We can make levelling up a reality by delivering Northern Powerhouse Rail in full
“It has sometimes been observed that what leaders do for their people today is government and politics,” the Queen said recently. “But what they do for the people of tomorrow - that is statesmanship.” The Queen was speaking about COP26, but the insight runs much deeper.
It is our long-term vision that will determine how we are remembered: how we shape the country for the future and level up communities that feel they have been ignored or left behind.
In the North, we await publication of the Integrated Rail Plan. In particular, we wait to see what the future holds for Northern Powerhouse Rail, the long-promised plan to unblock the clogged arteries of our regions and properly connect the towns and cities of the north.
It is right the Treasury should seek to extract maximum value from the project, that is its role, but we must also show courage and ambition.
Northern Powerhouse Rail seeks to address decades of underinvestment in northern rail infrastructure. Recent figures showed total annual public expenditure on rail in the north remains less than a third of rail expenditure in the south.
Building the economy of the north cannot just be about supporting the growth of isolated economic powerhouses like Manchester or Leeds. The ambition must link not just these cities but places in between and beyond, to open up opportunities and raise horizons.
Bringing Northern Powerhouse Rail to Bradford is an opportunity to invest in the people of tomorrow
Consider somewhere like Bradford. Bradford is the UK’s seventh-largest city, with a greater population than both Cardiff and Belfast. Some 534,000 people live there, 30 per cent of whom are aged under 20. It also has the fourth-highest number of manufacturing jobs in the nation, despite being the worst connected major city in Britain, with just four direct trains to London per day. And if you want to travel between Bradford and Manchester by rail - a journey of less than 30 miles - it will take you more than an hour. The nine-mile journey to Leeds takes 25 minutes.
While Northern Powerhouse Rail will revolutionise life, work and leisure opportunities across the north of England, the city which will be most transformed by these better rail connections is Bradford. A new city centre station in Bradford will slash journey times to Manchester by two-thirds and to Leeds by more than half.
A new city centre station in Bradford will also help our leaders to keep their promises from COP26 and on levelling up, by slashing the 44,000 daily car journeys between Leeds and Bradford – cutting congestion, increasing productivity and delivering greener, more sustainable movement across the North.
Bradford has a bold vision to be the UK’s leading clean growth city. It has already given planning permission for the county’s largest clean growth testbed with 100,000m² of sustainable workspace.
It also has a young digital-native population, an abundance of low-cost commercial space and is the world’s first UNESCO city of film, willing to pursue ambitious international partnerships (the University of Bradford recently signed a 10-year deal with Qingdao University to teach Chinese students’ animation).
Bradford has all the ingredients to become a major hub of media production and design. What it needs is connectivity, to both make it a more attractive destination for talent and investors.
What Bradford needs is a Northern Powerhouse Rail stop.
A report by Arup suggested a new city centre station as part of Northern Powerhouse Rail would unlock a city centre regeneration area three times larger than Canary Wharf, create 27,000 jobs, and boost the economy by almost £30 billion over a decade.
Leaving Bradford off a Manchester to Leeds Northern Powerhouse Rail route would be a backwards step, at the very moment when we have a historic opportunity to reverse not just decades of underinvestment, but decades of fine words unmatched by action.
We have an opportunity to deliver a truly connected north, with all the agglomeration benefits that would bring for towns and cities on both sides of the Pennines. We can then show people, and not just tell them, what levelling up means.
I’m proud that this government is grasping the nettle by creating the UK’s first Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. Now it’s time to deliver.
Bringing Northern Powerhouse Rail to Bradford in the Integrated Rail Plan is an opportunity to invest in the people of tomorrow.
Kevin Hollinrake is the Conservative MP for Thirsk and Malton.
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