Back on track? Transforming the North with Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR)
A major project to connect cities across the north of England still hangs in the balance, as a change in leadership threatens to once again U-turn on proposed plans.
Ardent’s Lee Hartigan, Associate Director and Land Referencing Regional Lead for North East, Yorkshire & the Humber, discusses the impact that Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) could potentially have on the north of England and its economic growth.
”Politics aside, one thing that I do agree with George Osbourne on is the need for Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) to progress. His comments in a recent interview with Andrew Neil encompass the thoughts of many people across several of our Northern cities.
“I think abandoning Northern Powerhouse Rail would be a betrayal of the North, and there’s no fiscal reason that you have to cancel a big long-term infrastructure project like that. In ‘Austerity 1.0’ when I was there, we managed to go ahead with HS2, with the Elizabeth Line in London and the new nuclear power plant in Somerset. So, there’s absolutely no fiscal reason why they have to abandon Northern Powerhouse Rail as it’s vital to the connections of the East, West, across the North as well as North-South down the country.”
Whoever is in charge of the country in 6 weeks, 6 months, or 6 years’ time, it does not matter, as we all need to get behind a project that would help to transform the North and really bring about some much-needed ‘Levelling Up’.
In responding to reports that NPR is again in a position to be axed, Chair of Transport for the North (TfN), Lord McLoughlin, said: “TfN Members are clear that building NPR in full via Bradford is the best option to provide the solution to the capacity constraints on our rail network and underpin the long-term sustainable economic growth for our region.”
Originally from the North-West and living between Liverpool, Warrington, and Manchester, I made the move to West Yorkshire in 2019 having been part of setting up and running Ardent’s Leeds office since 2016. During this time, I commuted heavily from the North-West and got to experience on a regular first-hand basis just how time-consuming and inconsistent rail travel over the Pennines can be.
Now residing in between Bradford and Leeds and becoming an honouree ‘Bradfordian’, I also now have first-hand experience of how local travel and connectivity in West Yorkshire needs to be improved. Neither of Bradford’s train stations are ‘through stations’ and it is widely recognised that putting a city centre ‘through station’ in Bradford, on a mainline NPR route between Manchester and Leeds is the key to opening up much wider regeneration of the city and district. Let’s look at the facts:
- Bradford is the 5th largest metropolitan authority in England with a growing population of 542,100
- 26.3% of the population are aged under 18 compared with 21.4% nationally making Bradford the youngest city in the UK
The Leader of City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council, Councillor Susan Hinchcliffe’s feelings are clear “What Bradford needs now is better connectivity. We need to make smart investments that unlock the city’s long-term potential. A NPR station in Bradford city centre would be transformational for the city, West Yorkshire, and the North. It would bring more than 6.7 million people and an area of over £167bn of annual economic output within a 35-minute journey of central Bradford – tripling the population and economy within reach of Bradford currently.”
In early October (2022), when then Prime Minister Liz Truss stated that NPR would be back on the table, Henri Murison, Chief Executive of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, said: “Getting clarity on what exactly Northern Powerhouse Rail will entail is essential for businesses looking to invest here.” and “Putting Bradford on NPR would correct one of the biggest mistakes from the Integrated Rail Plan – its young, diverse population and dynamic economy are hugely constrained by woeful transport links.”
Analysis undertaken for ‘Bradford and Northern Powerhouse Rail’, a report by design experts Arup’s, goes further and builds a compelling case for investment. Once built the station could:
- Boost Bradford’s economy by almost £30bn over a decade
- Bring 6.7 million people and an area of over £167bn of annual economic output within a 35-minute journey of central Bradford.
- Create 27,000 new jobs
- Generate a 10% uplift in land values
- Unlock 1.3m additional accessible jobs within 90 minutes of Bradford
At Ardent we seek to deliver life-improving change for communities and future generations. Northern Powerhouse Rail, unlike many other large-scale infrastructure projects, appears to be one of those ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunities to make a real difference for millions of people across the North.
This is certainly the case with Bradford, which is a city in desperate need of regeneration to unlock its economic growth. Without huge investments like that of NPR, a city such as Bradford will always be constrained by its transport links. For now, we wait for Jeremy Hunt’s autumn fiscal statement on 17th November (2022) and hope the Government do not swing the axe on NPR once again.”