern powerhouse rail. So absolutely key to it, all the young IT savvy people connected to places like Manchester and Leeds so easily and Liverpool and Hull and York and all kinds of places.

"It makes perfect sense, it's absolutely vital therefore we get that agglomeration effect.

"Also, I would say, knowing Bradford quite well, it is in desperate need of investment in the city centre, so a brand new, shiny new station in the middle of Bradford, you can see how it would attract lots of other private sector investment, which is critical.

"In the way for example Kings Cross, the investment there at St Pancras and Kings Cross, all the investment that comes off the back of it, that's what would happen to Bradford. So critical investment, not just for Bradford, I would say as well, but similar arguments for Hull, Liverpool, York Manchester, Newcastle and Leeds, of course."

Minister Mr Stephenson, an MP in Lancashire, insisted the Government "remains committed" to the NPR programme and that its approach meant there would be "spades in the ground" earlier than previously thought possible.

He said: "The Northern Powerhouse Rail programme represents a further opportunity to invest in northern communities to level up the economy, and most importantly, improve connectivity and reliability between key northern hubs allowing the North to reach its full strategic and economic potential, both at home and abroad."

Details of how NPR will fit in with HS2 and the Transpennine Route Upgrade and how much funding will be available will emerge in the Government's Integrated Rail Plan. This document was supposed to be published last year but has been delayed several times.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has told Transport for the North that it cannot submit its business case document for NPR setting out its preferred route until the IRP is published.

Mr Stephenson said: "In terms of the content of the Integrated Rail Plan, and the recommended way forward for the NPR programme, final decisions are yet to be made and Ministers continue to look very closely at the evidence, including that provided by Transport for the North and northern and Midlands leaders.

"I am aware that Honourable members, and local leaders from across the Midlands are eagerly awaiting the publication of the Integrated Rail Plan. And let me assure my honourable friends that we are making good progress, and we intend to publish it soon."

Mrs Cummins criticised how long it had taken to publish the document and Mr Hollinrake asked more specifically when it would be set out.

"As somebody who served in the government whip's office for two years I think I will stick with the language of 'soon', however it is definitely our commitment to have the integrated rail plan published

"The one thing I would say from my conversations with many leaders across the north of England, is that many northern leaders have said they would rather that we get the right answers and the right solutions rather than rushing in.

"Because of course this is setting out an investment framework for decades going forward, so we've got to get this right and if that requires a little more toing and froing and requires a little more a little bit more negotiation, and I think that is a price worth paying."