Chancellor Rishi Sunak has held out fresh hope that Bradford could win a new through railway station after a meeting with a delegation of top business leaders from the city.
More than a dozen members of Bradford Breakthrough, which represents big business and organisations across the district, along with the district’s five MPs, three Bradford peers and the President of Bradford Chamber of Commerce, met the Chancellor at the House of Commons to argue that dropping the proposed station was a “huge mistake” that could cost the district up to £30 billion in growth and investment and 27,000 extra jobs by 2060.
During the meeting, the Chancellor committed to “looking in detail at the report from the Select Committee” reviewing the Government’s Integrated Rail Plan (IRP) which visited Bradford in February and he asked the delegation to set up a follow-up meeting with Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.
Breakthrough’s Chief Executive Dr Trevor Higgins told Mr Sunak that some years ago the district’s Parliamentarians had agreed to put aside their political differences to work together with Breakthrough on tackling the issues that were in Bradford’s best interests to resolve.
“Bradford’s terrible transport infrastructure was right at the top of the list and it remains there all these years later,” said Dr Higgins. “In November 2018, we met with the then Secretary of State for Transport, Chris Grayling, who said ‘Bradford has a third world transport infrastructure that is simply not acceptable today’.
“He promised to take action but was replaced soon after, so nothing got delivered and here we are again.”
The decision to ditch the Eastern leg of HS2 had been a “huge kick in the teeth” to Northern leaders and Bradford, though hugely disappointed, had accepted “that ship had sailed.”
“We were pleased to hear of the Government’s Integrated Rail Plan, until we heard that a speedy route across the Pennines had been downgraded but, worst still, it didn’t include a through station for Bradford,” said Dr Higgins. “This despite the fact that a new city-centre station on a new mainline trainline connecting us to Manchester would secure £30 billion in growth and investment to the district, generate £3 billion in additional GVA and create 27,000 additional jobs by 2060.”
The IRP plans for electrification of the Leeds/Bradford section of the Calder Valley line and increasing the frequency of trains had been welcome but “this should be delivered in tandem with the provision of a new station.”
“Not to build a station is a huge mistake given that Bradford was recently named as having the worst rail connections of any major British city,” said Dr Higgins.
“The Government’s IRP stated that Bradford’s proposed station site was not suitable, with the main issue being that it was too far from the city centre. But the Chairman of the Select Committee who visited Bradford in February, Conservative MP Huw Merriman, said: ‘We were taken up to see the site where the station should have been built. One argument was that it was too far out of the city centre. We walked there from the Interchange, it was not far at all.’
“What’s more, the location of the station is crucial to the opening up of the city’s Southern Gateway which unlocks huge potential sustainable development, inward investment and thousand of jobs.
“Bradford is the biggest levelling up opportunity in the country and we will continue to push for our people and businesses to be given the opportunity to fulfil their potential.”
Breakthrough Chairman Dr Bob Gomersall, whose online platform businesses employ more than 500 people in the district, told the Chancellor the fact the IRP’s list of proposed journey times from Manchester to various cities did not even mention Bradford – the UK’s fifth largest city – was “an outrageous omission.”
“Most journeys from Bradford to Manchester and London go via Leeds and direct journeys are slow and infrequent,” said Dr Gomersall. “Essentially Bradford is on a branch line to Leeds, and this has to change for Bradford’s economy to really lift off.
“We don’t care about the details of the solution, and see that as the job of government and local government. Our role is to grow and create wealth and jobs, and we think it is reasonable to expect the infrastructure to keep up with us.”
Professor Zahir Irani, Deputy Vice-Chancellor at the University of Bradford, told the Chancellor: “I want to leave you with a clear message, the job of levelling-up Bradford is not yet done.
“We want to ask Government to re-draw those strong connections between a new city centre hub station and its role in unlocking a mega-regeneration project that will create a modern European city that can attract and retain talent, boost productivity, increase employment, and leverage the district’s diverse cultural assets, whilst continuing to build a more inclusive, sustainable, and resilient economy that allows all our communities to thrive.”
Mark Cowgill, West and North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce, Vice President and Director of Exa Networks, said Bradford had needed a properly connected rail network for decades and the poor transport infrastructure was hampering the district’s growth by preventing businesses from attracting the right skills.
“Well-connected cities, such as Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool have thrived, Bradford has not,” he said. “Bradford has the youngest population of any city in the UK, which presents a tremendous opportunity, not only for the city but as a work force for the wider Northern Region, with the right transport options.
“If we do not do this, the impact to the rest of the North in the future could be severe.”