Leeds & West Yorkshire

Lille hint for high-speed Leeds?

A TGV train in Lille Europe station
Image caption The fortunes of Lille in Northern France, have been transformed by arrival of the TGV

Leeds will be linked to the HS2 high speed rail network, cutting journey times to the Midlands, London and beyond by 2033, ministers announced recently.

Civic leaders in the West Yorkshire city are hoping the arrival of high speed rail will bring an economic boom to mirror that which transformed the fortunes of its twin city of Lille, in northern France, two decades ago.

Leeds City Councillor Richard Lewis, executive member for development and economy, said the plans were going "to be massive" and the decision meant Leeds "is up there as a major city".

He added: "This is a huge opportunity for Leeds to be connected with not only Europe but also to Birmingham which hasn't had traditional links with our city."

He said that any high-speed station should be in the city centre and tie-in with the existing transport infrastructure of Leeds so that a large surrounding area could benefit.

"Leeds City Council will have a clear view of the city's requirements and be vociferous about those with the people that will look at the train's route."

Mr Lewis said the council would maximise the benefits to Leeds and welcomed the "visionary" project.

"There are so many potential avenues it opens up."

Julie Mills, director of Greengauge21 a high-speed rail research organisation, said Lille is an example of "how to get it right".

Fought hard

It was no accident that the new line went through Lille, it fought hard to get the train to visit and planned a new station in the middle of the city .

Image caption Julie Mills, director of Greengauge21, said the city was an example of "how to get it right".

The new TGV station, Lille Europe, not only connected the city to London, Brussels and Paris but has revitalised the businesses in the district around the station.

Ms Mills said the experience in France had shown that cities with a TGV station in the centre, rather than the edge of town, had found it "easier to build" the economic benefits as well as the transport benefits.

"Lille was a long time planning and had reserved a location for a transport hub and the city has grown around it," she said.

'Catalyst for growth'

The new station was built near to the original station and the rest of the site used for offices, hotels and a retail centre.

Later development has also led to the construction of a large conference centre close to the station,

According to a report on Lille by Greengauge21 the line has become a "catalyst for continuing growth".

The organisation said the selection of the correct location for a high-speed line station was "critical".

Situated in an industrial area Lille is a city that was hit hard by the closure of its traditional industries including coal mining.

To replace the jobs lost as industry constricted, France's former prime minister Pierre Mauroy, who was mayor of Lille between 1973 and 2001, saw it as a point of honour to get the line routed through the city.

Image caption Lille was hit hard by the closure of its traditional industries

He wanted the new transport link to provide economic benefits that would kick-start the city and region.

The city fought hard against other locations including Amiens to get the train, and the decision had major consequences.

One resident of the city said the line had changed the fate, and the face, of the city.

Having the TGV link to the city meant that it was also connected with the Channel Tunnel when completed.

Such was the change in the city it helped Lille to be announced as European City of Culture in 2004 a decade later.

A consultation on the second phase of the UK's high-speed line to Leeds will begin in early 2014, with a final route chosen by the end of that year.

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