Mayor and council leader urge PM to continue safeguarding vital land around Leeds Station

Mayor Tracy Brabin and Cllr James Lewis write to Rishi Sunak about threat to Leeds Station expansion

05 March 2024

The Mayor of West Yorkshire and leader of Leeds City Council have written to the Prime Minister, urging him to ensure land around Leeds Station continues to be safeguarded.

Leeds Station is at capacity, and land to the south could provide space for expansion - boosting economic growth across West Yorkshire and improving reliability across the rail network in the North.

The Mayor of West Yorkshire, Tracy Brabin, said:

"Failing to expand the capacity at Leeds Station would hold West Yorkshire and the North’s economy back for decades to come.

"We’re an economic powerhouse desperate to grow further – I'm calling on the Government to sit down and work with us to find a solution.

"Don't force us to fight with one hand tied behind our back as we seek to create a better-connected North."

Cllr James Lewis, Leader of Leeds City Council, said:

"The value of our city’s station to our economy as well as that of Yorkshire and the North cannot be overstated, and yet we are already approaching capacity.

"We must protect the limited opportunities we have to ensure the station and railway infrastructure in central Leeds can continue to grow in order to meet ever-increasing passenger demand and not become a bottleneck for other significant new schemes such as the welcome new station for Bradford and Northern Powerhouse Rail.

“It is vital that safeguarding restrictions on land around the station are extended until the current study is completed, to help ensure that opportunities to better connect our city with the wider region and the rest of the country are not lost through short-sighted decision making.”

"Failing to expand the capacity at Leeds Station would hold West Yorkshire and the North’s economy back for decades to come."

Tracy Brabin Mayor of West Yorkshire

The letter in full:

We are writing to draw your urgent attention to the future of rail connections to and capacity within Leeds City Station - the North of England’s busiest rail station – and the huge strategic risks that any hasty release of HS2 safeguarded land in Leeds would bring to securing the long-term economic potential of our railway for the North as a whole.

Plans to develop the station have been uncertain since the Government’s decision to cancel the eastern leg of HS2 in 2021 and were put further at risk by your statements last autumn to accelerate the release of land safeguarded for HS2 delivery.

Our concerns were further heightened by the Network North document published at that time which, whilst including welcome commitments to the West Yorkshire mass transit and Bradford station schemes, did not include any commitments to Leeds City Station.

Nonetheless, we had been led to believe that the Government shared our ambition to secure the right solution for Leeds and that this would be provided by thorough a robust evidence-led study of rail connectivity between the Midlands, Yorkshire and the North East (“the MYNE study”). This was required by the Transport Select Committee and committed to by the Rail Minister.

However, we now understand that a decision to release HS2 safeguarded land, that could provide new south-facing platforms and onward rail connections, is to be taken imminently, before the MYNE study has even commenced.

Leeds City Station is the busiest and most congested rail station in the North of England. Sitting at the centre of the rail network, which connects Liverpool, Manchester, York, Hull, Sheffield, Newcastle, Birmingham, and Edinburgh. As such, the station provides the same national hub role on the east of the Pennines as Manchester Piccadilly does to the west.

It is also at the most important hub for the West Yorkshire economy. Services into Leeds from Bradford, Kirklees, Wakefield, and Calderdale have shaped our modern economic footprint.

Towns such as Ilkley, Halifax and Hebden Bridge, alongside places such as Harrogate beyond our boundaries, now providing some of the greatest concentration of higher skilled communities due to their rail connections.

Collectively, Leeds City Station and its connections provide perhaps the greatest single example of how transport connectivity to our Northern cities can genuinely unlock economic agglomeration and transformation.

The city of Leeds continues to grow, with an average of 3,000 new homes delivered annually, population growth higher than the national average, and GVA projected to increase by £12.9 billion by 2040. To support this growth, Leeds rail station must expand, with passenger numbers forecast to exceed 43 million users within the next twenty years alone.

Hence, it was a major surprise that commitment to increase the capacity at the station was not part of the Network North plans. The station’s potential to secure further economic benefit is currently constrained. A third of delays on the rail network in the North can be found here, and 50% of passengers travelling through the station have their trains delayed or cancelled.

This situation will worsen if improvements are made elsewhere on the railway without addressing the Leeds hub properly.

However, the land is safeguarded by HS2 Ltd only until this Summer. We understand that a decision is in front of you to not extend this safeguarding, well ahead of the MYNE study work that is required. We are aware of some hasty work within government, with some headlines
from which DfT officials only very recently revealed to our officials. That work falls well short of the study commitments that have been made and would bring strategic risks for West Yorkshire and the North for the remainder of this century.

Therefore, we have to implore you in the strongest terms to instruct HS2 Ltd to extend the safeguarding on the corridor between Clayton Junction and Leeds City Station for a period to allow the MYNE study to be completed. We would be grateful if you could confirm this decision
at the earliest possible opportunity and would ask that you discuss with us if you are not in agreement with safeguarding the land.

We and our officials remain committed to working with you and your officials, to determine the parcels of land which needs to remain safeguarded, so not to delay disposal of land that is no longer required. We can work co-operatively on this matter to ensure the residents of Leeds, the commuters of West Yorkshire, and passengers across the North have the appropriate transport infrastructure to reach our full potential.

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