Plans unveiled recently for a brand-new railway station for Bradford as part of the Northern Powerhouse Rail network would form the heart of a bold plan to transform the city centre.
Business and community leaders have united to try and ensure that city and the district doesn’t miss out when the Government makes the decision shortly on the final route.
Damian Holmes takes a look for Bradford Means Business at why the proposed new station on the site of St James’ Market could put Bradford at the heart of a resurgent north.
Plans for a brand-new railway station in Bradford city centre have been drawn up as the battle continues for the city to be included on the Northern Powerhouse Railway.
The state-of-the-art station would replace Bradford Interchange and would slash journey times to Leeds to just seven minutes and reduce the travel time to Manchester to 22 minutes.
It would open up the Interchange site as a valuable development opportunity in the city centre and represents an opportunity to transform the centre of Bradford.
Unveiling the plans last month, Susan Hinchcliffe, Leader of Bradford Council, said: “We stand on the cusp of a fantastic opportunity for this city to grow and fulfil its destiny.”
She called on the Government to commit investment to the project, which she said would see the economy of Bradford increase by a third.
The new Bradford NPR station is supported by Transport for the North, Network Rail, West Yorkshire Combined Authority, Northern Powerhouse Partnership and a host of other organisations and private sector businesses across the North.
The station would allow Bradford to become an economic twin with neighbouring Leeds – creating an ‘economic twin’ model bringing together complementary strengths and providing an example for for the rest of the UK.
Councillor Hinchcliffe said: “Here in Bradford, we’ve often felt like the north’s forgotten city.
“As we continue to battle the Covid pandemic, we are also planning for our future. A future where Bradford can only take its place in a successful north if better connected to its nearest neighbour in Leeds and become the gateway for the people of West Yorkshire and beyond to the great cities of Manchester and Liverpool.
“The children of the pandemic deserve better for their working lives. They deserve a first stop on NPR, trusting this council to deliver the way we have been, recognised by Government for delivering in response to the pandemic.
“Bradford has developed a vision together with and supported by private sector partners and experts. Bradford must be on this rail link. The north could become as economically vibrant as the south.
“Putting the North’s most diverse and youngest city at the heart of its economic future rather than being disconnected and excluded is the right vision for this new era of new Britain.”
The man tasked with overseeing the district’s economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic has added his voice to the chorus demanding Bradford be included on NPR.
Professor Zahir Irani, Deputy Vice-Chancellor at the University of Bradford, is the chair of Bradford Economic Recovery Board, which recently published its strategy on the way forward for the city in the wake of Covid 19.
Professor Irani said: “The proposed new Bradford station is an op to reshape the city centre, to attract intellectual, cultural and financial investment; to create opportunities for young people and to put Bradford at the heart of the Northern Powerhouse.
“The business community has a major role to play to help make this vision a reality. The new station will be the focal point for a new city centre quarter which should complement not compete with other parts of the city.
“There will be an innovation district, capable of regenerating the heart of the city, fostering an economic system of start-ups and spin outs.
“Our bold new offer will attract a mix of residential, education, health, and technology offerings both in and around the station. This will complement other exciting developments which will effectively create a cultural quarter that currently includes the Alhambra, the Science Museum and off course Bradford Live.”
He said: “This vision for a transformed Bradford must be at the centre of a bold, ambitious plan for both public and private sector investors to back our district, back our recovery.”
One of the region’s biggest companies, Yorkshire Water, has given its backing to the proposal for the new station and the closer links it will help foster with Leeds.
Liz Barber, CEO of Yorkshire Water, said: “As a business that employs right across the region, we understand how labour markets work and how important it is that we have access to the right talent – but also, importantly, that they have access to us.
“Bringing together Leeds and Bradford to act as one economy, growing together and benefitting from the complementary strength of each another will be a fantastic enabler for growth in the region.”
And Councillor James Lewis, leader of Leeds City Council, said: “These station plans are really exciting, not just for Bradford but for the Leeds City Region as a whole.
