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The future of transport in Leeds: Where will the city go in years to come? 12 December 2016

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Leeds City Council has announced a new transport infrastructure fund to build three train stations, but what will this mean for the future of business in the city?

Leeds City Council has announced a new plan for travel infrastructure that could greatly improve the city's position as a business hotspot and welcome investment from across the globe as it becomes more accessible and attractive as somewhere to live, work and do business.

Council leaders unveiled plans for a long-awaited travel spend, committing to putting forward £270 million. This money will be used to build an additional three train stations across the city at Leeds-Bradford Airport, White Rose Shopping Centre and the Thorpe Park area of the city, and will go a long way to aiding targets to deliver as many as 35,000 new jobs across the city.

Judith Blake, leader of Leeds City Council, called the announcement a "transformational step change", saying that it will aid job creation, productivity and economic growth in one of the north of England's most important cities.

The plans have been hailed by many as great for the future of the city as a business centre, and it's likely that improved transport links, both nationally and internationally, will improve skills and business prospects in Leeds for years to come. But just how important will this be? Could there still be more to come on top of the shake up? And how can Leeds transport infrastructure continue to deliver for the city in the years ahead?

Business prospects

There are many fantastic boosts to business prospects that are experienced by cities when transport networks are improved, both internationally and nationally, and the new plans tick a number of important boxes.

In recent years, Leeds has seen a variety of important developments, from the building of various city centre commercial spaces to the arrival of the Victoria Gate and Trinity shopping centres, which have helped make Leeds the third best place to shop in the UK. With this development having already improved Leeds' overall prospects, it's important that the transport network keeps pace to allow it to realise its potential.

For example, the Confederation of British Industries (CBI) reports that reducing the journey times between northern cities, which an improved transport system in Leeds will do, can unlock access to millions of skilled workers by opening up the city to commuters further afield.

It said in its report that better links between cities in the north could mean the region as a whole having access to as many as 16 million skilled workers in the future, which would match the volume of potential workers that live within an hour of London, showing the real employment potential Leeds, and the north as a whole, could have.

The CBI also highlighted improvements in productivity that could be welcomed through stronger transport links, saying that in Leeds alone, having journey times of 30 minutes or lower to Manchester and Sheffield could see productivity increase by ten per cent in the city, so it's clear that city leaders are spending in the right areas to improve the business potential that Leeds has.

One of the major benefits the new train stations should have in Leeds is that they could also improve its standing on a global basis. The modern world of business sees decision makers jet in and out of cities to meet with other companies, but Leeds has always been somewhat lacking in this regard.

The city's Leeds-Bradford airport serves the continent, and even the US, but has never had strong links to Leeds itself, despite having 3.3 million travellers and contributing £100 million to the region's economy.

The airport has only ever been accessible by road, leaving it lagging behind major airports such as Heathrow, Gatwick and Manchester, all of which reap the business benefits of dedicated train services.

Inner city travel

One of the main points of opposition that has been raised in the wake of the commitment to spend from the City Council is that the building of three new railway stations does not address the problem of congestion within the city.

Leeds remains the largest city in western Europe without a rapid transport system, such as a tram or underground system, and it's important, say experts, that congestion and ease of travel in the city in the future will be addressed, after the abandoning of a £173 million plan for a trolleybus system to be installed by 2021.

Councillors have said that this remains on the agenda, but added that it would not have been deliverable by 2021 anyway. However, it remains an important point to address, particularly with regards traffic around the south side of the city centre and towards the Headingley area of the city.

A report from the Guardian estimated that congestion in cities is going to cost the UK £307 billion by the end of 2030, so it's clear that there's still a conversation to be had in places like Leeds, where there's a real potential for growth in the future and an opportunity to address congestion problems for the good of the city.

However, Leeds is already taking a bold step into the future of business with its transport shake up, and with city leaders evidently behind the improvements to infrastructure that could give it a massive economic boost, there's clearly a lot of potential driving the city forward as a fantastic business hub.

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