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FEATURE: What will Leeds actually get from transport plans?

FEATURE: What will Leeds actually get from transport plans?

The eastern leg of HS2 would have been a brand new line linking Birmingham with Leeds, via Sheffield

While it wouldn’t be too controversial a statement to say Leeds has lost out in recent Government transport announcements, it’s worth looking at what the city actually gets in terms of investment, and how things could look in the coming years.

It follows the announcement of the Government’s Integrated Rail Plan last month, which saw both the north-south Leeds leg of HS2; and the east-west Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) line plans scrapped by Whitehall.

Here’s what Leeds gets instead, and what this is likely to mean for the city and the wider region.

HS2? NPR? What rail plans have actually been scrapped?

HS2 was more than a decade in the making, and formed the flagship infrastructure scheme of David Cameron’s government. It would have seen a brand new rail line linking London to Birmingham, before splitting into two and travelling on to Manchester and Leeds separately.

Northern Powerhouse Rail was a plan that took shape under Theresa May’s government, and would have seen Hull and Liverpool connected via a brand new line, taking in Leeds, Bradford and Manchester.

It was hoped these new lines would reduce journey times with state-of-the-art high speed trains, while also alleviating rail congestion on the country’s antiquated network.

However, while the Government was happy to commit to the Birmingham-to-Manchester leg of HS2, the same was not true for the Birmingham to Leeds leg, while the brand new NPR line was scrapped altogether.

So what do we get?

The Integrated Rail Plan document revealed that the Government would “deliver the heart” of NPR, by introducing a high speed upgrade for the Transpennine line between Liverpool and Newcastle, taking in Leeds.

Although the Government claimed this would reduce Manchester-Leeds journey times to 33 minutes, the plans crucially do not involve Bradford – a city historically under-served by the UK rail network, as it remains on two branch lines.

So will we be able to get to and from Bradford any more quickly?

To remedy this problem, the plans include electrifying the current Leeds-to-Bradford rail line, which it claims would reduce the time of a non-stop journey between the two cities to just 12 minutes.

Currently, a train from Leeds to Bradford takes around 20-25 minutes.

So what about HS2 – do we get anything at all?

This is where it gets a bit murky.

The plans state that HS2 trains would run between Sheffield and London, but only on upgraded, existing lines, while a “speeded and upgraded” east coast main line would reduce journey times between Leeds and London by about 20 minutes.

However, the Government also pledged £100m to go towards a study looking into how best to get HS2 trains into Leeds, meaning it is still unclear as to what will Leeds gets in the long-run.

It is hoped this money will also be used to see how capacity at Leeds Rail Station can be increased – which has long been a problem for the site.

What about this mass transit system?

Such a scheme has become a holy grail in Leeds in recent years, with decades-long history of new plans never quite getting over the finish line.

Blueprints were revealed earlier this year, however, which would see regional leaders to have another bash at a mass transit scheme, this time with neighbouring towns and cities also proposed to benefit from new lines.

While it is still unclear what form the transport would take, it is likely that it would be some kind of tram or light rail system.

The IRP has pledged £100m towards this, and says it hopes some form of the scheme will be “operational in the second half of this decade”.

Is this definitely going to happen, then?

It seems so, but West Yorkshire leaders have since said they would challenge the plans.

In addition to that, Leeds’s top civil servant has recently spoke out about the IRP, claiming the effects of policy decisions on Leeds Station can have an effect on the whole country.

Leeds City Council Chief Executive Tom Riordan told a meeting earlier this month: “We have planned the city for 10 years on the basis of a national scheme coming forward, and it is now looking like it has changed.

“We need to ensure we don’t get into this position again. We can have a much stronger, more joined up partnership with government and our regional partners to improve transport in the city and the wider region.

“If 50 per cent of trains are late in Leeds Station, it has a knock on effect on the country, which is why it is really important.”

Words: Richard Beecham, Local Democracy Reporter


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