Northern Powerhouse Rail: Building new line between Leeds and Manchester via Bradford 'worth £22bn to economy'

Building the proposed new high-speed Northern Powerhouse Rail link between Leeds and Manchester via Bradford could deliver a £22bn boost to the region’s economy - £8bn more than previously forecast than for the entire route, new analysis has claimed.

New research has furthered the case for Northern Powerhouse Rail to be built through Bradford.
New research has furthered the case for Northern Powerhouse Rail to be built through Bradford.

The new report into Northern Powerhouse Rail from global engineering consultancy Mott MacDonald is being launched today in Leeds.

Its findings come as reports this weekend suggested the NPR project could be “severely pared back” by Government with Bradford dropped from the plans.

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The report said the original cost-benefit analysis for the entire NPR route - which would see a new line created between Leeds and Liverpool via Bradford and Manchester and high-speed upgrades to existing lines between several other Northern cities - put its economic benefit at £14.4bn by 2060.

It said new analysis on just the Leeds to Manchester section of the project suggests that work alone could be worth £22bn to the economy. The revised figure takes into account how NPR could assist other levelling up policies in areas such as tourism, leisure and education policy.

Cathy Travers, Managing Director, UK and Europe for Mott MacDonald, said: “Many of us who live and work in the North of England understand the untapped potential that we have across the region. We know that we need true connectivity to unleash that potential and enhance peoples’ opportunities and drive better social outcomes.

“Northern Powerhouse Rail is a catalyst for this change and we need it urgently. In this report we have applied Mott MacDonald’s leading expertise in economic analysis and our experience of infrastructure investment to show the full economic benefit of delivering a new rail link between Leeds, Bradford and Manchester as the first step in kickstarting a northern renaissance. I believe our paper makes a compelling case for Government backing for Northern Powerhouse Rail in the forthcoming Integrated Rail Plan.”

The Northern Powerhouse Rail concept has been around since 2014 and was part of then-Chancellor George Osborne’s ‘Northern Powerhouse’ vision.

While the Government has recommitted to the project on several occasions - including in Boris Johnson’s speech at last week’s Conservative Party conference - construction is yet to be given the go-ahead. More details are due to be set out in the Government’s Integrated Rail Plan, which was originally due to be published last year but is yet to be revealed.

However, The Independent reported at the weekend that NPR is due to be scaled back by Ministers, while the HS2 Eastern leg between Birmingham and Leeds - which was meant to be interconnected with NPR improvements - is to be mothballed.

Henri Murison, director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership which was originally established by Mr Osborne, said: “The North is still waiting for the high-speed rail we were promised. Building Northern Powerhouse Rail across the Pennines in full through Bradford would be transformative for our region, attracting investment and creating jobs and opportunities for local people.

“Uncertainty over rail investment, in particular the Eastern Leg of HS2, is doing huge damage to our economy. We need to start building from the North down from Leeds to reach Sheffield to unlock connectivity benefits sooner.

“This is vital to releasing much-needed capacity on the rail line, improving local connections and allowing more goods to be transported by freight instead of heavily-polluting HGV lorries.

“Levelling up cannot and will not happen without the full delivery of HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail together.”

Separate to the new Mott MacDonald report, Louise Gittins, Interim Chair of Transport for the North (TfN), said it was “disappointing” to hear reports suggesting NPR will be scaled back.

“I hope that this is not the case, as the Prime Minister said only last week in Manchester that transport is “one of the supreme leveller-uppers” and he was very clear in saying he “will do Northern Powerhouse Rail”.

“But to truly deliver on these words it means: the full NPR network that properly connects the North East to the North West; serious investment in a Northern Infrastructure Pipeline to upgrade local areas for the 21st century; and a genuine devolution offer as set out in our Northern Transport Charter with a devolved Northern Budget and with powers for Northern leaders to create the same level of transport systems that people in London and the South East take for granted.

“The work we have done as TfN shows the value of that investment and the importance of it for ‘levelling up’. It was very encouraging to see that the Prime Minister believes he has a mandate for transformational change, and he wants transport to be the cornerstone of his levelling up agenda, and therefore the Comprehensive Spending Review this month gives the prime opportunity for his Government to set this out in full.

“Anything less will not only be “bad news” for people living in the North, but it will be shirking one of the biggest decisions for our country in a generation.”

A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “The IRP will soon outline exactly how major rail projects, including HS2 phase 2b and other transformational projects such as Northern Powerhouse Rail, will work together to deliver the reliable train services that passengers across the North and Midlands need and deserve.”

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