Why the Leeds and Bradford tram proposals are a blueprint for future city connection and regeneration

The recent announcement of a £2.5bn mass transit system between Leeds and Bradford has highlighted the government's intention to develop tram systems in some of the UK's key cities.

As the biggest infrastructure project West Yorkshire has seen since the development of the motorways six decades ago, there are undoubtedly exciting opportunities ahead. Matt Rudman, regional director for transport and mobility planning at SLR Consulting, takes a closer look at what these opportunities may be, and what they could mean for the region, as well as further afield.

As we head towards a general election, the current government's public transport legacy is likely to be tied to HS2 and its implications. Infrastructure industry experts have reflected on mixed sentiment with the announcement of 'Network North' to replace the northern leg of the high-speed rail project, which would have run through Leeds, the Pennines and through to Manchester, but recent regional plans for the £2.5bn tram link for Leeds and Bradford have been well received in West Yorkshire.

Leeds in particular is an important transport hub for links to the rest of the north and beyond, so it's important it has robust and appropriate infrastructure in place to play its part. Generally speaking, heavy rail infrastructure in Leeds and Bradford works well but during the tram proposal consultations it became clear that capacity constraints of the road system were causing problems by limiting the scope of wider regeneration efforts across both cities. There is also a fast-growing population in the two cities, and therefore new housing is needed to support those moving into, and growing up within the area. With this in mind, local government has had to think laterally about other modern methods of transport and how they can be considered in the wider mass transit strategy for the region.

To address this, a design for a two-line tram system has recently been announced, which will link the cities and across Leeds. This is fantastic progress for the region which has seen a number of false starts, including a Trolleybus scheme that was scrapped eight years ago.


Having a modern, clean and environmentally friendly method of transport that is widely accessible is clearly going to be hugely beneficial for the region, but there are also a number of positives to the scheme that may not be immediately obvious.

It's clear that the scheme developers have learnt from past mistakes in that the proposed routes are ideally placed to benefit as many areas and people as possible. The first phase – provisionally labelled the Leeds Line – is planned to link St James' Hospital through to Leeds city centre, then on to Elland Road stadium before terminating at the White Rose shopping centre.

As well as connecting the city to both acute hospitals and two key locations – the stadium and the shopping centre – that have significant footfall, this line also better serves growing suburbs such as Morley; Cottingley and Burmantofts, guaranteeing good patronage and revenue for the system and enabling growth at these nodes.

The Bradford Line would then run from Leeds city centre to Bradford city centre – also linking Bradford Forster Square station with the Interchange and the site of a new Bradford rail station. This will have a significant positive impact on the proposed regeneration of Bradford's southern gateway, launched in November last year with the aim of providing new health facilities, shopping areas, employment sites and thousands of new homes.

With my experience of working on projects in West Yorkshire for a number of years I am aware that this approach has been needed for a while to unlock the potential of many communities which have been held back by poor transport links. Leeds and Bradford combined have a population of just over 1.2 million people, and having infrastructure in place to allow easy travel and connection is important for people's everyday working lives; leisure; medical and educational needs and as well as the development of the region.

Having a light rail system is also important from an international point of view. The area has a larger population than Amsterdam and Lisbon, so to not have this in place prevents the region from being included with other cities that think internationally. Having comparable transport infrastructure is only likely to strengthen the case for international investment in development within both Bradford and Leeds.


There are many examples of successful tram systems connecting communities, and these can be used to shape future schemes. The system in Nottingham for instance, which supports 14 million journeys per year, is a good example of the benefits of having this infrastructure in place and the tangible development benefit that has been realised for people in the area.

The suburb of Beeston to the south west of Nottingham has seen a £3m regeneration project that has brought new homes and amenities in large part due to the tram network better connecting the town. This allows residents easy access to the city centre and therefore higher paid jobs, and has also made Beeston into a destination boosting the town economy, and ensuring better patronage and use of the system with many 'back trips'.

The benefits of having mass transit systems in place are clear to see, and whilst the initial capital costs are high, politically should be considered as a high-reward, low-carbon policy option that will payback investment consistently and directly over future years. There are also opportunities both commercially and for housing, through the ability to grow city regions through densification and 'low-car' development around tram nodes, which is likely to be important to a number of regions that have recently introduced metropolitan mayors for the first time.

Ironically, the low carbon agenda took a severe hit in the same Rishi Sunak conference speech that saw the announcement of the Leeds Bradford plans, with several key climate targets being scrapped. However, mass transit systems have the ability to grow cities and regions in a way that is sustainable in all senses of the word, and following this local and regional scale of light rail transport investment would be a positive and deliverable step forward for many local communities that are clustered close to others.