The government has committed to “a reassessment of the evidence for better connecting Bradford and the case for a new station” as part of its study on bringing High Speed 2 (HS2) services to Leeds.
The promise comes as part of its response to the Transport Select Committee’s inquiry into the government’s Integrated Rail Plan (IRP) of November 2021, which set out the government’s investment plans for HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR).
The plan was criticised by the rail sector as it rowed back on previous promises by scaling back NPR to its “core network”, curtailing the Eastern leg of HS2 in the Midlands rather than Leeds and saying that there was no business case for a new Bradford station despite analysis from Arup saying it would be a £30bn economic boost for the region.
The furore prompted the Transport Select Committee – a group of cross-party MPs – to carry out an inquiry into the IRP. The Transport Committee’s resulting report on the IRP, published in July 2022, was critical of the government, saying its decisions to slash NPR and HS2 were “underserving the rail needs of the North of England” and “letting down those who require change the most”.
The Transport Committee’s report recommended that the government be more transparent and carry out further studies and benefit cost ration analysis on the Eastern leg of HS2 and the full NPR including better links to Leeds and Bradford. It wanted these to be done expediently, within months of the report’s publication.
A year on from the report, the government has this week replied to the recommendations. Among other promises, it has committed to reassessing the case for a new Bradford station. However, this reassessment will not be its own study but will be included as part of the NPR development programme and the long-awaited study on how to connect Leeds to HS2.
The HS2 to Leeds study was a £100M promise made in the IRP as compensation for the decision to scrap new connections to the city. However, in the nearly two years since, the study has not commenced. One of the Transport Committee’s recommendations from its report was for the government to “urgently” produce a timeline for the HS2 to Leeds study by September 2022, but this did not materialise.
In its response to the inquiry, the government has now promised to deliver the “terms of reference” for the HS2 to Leeds study before summer recess, which commences on Saturday 22 July.
It said that this study will now also consider how to improve Sheffield to Leeds connectivity. It has also committed to supporting the redevelopment of Leeds station by 2035 to support HS2 and NPR services, subject to the outcomes of the HS2 to Leeds study.
The government has also revealed that, as part of its strategic outline business case for developing NPR, it has commissioned updated analysis on a range of different network options, including the potential levelling up impact on communities impacted by these different networks, such as Bradford. This analysis will compare the NPR core network, as committed in the IRP, with “relevant alternatives” and provide a fill value for money comparison. The conclusions and next steps for NPR will be published with the business case later this year.
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.
“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 Department for Transport 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.”
Transport for the North chair Lord McLoughlin said: “This is a welcome announcement by the Government and a helpful step in the right direction. Transport for the North has long called for the initial decision of the Integrated Rail Plan to be re-examined and the evidence base re-assessed.
“The strong desire of our Board is for Northern Powerhouse Rail in full and for it to be as ambitious as possible for the North, and for that to happen there needs to be a solution that best works for Bradford.
“Transport for the North continues to work closely with Government to ensure we get to the best possible evidence-led outcome for the North.”
Railway Industry Association North chair Justin Moss, said: “It is positive to see progress on the Integrated Rail Plan for the North & Midlands, and we are pleased that the UK Government is willing to reconsider the route to Bradford, which suggests that the locally preferred Northern Powerhouse Rail proposals were the right approach for levelling up.
“It is also good news that the Terms of Reference for study into the HS2 route to Leeds will be published imminently, and the plans to get HS2 trains to and from Scotland are being actively pursued.
“However, it is clearly disappointing that it has taken so long for this thinking to be shared – more than two years – and we respectfully urge the Government to be more open with its communications on rail schemes in the future, providing more visibility on the progress of these important investments. Better visibility of the Government’s future planning for rail means not just the railway supply sector benefits – supporting thousands of jobs and billions of pounds of GVA – but also the travelling public and the taxpayer, who will get the best possible value for money as we seek to build the world-class rail network we all want to see in the North of England in the years ahead.”
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