Northern Powerhouse Rail could boost economy by £22bn in next three decades


One key section of Northern Powerhouse Rail alone could deliver a £22bn boost to the Northern economy by 2060 – nearly £8bn more than previously forecast – according to a new report from global engineering consultancy Mott MacDonald.

A new high-speed rail link between Leeds, Bradford and Manchester could potentially increase productivity by 6% (equivalent to £16.5bn), raise the employment rate by 1.5% (equivalent to £5.5bn), and increase gross value added (GVA) in the North by about 8% over 10 years.

The report, which is being launched today {Tuesday 12 October} in Leeds, says that traditional cost-benefit analysis, has failed to recognise the true economic potential of the scheme.

When simultaneous action across skills, planning, utility provision, education, tourism, leisure and industrial policy is taken into account, billions more could be added to the Northern economy through delivery of Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR).

When taken together, the leading city regions of the North have a higher population than London, but generate less than half the economic output.  

Creating better connectivity across the North of England through a new high-speed rail network was at the heart of then-Chancellor George Osborne’s original Northern Powerhouse vision; first proposed in 2014.

Since then, the government has recommitted to delivering the project on a number of occasions, including in Boris Johnson’s first visit to the North as Prime Minister in 2019, but construction has still not been given the green light to commence. 

An announcement on NPR was expected in the Prime Minister’s speech at the Conservative Party Conference last week, however the Integrated Rail Plan (IRP) remains unpublished more than ten months after it was promised.

Northern leaders have expressed their frustration over repeatedly delays to the IRP, originally due to be published at the end of last year, arguing that confusion and uncertainty is undermining business confidence in the region.

Henri Murison, director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership (NPP), said: “The North is still waiting for the high-speed rail we were promised. Building Northern Powerhouse Rail across the Pennines in full through Bradford would be transformative for our region, attracting investment and creating jobs and opportunities for local people.

“Uncertainty over rail investment, in particular the Eastern Leg of HS2, is doing huge damage to our economy. We need to start building from the North down from Leeds to reach Sheffield to unlock connectivity benefits sooner.

“This is vital to releasing much-needed capacity on the rail line, improving local connections and allowing more goods to be transported by freight instead of heavily-polluting HGV lorries.

“Levelling up cannot and will not happen without the full delivery of HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail together.”

Cathy Travers, Managing Director, UK and Europe, Mott MacDonald, said: ‘’Many of us who live and work in the North of England understand the untapped potential that we have across the region. We know that we need true connectivity to unleash that potential and enhance peoples’ opportunities and drive better social outcomes.

“Northern Powerhouse Rail is a catalyst for this change and we need it urgently. In this report we have applied Mott MacDonald’s leading expertise in economic analysis and our experience of infrastructure investment to show the full economic benefit of delivering a new rail link between Leeds, Bradford and Manchester as the first step in kickstarting a northern renaissance. I believe our paper makes a compelling case for Government backing for Northern Powerhouse Rail in the forthcoming Integrated Rail Plan.”

Jason Longhurst, Strategic Director of Place at Bradford Council, said: “We warmly welcome the findings of Mott MacDonald’s report as it provides further evidence that a new city centre station in Bradford is essential for levelling up and unlocking the economic potential of the north by dramatically increasing the availability of talent between Leeds, Bradford and Manchester.

“As Britain’s seventh largest but worst connected major city Bradford should be the poster child for levelling up our country. While Northern Powerhouse Rail will revolutionise the life, work and leisure opportunities available to people and businesses across the north of England it is true to say that the city which will be most transformed by these better rail connections is Bradford.  

“The creation of a new city centre station in Bradford provides exceptional value for money as the increased economic growth it brings is 60 times greater than the cost of the station. There is a compelling case for a new city centre station to be made a priority in the Integrated Rail Plan to better connect Bradford to Leeds and Manchester which will start boosting the economy of the north more quickly and unlock a regeneration area three times larger than Canary Wharf in Bradford’s Southern Gateway.

“Bradford and Leeds currently have the highest number of commuter road trips between British cities. A new city centre station in Bradford will dramatically cut the 44,000 daily car journeys between Leeds and Bradford further build on our holistic clean growth plans which received a large boost two weeks ago when the council approved the creation of the UK’s largest clean growth testbed at Esholt, which will deliver 100,000m2 of workspace for biotech, cleantech and agritech businesses.”

Read the full report below.

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