Leeds asks government to protect unwanted HS2 land near station from being sold

West Yorkshire mayor Tracy Brabin and Leeds City Council leader James Lewis have written to prime minister Rishi Sunak to argue in favour of keeping safeguarded land to the South of Leeds railway station protected until a study into redevelopment can be completed.

A Government study into rail travel in the Midlands, Yorkshire and the North East, known as the MYNE study, is due to begin this year to establish how rail connections in those regions can be improved after the cancellation of the Northern leg of HS2 last year.

However, it is believed that land purchased in Leeds for the ill-fated project could be released imminently and sold off.

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“The land is really important,” Ms Brabin tells The Yorkshire Post. “They can’t sell off the land around the station without the work being done around ‘what do we need’. It would unlock that economic agglomeration and the transformation that we need, not just for Leeds, but of course for the whole of West Yorkshire… You can’t release HS2 land before the study has even commenced.”

Mayor of West Yorkshire Tracy BrabinMayor of West Yorkshire Tracy Brabin
Mayor of West Yorkshire Tracy Brabin

Original plans saw HS2 services terminate at a new T-shaped Leeds station with newly-acquired land south of the present station. The redevelopment was recommended in 2015 by the then-chair of HS2 Ltd Sir David Higgins and was due to kickstart a major redevelopment known as South Bank, which promised to double the size of the city centre.

Ms Brabin is frustrated at the potential for long-term damage if the land around the station is released without railway capacity being increased in Leeds.

“We’ve got a bottleneck and it’s responsible for a third of the rail delays across the North. Not expanding capacity in Leeds is holding back the North’s economy for decades to come.”

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According to the letter, it was “a major surprise that commitment to increase the capacity at the station was not part of the Network North plans.”

Network North is the transport strategy announced by the Government when it cancelled the Northern leg of HS2 last year, and does not feature Leeds station at all.

“It sounds like the decision for planning on Network North was done in a hurry, for political expediency before a Conservative Party conference,” she adds. “I don’t think they factored in the requirements of what the North actually needs, they just tried to make some sort of patchwork quilt to soften the blow of the cancellation of HS2.”

Ms Brabin refuses to use any of the additional £789m given to her combined authority for transport in the wake of HS2’s Northern cancellation to safeguard the land in Leeds, saying she shouldn’t be spending on something “that Government could do at the stroke of a pen.”

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“We can’t again have decisions made about the North without the North being part of the conversation,” she says. “Myself and James Lewis, the leader of Leeds City Council, know what we need. Talk to us, get us in the room.

“Let’s identify the land that we need to keep, but also the land that can be released now that HS2 is dead in the water. We can redevelop that into housing and for businesses and help our city flourish.

“Don’t just make decisions when you don’t know our region and you’re two hours away from our city.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Transport said: ”We’re continuing to develop a clear programme for selling land no longer needed for Phase 2 of HS2, ensuring our approach provides value for the taxpayer and fully engages with the people and communities affected.”

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