Don’t give up on Yorkshire on HS2 Premier, our ambitions deserve more – Leeds and Sheffield leaders speak out in joint editorial

Yorkshire will lose out if the eastern leg of HS2 is not fully built, Leeds and Sheffield councils warn in a major joint intervention today.

LEEDS and Sheffield are two of the country’s great cities, powered by world-class universities, home to innovative industries and only 30 miles away. Our cities have ambitions for sustainable and inclusive growth that support greater prosperity for all our communities.

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However, despite our ambitions, we have outgrown the existing railway infrastructure that we inherited from the Victorians. The continued failure to engage and prioritize investments in northern rail connectivity is causing long-term damage and limiting our economic potential and future growth.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a visit to an HS2 construction site last year.

Leeds and Sheffield share one of the poorest rail connections of any two neighboring European cities. Currently a train between Leeds and Sheffield takes at least 40 minutes and sometimes over an hour. This is compounded by the fact that services are often delayed and delayed.

In 2019, this accounted for more than a third of services. It is therefore not surprising that almost 90% of travel between our cities is done by road. Without a radical change in the quality and reliability of rail services, we will continue to be overly dependent on roads that will become increasingly congested and constrained.

Both cities have invested heavily in local transport routes, making travel through our cities faster, healthier and more efficient. There is a clear and strong need to improve rail connectivity, with rail passenger arrivals having doubled at Sheffield Midland station and tripled at Leeds City station over the past 20 years.

We are committed to ensuring prosperity and health equality for all our residents, and to supporting major international companies based in our region, by improving access to skills and supply chains. We are hugely ambitious, and to achieve these ambitions, the transport links between Leeds and Sheffield must change – and quickly. The delivery of HS2 would open up significant growth potential in the years to come.

Leeds and Sheffield councils are today challenging the government to fully build the Eatsern branch of HS2 to protect the region’s economy.

The over-reliance on cars and lorries traveling along the congested M1 is also harming our planet. Transport produces 27% of UK carbon emissions, making it our dirtiest sector. We need to implement proposals to address this issue now.

We’ve been building plans for HS2 over the past 10 years, and we mustn’t set this good work aside with more years of planning, review and delay. Building HS2 from the north and advancing the Leeds to Clayton Junction section now presents an ideal opportunity to provide 21st century rail links between Leeds and Sheffield. This will help decarbonize our transportation, radically change travel patterns between our cities, and create increased capacity that will shift cars and trucks from road to rail.

There simply isn’t enough room on our outdated rail network for intercity connections, local stopping services or increased freight between our Humber ports. Leeds City station, one of the busiest transport hubs in the North, is already at full capacity, with 50% of passengers in 2019 arriving late. Dealing with and fixing will not work.

Incremental improvements are a sticky plaster that does not solve the fundamental long-term problem of outdated rail links that lack the capacity to meet the needs of our modern and growing economy.

Yorkshire will lose out if the eastern leg of HS2 is not fully built, Leeds and Sheffield councils warn in a major joint intervention today.

As well as intercity connections, HS2 would provide many new opportunities for local rail travel, including new stations in Rotherham and the Dearne Valley, connecting more people and encouraging growth. The South Yorkshire tram-train network would also benefit from HS2, with more services required between Sheffield-Rotherham and Doncaster to meet the increased capacity HS2 would bring. In Leeds, the government’s promise to provide public transport is welcome, but with 85% of people traveling to Leeds City station from outside the district, the value of regional and national connectivity dramatically improved cannot be underestimated. Plans to improve east-west links to Manchester, including a new station in Bradford, are also essential.

The much-needed capacity that a new rail line will provide will transform our regions, and we are ready to deliver it. Investments in rail infrastructure in London and the South East have transformed their economy. Crossrail and the extended Jubilee line will further develop their economies, creating a new north-south imbalance, and the HS2 line between London and Birmingham will also help boost the Midlands economy; we must not be left behind.

HS2 is not about getting to London faster. We can dispel this myth by building from the north, advancing the Leeds-Sheffield connection. Together these proposals will unlock benefits for our region decades earlier than expected, bring about a step change in the connections between Yorkshire’s three largest cities and demonstrate how we can level the North – leaving a legacy that will last for generations. Let’s hope that the long-awaited Integrated Rail Plan gives us the opportunity.

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