A new station had been proposed as part of Northern Powerhouse Rail. Credit: Bradford Council

Transport Committee report raises hopes for Bradford

The Department for Transport will also kick off a new study into HS2 plans for Leeds following the committee’s second report on the Integrated Rail Plan.

Published in 2021, the IRP comprised northern sections of HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) – proposals to electrify lines and increase capacity on routes from Liverpool to Hull and Newcastle via Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds.

Bradford, long regarded as being one of the worst-connected cities in the country, was lined up for a new station on the site of St James’ Market off Wakefield Road.

The IRP also proposed upgrades for Leeds and Manchester Piccadilly stations, but much of the improvements proposed were cut off by government in late 2021 as the DfT proposed instead massively watered down plans, proposals that were greeted with dismay by business and political leaders alike.

The committee has now said that the alternative projects proposed were not properly tested at that time.

Thus, it has called for a robust reassessment of all the NPR options, leading the DfT to respond that an updated business case for the project, expected later this year, will include “updated analysis on a range of different network options” including the impact on communities such as Bradford.

The government also revealed that the terms of reference for a long-awaited study on how best to take HS2 trains to Leeds will be published before the summer recess: a development the Committee had called for “urgently” in its July 2022 report.

The DfT said: “A reassessment of the evidence for better connecting Bradford and the case for [building] a new station will now form part of the NPR development programme and the HS2 to Leeds Study.”

However, this will not happen quickly – the DfT said the study could take 18 months to complete. It will also include an updated benefit-cost ratio for the eastern leg of HS2 Phase 2b, which had been shortened to terminate at East Midlands Parkway.

The committee was critical in its report of the Government taking such major decisions before undertaking this kind of analysis.

The body had argued that DfT hadn’t properly tested alternative options to its proposals, and left out analysis of wider economic “levelling up” impacts of different options for NPR – this meant that value for money between those options could not be compared and validated. In its response the government said such studies will be undertaken as part of its Leeds to HS2 Study, and as it produces the new business case for NPR.

Transport Committee chair Iain Stewart MP said: “The main arguments of the Committee’s report have been vindicated as the Government has accepted that more work is needed on key elements of the Integrated Rail Plan – its cost-benefit ratios, contributions to levelling up, and projections on shortening journey times.

“We welcome those elements of the response, even though we regret this work was not completed before the major strategic decisions in the IRP were taken.

“We are particularly glad to see DfT taking an open-minded approach to building a new station at Bradford – sometimes dubbed the most badly connected city in the UK – and doing more analysis of a range of different network options.”

Stewart continued: “As we emphasised in our report, it is vital that the way this £96bn investment is used is based on the most robust evidence. What we will be looking for now is a willingness for the Government to change course if that is what this renewed evidence base suggests.

“It would be remiss to not point out that the Committee called on DfT crack on with these work streams months ago. The HS2 to Leeds study is now expected to take 18 months, and we are still waiting for an alternative to the Golborne Link to emerge.

“By then one can only wonder if all of this will still be achievable within the £96bn spending envelope, or whether inflation and rising interest rates will continue to cut this budget down in real terms.”

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