An ambitious proposal for a cross-rail link through Bradford has created deep divisions in opinion across Bradford, with some describing it as “absolutely essential” to the city and others branding it “wildly optimistic”.
The plan, unveiled yesterday by businessmen Andrew Mason and John Pennington, would replace the Interchange and Forster Square rail stations with a new glass-sided four-track central station on a new viaduct across Leeds Road, linking into the planned Westfield retail mall.
Today, Councillor Chris Greaves, deputy chairman of transport authority Metro and a Conservative councillor on Bradford Council, said: “The present view of Bradford Council and Metro is that it’s a non-starter.
“But I have passed the report on to Metro officers and asked them to prepare an urgent report to see if the latest submission changes things. So we have not discounted it and are looking at it.
“The main issue will be cost. The estimate of £100 million is wildly optimistic because you don’t get much for £100 million these days.
“The station at Apperley Bridge is about £8 million and the new entrance at Leeds Station is £15 million, so if you look at these comparatively small changes, how do you build a mile of new track, a new station, viaduct and electrification for £100 million?
“What’s more, the previous secretary of the Treasury said there’s no money left.”
Coun Greaves also questioned the practicalities of linking the fully electrified lines to the north of the district with the non-electrified lines to the south.
He said: “Do you say that the trains using the Airedale and Wharfedale lines at the moment, which are electric 333s, have to be replaced by old diesels?
“Will this really help Bradford? If anything there’s a danger it might actually hurt Bradford because people would just get on a train and go straight through.”
But Shipley MP Philip Davies said: “I am a big fan of the plan. When we are trying to attract investment to Bradford, it’s the communication links that are absolutely essential, so something like this has the potential to transform Bradford’s economy.”
When asked about the funding, Mr Davies said: “We are in a tough economic climate and it’s not going to be easy to pay for, but the first step is to get everyone signed up to the fact that it’s a good idea first.”
James Vasey, chairman of Bradford Rail Users’ Group, said: “It’s a very well planned proposal which has taken time, effort and money. It’s something the rail users’ group supports because it would be a new hub for transport in Bradford.
“We know we’re in a tight situation nationally, but if we can come back with a regeneration argument there will still be money around.”
Bradford East MP David Ward said: “I welcome this because we need some fresh thinking. We are in the doldrums in respect of that part of the city centre.”
In terms of funding, he said the Liberal Democrat manifesto suggested that money for major road schemes should be redirected into public transport and specifically the rail network, re-balancing the economy with more ‘green jobs’.
Bradford West MP Marsha Singh said: “The political reality is that we are going to face major cuts that will affect each part of society, including local authorities who will find it difficult to protect front-line services.
“To resurrect this project at a time when £6 billion of cuts are imminent is going to prove pretty futile.”
His fellow Labour MP, Gerry Sutcliffe, who represents Bradford South, was more optimistic.
He said: “It’s a feasible scheme and I would support it because it’s a chance to get regeneration moving again in Bradford.”
When asking about funding, Mr Sutcliffe said: “We would have to look to Metro and the Department for Transport.”
Rupert Brennan Brown, of Grand Central, which starts operating direct trains between Bradford and London tomorrow, said: “These plans are certainly ambitious but anything that enhances connection and interchange facilities between Bradford’s two railway stations would be welcomed by rail users.”
Carolyn Watson, of Northern Rail, the biggest train operating company in the district, said: “We’re open to discussion to help develop these proposals, which are at a very early stage, with implementation over a decade away.
“We would be looking to determine what service pattern would serve any new station, while ensuring the city does not lose the excellent rail links it already has.”
A spokesman for Network Rail, which owns and operates Britain’s rail infrastructure, said: “We are aware of this local aspiration and it has been raised before.
“However, such a scheme is likely to cost multi millions, for which we are not funded.
“If the interested parties have a detailed feasibility study and have identified potential funding sources we would be more than happy to speak to them.”
Chris Aldred, administrator of Bradford Cathedral, said the schemes had pluses and minuses.
He said plus points included the fact it made use of part of the Broadway area, would allow people to access the proposed shopping development without using their cars and would connect two railway dead ends that were just a short distance apart.
But on the issue of the proposed route, which passes close to the front of the Cathedral, Mr Aldred said: “I can’t quite see trains just trundling beneath the Cathedral because that would cut us off even more from the city. We are keen to have a look at the proposals in more detail.”
Councillor Dave Green, regeneration spokesman for the Council’s Labour group, said: “It’s something that the Labour group would look at and consider, but if it proves to be financially impossible then we have to ask if we should be putting time and resources into it when we have got other pressing priorities across the district.”
He added that “much more detail” was needed about the scheme.