BRING high-speed rail to Bradford – that’s the rallying cry from the city’s leaders to the Government today.
Chancellor George Osborne will use his Budget to give the go-ahead for a high-speed rail link, dubbed HS3, between Leeds and Manchester.
One of the options being looked at is a route through Bradford and its political and business leaders are now lobbying hard for this to become a reality – saying it would be a “game-changer” for the city.
Bradford Council deputy leader Councillor Val Slater said the council would push for the high-speed link to call into the Bradford Interchange, or even a new, purpose-built high-speed rail station.
And the city’s business leaders are backing this call, with the Chamber of Commerce saying it would be a “dereliction of duty” if those leading the Northern Powerhouse project snubbed Bradford when drawing up the route.
HS3, also known as Northern Powerhouse Rail, would see a new 30-minute link created between Manchester and Leeds, rather than the current 49-minute journey, with trains reaching speeds of up to 125mph.
No formal timetable has been set out to deliver the scheme, although it’s not expected to be up and running for at least a decade.
The Chancellor is today setting aside £60m to fully investigate where HS3’s new railways and tunnels should go – and which towns or cities the route should pass through.
“Now is the time for us to make the bold decisions and the big investments that will help us to lead the world in infrastructure, and create jobs, push up living standards and boost our productivity for the next generation.”
The job of scoping out the options will fall to Transport for the North, a consortium of transport authorities across the north of England working on the Chancellor’s Northern Powerhouse project.
The three options are understood to be upgrading either the existing Transpennine route through Huddersfield or the Calder Valley line through Bradford, Halifax and Rochdale, or constructing a brand new line entirely – possibly by tunnelling under the Pennines.
Transport for the North is expected to unveil a preferred route by next year.
Julian Jackson, Bradford Council’s assistant director of planning, transportation and highways, said there was now a “window of opportunity to make sure we put our case forward”.
He said bringing high-speed rail to Bradford would be “a game-changer for the city”.
Cllr Slater, whose portfolio includes transport, said if high-speed rail came through Bradford, journey times to Manchester could be slashed to under 25 minutes.
She said they now hoped to convince transport chiefs that taking the route through Bradford would offer better value for money as it would boost the economy by linking businesses across the North with the potential workforce here.
She said: “Yes, it would be great for Bradford, but also Bradford has got an awful lot to offer the Northern Powerhouse.”
A spokesman for Transport for the North said when weighing up the options, they would be taking into account a variety of factors, such as how many people would use the line, engineering practicality, the impact on the environment and how to develop a network that works with the existing rail infrastructure.
He said: “This includes looking at how best to serve the key towns and cities on the corridor, such as Huddersfield, Halifax and Bradford.
“We are still at a very early stage in our development process and a number of options remain under consideration, including upgrades to the Huddersfield and Calder Valley lines.
“We are also looking at the performance benefits that a completely new line would bring.”
Andy Caton, president of the Bradford Chamber of Commerce, said the Chamber would be speaking to Transport for the North to underline the importance of taking the route through Bradford.
He said: “We welcome the investment plans to help progress the HS3 project – trans-Pennine connectivity is as important to businesses as the plans for improving north-south links.
“However, it’s important that Bradford is part of that connectivity.
“If the Northern Powerhouse is to live up to its name, genuinely boosting economic growth across the North and not simply be a vanity project to placate us, then connectivity is key – and not just reducing travel times between Leeds and Manchester.
“Bradford’s growing population, its ongoing regeneration, its ability to innovate and repeatedly produce the great businesses and entrepreneurs that it has, means that to leave it off the High Speed 3 line would be a dereliction of duty on the part of those responsible for seeing this through.”
Councillor Simon Cooke, leader of the Conservative group at Bradford Council, said the HS3 link would be even more important for the North’s economy than the HS2 route to London.
He said the point of the HS3 line was to link places together, “not to make it ever more easy not to go to Bradford”, so it was crucial they lobbied hard for the city to be included.
He said: “Let’s make sure that the Bradford option is seen as the one that is the best option in terms of linking these places together.”
And Cllr Cooke said it was also critical for the HS3 line to be fully funded and delivered as soon as possible.
He said the announcement of the £60m towards feasibility work was “real big progress”, but said: “We have got to put as much effort in for them to get the money on the table.”