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

Under-fire Sunak reveals Network North package, region responds

With criticism raining down from metro mayors and other leaders over the axing of HS2, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak declared that “every penny” of the £36bn saved would be spent on regional transport.

Bradford could yet be a winner, with Sunak suggesting that a new station – potentially the Northern Powerhouse project already proposed on the site of St James’ Market off Wakefield Road – might become a reality as part of a £2bn investment that could also bring about a new connection to Manchester via Huddersfield, halving journey times and adding frequency.

Across Yorkshire and the Humber, the projects – most of them familiar in some form – as set out by the Department for Transport are:

  • £2.5bn for the West Yorkshire mass transit system. The government said that Leeds “will no longer be the biggest European city without a mass-transit system”, with up to seven lines potentially created as part of a transformed network, eventually linking Leeds to Bradford, Halifax, Huddersfield, and Wakefield.
  • Hull brought into the proposed Northern Powerhouse Rail network, reducing journey time to Leeds from 58 minutes to just 48 and increasing the number of trains between Hull and Sheffield. Journeys from Hull to Manchester would drop from 107 to 84 minutes, enabling two fast trains to Leeds.
  • Electrification and upgrade of the Sheffield-Leeds line, aimed at giving passengers a choice of three to four fast trains an hour with journey times cut from 40 to 30 minutes. A new mainline station for Rotherham could also be added to the route.
  • Hope Valley Line between Manchester and Sheffield electrified and upgraded, theoretically cutting journey times from 51 to 42 minutes, and increasing the number of fast trains on the route from two to three per hour, doubling capacity.
  • Reopening train lines, possibly to include the restoration of the Don Valley Line between Stocksbridge and Sheffield Victoria, and new stations at Haxby Station, near York, Waverley, near Rotherham, and the Don Valley Line from Sheffield to Stocksbridge.
  • Contactless and smart ticketing: £100m will be shared across the North and Midlands to support the development and roll-out of London-style contactless and smart ticketing.
  • Nearly £4bn to better connect Northern city areas, potentially covering schemes such as bus rapid transit corridors in Bradford and Leeds.
  • A £2.5bn fund to transform local transport in 14 rural areas, which could cover projects like more electric buses in Harrogate and a better bus-rail interchange in Scarborough.
  • £460m for smaller road schemes across the North, such as the Shipley Eastern Bypass, near Bradford, while a £1bn roads package could fund schemes like the A1-A19 Hickleton Bypass in Doncaster.
  • £3.3bn for pothole work.
  • £2 bus fare extended until the end of December 2024
  • £1.4bn for South Yorkshire from savings from HS2 and the City Regional Sustainable Settlement
  • £1.3bn for West Yorkshire, including a £500m down-payment for the West Yorkshire Mass Transit.

The region reacts

After the Yorkshire leg of HS2 was discarded two years ago, followed this week by the North West’s leg, does the region believe it will ever get the large-scale investment it requires?

Cllr James Lewis, leader of Leeds City Council, struck a note of caution. He said: “We are extremely disappointed about government’s decision to cancel HS2 and only cautiously welcome today’s announcements of investment in our transport infrastructure, because commitment to delivering mass transit and Northern Powerhouse Rail has been made numerous times before.

“We are understandably keen to work with government to understand the detail behind these announcements, how and when these will be achieved, the wider impact of these proposals, and how they will amount to a real-terms increase in investment in our city and region.”

In Cllr Lewis’s view, there are still projects not yet given enough consideration that are of equal importance. He continued: “The news that the Sheffield-Leeds line is to be electrified and upgraded is welcomed because of the benefits this will bring for our two cities and our neighbouring communities, but we also need upgrades to the East Coast Main Line to deliver an improved service to London on what will be our only rail link.

“Alongside this we are concerned about the lack of any mention of a new railway station in Leeds, which has always been a key part of our discussions with government around how we transform local and regional rail connectivity.

“Leeds plays a critical role in UK rail connectivity, where usage has trebled in the last 25 years and post-pandemic demand is above the national average. At this rate our station will reach capacity in the next decade. Failing to invest in a new station on the site originally proposed for HS2 adjacent to the existing station will hamper regional and national economic growth, and we will continue to champion this cause to government.”

The leader added that issues need to be resolved around land safeguarded for future rail growth, potentially freeing up further space for investment in the city.

Could West Yorkshire’s mass transit system now find the support it needs? Credit: WYCA documents

West Yorkshire Mayor Tracy Brabin met the Prime Minister’s announcement with some cynicism, tweeting that the loss of HS2 is “yet another betrayal of the North”.

She continued: “As we have found with this government, the devil is in the detail and we can’t take them at their word. Northern transport investment requires long-term planning and conversations with local leaders who know their areas best.”

Cllr Matt Edwards, leader of the Green Party on Bradford Council and the party’s transport and healthy streets spokesperson, said: “This is just a rebranded reannouncement of policies the Tories have already scrapped. Bradford has been promised faster trains to Manchester for decades – I will believe it when I see it. What’s worse, the Tories want to divert money from rail to road building.”

Tim Heatley, co-founder of developer Capital&Centric, which is behind two Sheffield projects, described HS2 as the “major prize” and said that the decision will really hurt not only Manchester, but the North”.

Heatley acknowledged the work being done in regional communities by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities, but said that action is need quickly if the Government is serious about improving Northern transport.

He said: “Any re-allocation of funding as part of Network North needs to be fast-tracked so that Northern communities aren’t waiting decades to see projects delivered, which would only widen the productivity divide. Absolute certainty is needed on funded projects so councils can build their growth strategies and regeneration priorities around new those new links.”

This is an evolving story and we will be updating this post accordingly.

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