“Quicker journey times between Leeds and Bradford would make a real difference to people living and working in both of these great cities.
“Proposals like the new Bradford station are also a clear indication of how Northern Powerhouse Rail and HS2 could meet the demands of 21st century life and help unlock the economic potential of communities across West Yorkshire and beyond.
“Improved connectivity and capacity on our railways is vitally needed and would create thousands of new jobs – a welcome prospect as Leeds and the wider city region looks to recover from the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
His view was backed by Tom Riordan, chief executive of Leeds City Council, who said: “This positive proposal is a reminder of the transformative effects that can be brought about by investment in transport infrastructure.
“Northern Powerhouse Rail and HS2, along with upgrades to our existing network, would be key building blocks for a genuinely bright future for the region as a whole.
“Given Bradford’s scale, potential and growing young population, it makes absolute sense to strengthen the connections between the two city economies and reap the maximum benefits from opportunities such as Northern Powerhouse Rail.
“Major rail schemes in Leeds such as the Leeds Bradford Airport Parkway and Thorpe Park stations are already taking shape and we look forward to seeing Bradford’s plans developing in the same way.”
Roger Marsh OBE, Chair of the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership and NP11 group of northern local enterprise partnerships, agreed, saying: “Bradford’s huge potential to deliver for the North and the UK as a whole will only be maximised by improvements in its transport connections opening up new opportunities for investment and job creation.
Councillor Hinchcliffe said: “We understand that Government considers the underground option at the Interchange site too costly for Northern Powerhouse Rail. So we’ve looked for an alternative central Bradford site which would could be more easily connected to NPR.
“We now have a station site, on the edge of the city centre and at the heart of our Southern Gateway regeneration area, that is viable, deliverable and within our control.
“We’re embarking on master planning work to consider how the new station will expand the commercial centre of the city and connect to the existing civil, leisure and retail core. We are confident a new railway route and track can be identified and created – without affecting existing services and stations and with no disruption to travellers while it is constructed.
“We have a compelling case that shows Bradford city centre on a new line is the strongest of all shortlisted options from Manchester to Leeds – achieving the highest number of jobs, the most trips, the highest impact on the local economy and the greatest regeneration benefits.
“What more does the Government need to give us the green light for this transformational project?”
The six-acre St James’s Market site at Essex Street is owned by the Council and is opposite the Cineworld cinema, just a short walk from the Interchange station that it would eventually replace. It is also just off the A650 Wakefield Road and is only minutes away from the M606 link to the motorway network.
Coun Hinchcliffe said the council would now conduct a site selection for other places across Bradford where Saint James’s Wholesale Market could expand and grow – currently it is fully let with no opportunity to expand despite strong demand – and would work with traders to deliver that.
St James is the largest wholesale market in the Yorkshire and North East region and one potential possibility being looked at is creating a northern food hub with a new larger and more accessible modern wholesale market being centre stage, creating more jobs, strengthening local and regional food distribution as well as market access for regional food producers.
Cllr Hinchcliffe said: “We are very proud to have one of the largest wholesale markets in the North of England and are committed to that continuing in Bradford. Indeed we want to enable it to develop further and prosper and become one of the most pre-eminent wholesale markets in the country.
“St James’s Market is outgrowing its current location and we will work with the traders to find a new, bigger and better, site in the district when it’s needed. We would not envisage work on the station starting before 2024-25 to be open for 2030.
“Over time the Interchange rail station would close with all train and bus services moving to the new St James station. The new station and Forster Square would be connected to each other as part of the West Yorkshire mass transit plan, integrating with the bus and road networks, as well as safe cycling and walking routes.
“This is an exciting development that I hope everyone in the district will see the advantages of and voice their support, so that the Government also backs it.
“Bradford has developed a vision, together with and supported by private sector partners and experts,” she continued.
“Bradford must be on this rail link – the north, which has traditionally performed sluggishly in productivity terms, could with this investment become as economically vibrant as the south.”