I am a train enthusiast. There, I have confessed, although most of my colleagues in Leeds have known this for years. It is only a coincidence that our new offices are at Platform, immediately above the station, I promise.
Last week the Leeds economy and its profile received a considerable boost with the induction into passenger service of the new LNER Azuma trains, supplementing the old 125 and 225 intercity trains which have been a mainstay of the Leeds to London line for upwards of 30 years. The aim of the new Azuma train programme is to boost capacity (estimated at an additional 28% when in full service) and ultimately to reduce journey times. Unfortunately the new speedier timetable is unlikely to be introduced until December 2020, to allow time for all of the new trains to come in to service (one a week during 2019). But it will mean there will be 65 trains running from London northwards along the east coast mainline compared with the current 45. The help service this, a new £80million train depot has opened in Doncaster to house the new rolling stock. Have a look at it out of the window on the eastern side of the tracks next time you’re speeding through. It’s enormous.
The new trains are built by Hitachi and are inspired by the Japanese bullet trains, although that is where the comparison ends. Japanese bullet trains run consistently at 200 mph; the Azuma will have a line speed of 125 mph. Whilst that may seem modest, it’s the advertised acceleration that I’m excited about. It’s notable that the trains have been built in the north at Newton Aycliffe in County Durham with around 70% of the parts having been sourced from in and around the north-east. Who says British manufacturing is dead!
The new Azuma trains will also improve connections to a number of other northern cities with direct services by state-owned LNER to Middlesbrough and Huddersfield planned this year and additional direct services to Lincoln (from September 2019), Harrogate (from December 2019) and Bradford (from May 2020). The Azuma can run on diesel or electric power and can thus reach parts of the northern network that haven’t previously been possible by the electrified 225s. Signs then that the government‘s intentions for the Northern Powerhouse are not dead, even if serious plans to improve connectivity east to west remain on the drawing board.
Whilst we in Leeds remain sceptical about HS2 and whether it will ever arrive here (the latest estimate is 2033 and £56bn) the city welcomes this recent improved rail connectivity with open arms. The recent announcement of the relocation of Channel 4 to the city, together with a number of other Government office relocations has meant that the Leeds office market is booming. It’s expected that the Channel 4 stimulus will bring an even stronger creative economy to the city to supplement its long-standing position as a leading financial and legal services centre.
Likewise Leeds’ popularity as a student destination has never been so high with eight applications per available place at Leeds University and the number of new city centre residential proposals increases monthly. It’s just a shame that we have failed, yet again, to introduce a new football team into the Premiership.
To accommodate rail growth and the 31 million passengers who come through Leeds station every year, I’m looking down from my office onto a major new refurbishment of the concourse at the station as well as a significant remodelling of the western approach. This is being completely re-designed to allow the track to follow a simpler and more logical layout, reduce delays and also install a new platform on the site of the Riverside car park. All of this is expected to be completed during 2021, irrespective of how HS2 plays out.
To underscore the power of rail, it’s a little known fact outside of the region that the Leeds and Bradford metropolitan areas welcomed three brand new railway stations in the last three years at Kirkstall Forge, Low Moor and Apperley Bridge. Kirkstall Forge station has kick-started a £400m urban neighbourhood by CEG extending the “city centre“ through a four-minute rail journey from Leeds city station to the new rail halt. Phase one of the new development is now completed with some significant office tenants such as Mercedes, BUPA and Zenith. It’s unlikely they would have chosen a decentralised location were it not for the railway.
The Leeds economy is expected to grow by about 8.5% in the next five years which will make it one of the fastest growing city economies in Europe. The railway is playing its part in this growth at a time when (sometimes justifiably) it too often gets a kicking. In the month when the north has welcomed such long-awaited shiny trains, I think it’s time we all became train enthusiasts.
Notes to editor
Andrew joined Allsop from Chestertons in 2002 to head up the Allsop Leeds office. He is also Non-executive Chairman of the firm’s residential property management subsidiary, Allsop Letting and Management.
He has 30 years’ experience in all aspects of the residential investment and development markets. Has advised on a variety of major investment transactions including take-overs and stock exchange reporting. Day to day work includes the valuation of a variety of residential property and portfolios for loan security, tax, litigation and accounts purposes. Andrew also advises a number of student accommodation Funds on portfolio value.
You can contact Andrew for advice at email@example.com or call him on +44 (0)113 236 6670