by Chris Holland Business Reporter Extending the proposed High Speed Rail 2 link to West Yorkshire would damage Bradford's regeneration and accelerate the city's decline, a former rail industry chief has claimed.

Phase one of the £33 billion high-speed rail link, between London and Birmingham, is due to start operating in 2026 and the government says this would be followed by a second phase of the Y-shaped route reaching Manchester and Leeds by about 2033.

A consultation on the second phase will begin in early 2014, with a final route chosen by the end of that year.

In a speech to the Railway Study Association, Chris Stokes, former executive director of the Strategic Rail Authority claimed it would be better financially, operationally and envrionmentally to improve the existing network.

Dropping the HS2 scheme would free up resources to improve ‘Cinderella’ networks in the North and Midlands and boost capacity on overcrowded routes.

He said: “On regeneration, I know of no serious academics who support the view HSR will significantly reduce the North-South divide. Most research indicates the dominant ‘hub’ city benefits more than regional centres and in the regions the impact is likely to be a zero sum game.

“A Leeds HSR station would probably be surrounded by shiny new office blocks, but investment in West Yorkshire would be focused there, and the relative decline of Bradford would accelerate.”

Mr Stokes advocated introducing 12-car trains with one fewer first class carriage to create more standard capacity on existing routes, along with targeted investment to clear bottlenecks to increase service frequencies and free up additional capacity for freight.

“Such an approach would deliver much better value for passengers, taxpayers and the North,” he said.

Councillor David Green, leader of Bradford Council said the authority broadly backed the HS2 project but was focusing on working with other local councils to develop an integrated infrastructure policy and a £1 billion West Yorkshire transport fund.

He said: “Our priority is to improve North-South, East-West rail and transport links to and from Bradford to enable people and businesses to benefit from a much improved infrastructure.”

Mike Cartwright, policy executive at Bradford Chamber of Commerce, said HS2 was not ‘top of the shopping list’' for local businesses. Overall, the chamber supported the project but there were concerns about the cost .

“BWe're expecting the location of the HS2 Leeds station soon and if that's east of Leeds then it would be less beneficial to Bradford,” he said.

e-mail: chris.holland