A Northern Powerhouse Rail station at St James Wholesale Market could help Bradford become Leeds' '21st century economic twin', says council leader Susan Hinchcliffe

A new high speed Northern Powerhouse Rail station in the centre of Bradford would help the city become a "21st century economic twin" with neighbouring Leeds, a council leader has claimed.

Bradford council leader Susan Hinchcliffe used a speech at Bradford's St James Wholesale Market to make the case for a new station to open on the site by 2030 to replace the existing Interchange as a major transport hub.

She said better rail connections between Bradford and Leeds, where journeys by train can take as long as 25 minutes, would create a single economy and labour market of over 1.3 million people and over 600,000 jobs.

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Northern Powerhouse Rail decision could define North’s prospects for rest of the...
Bradford Council leader Susan Hinchcliffe speaks at St James Wholesale Food Market, Bradford. Pic by Simon Hulme

But Coun Hinchcliffe, also the chair of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, criticised the Government's approach to Bradford and said if often feels as if "the UK’s seventh largest city doesn’t really feature when decisions are being made in Whitehall".

And she said £500,000 promised in the 2020 Budget to support technical work to maximise regeneration opportunities from Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) in Bradford city centre had still yet to arrive.

It comes amid fears that the Government may choose not to build a station in the city when it reveals more about its plans for NPR, a high speed rail project connecting the major cities of the North, after the local elections.

A station at St James Market is the preferred option of northern leaders but would be more expensive than the so-called 'Diggle' option which doesn't stop in Bradford and instead goes via Huddersfield.

In her speech, Coun Hinchcliffe described a station "not on the far reaches of the city" but a transport hub "at the heart of an extended city centre, joined up by mass transit to Forster Square station, the bus network, and walking and cycle routes, to allow people to move effortlessly between Bradford and other Northern towns and cities."

And she said: "Our plan is to create a 21st century economic twin with our near neighbour of Leeds, bringing together complementary strengths and acting as a model for the UK, demonstrating how integrated economies are more productive together than alone.

"Northern Powerhouse Rail, connecting cities and towns from east to west across the North, must have Bradford and Leeds at its heart.

"Our plans would be a first phase of Northern Powerhouse Rail across the Pennines, getting spades in the ground in this decade and huge benefits realised in the following decade.

"Extending this partnership across the North will create a labour market which competes with what London provides today, stretching across the Pennines and east to Hull, up to the North East as well as down to the Sheffield City Region."

The council leader, who last year bid to be Labour's candidate for West Yorkshire mayor, said Leeds had been earmarked for the new UK Infrastructure Bank and for parts of the BBC.

She added: "In recent years those like PWC have had the vision to invest here in Bradford, despite the poor transport links we continue to suffer from. Two local stations not fit for

purpose, or properly linked at all.

"We are competing in a global race with infrastructure not fit for a small town down south, terrible compared to Harpenden or Haywards Heath.

"Soon, when there will be 200 Department for Transport officials working in Leeds, they will realise how hard it even is to get to Bradford from there.

"Today, I make the case for a Mainline Bradford station, for a Greater Bradford and Leeds prospering side by side, for the Northern Powerhouse we need and deserve."

She said that currently rail services between Leeds and Bradford were so unreliable that 70 per cent of commuters choose to drive instead, something that would "be fixed once and for all with fast and frequent services between the two cities".

A new line would cut the travel time between Bradford and Manchester from over an hour to just 20 minutes, while a 20-minute journey to Leeds would become a seven-minute shuttle under the scheme.

Coun Hinchcliffe said: "But of course, this vision of a thriving, connected Bradford cannot happen without the government realising the economic potential of Northern places like this.

"It often feels as if Bradford, the UK’s seventh largest city doesn’t really feature when decisions are being made in Whitehall.

"Just three days after being made Prime Minister in the summer of 2019, Boris Johnson came up to Manchester and committed to the new Northern Powerhouse Rail line between Leeds and Manchester.

"Since then, pandemic or no pandemic, we have had no progress at all. Indeed, the money promised in the devolution deal I signed as Chair of the Combined Authority with government included money for local government to do the technical work in Bradford on the scheme I present today, but as yet this money has not arrived.

"As I advance the economic case for this preferred location for the station, I expect the funding we need to get going to be delivered in order to make this plan a reality."

Tim Wood, Northern Powerhouse Rail Director at Transport for the North, said: “Northern Powerhouse Rail - with a new line from Manchester to Leeds and a flagship central station in the Bradford - would be transformational not just for the city itself, but the North.

"It will slash journey times, attract investment and create thousands of jobs for the generations who have been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic. With the boost that NPR would bring Bradford’s economy would be billions of pounds larger each year, bringing up to 27,000 extra jobs into the city.

“The central station and new line is a key part of the preferred network TfN’s board has agreed and is recommending to government. With the Integrated Rail Plan expected in a matter of weeks, we’re on the cusp of long-term committed investment, which must deliver for the people of Bradford and the North.”