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I might be biased, but Leeds is an outstanding city. It is a major UK business centre and one of the best places in Europe to locate a business. It has one of the most diverse economies of the many UK centres that we have, which has helped it to survive and recover from many of the recessions that we have experienced—better, in fact, than many of the business centres in other European countries.
Between 2001 and 2008, Leeds enjoyed the fastest jobs growth of all the core cities. It is no coincidence that at the same time it has seen rail passenger numbers grow by 90%—again, the highest growth—and Leeds station is now the busiest station in the north, clearly demonstrating that good links bring along a good economy. Leeds is determined to build on its success and wants to be a brand new kind of city; a city at the heart of a city region that is the second largest economy in the UK with 106,000 businesses, the largest manufacturing base in the UK and eight universities. Bringing HS2 to Leeds and locating the new station on its south bank will help it to realise that goal, creating the opportunities that we need for growth and development on an unprecedented scale.
The regeneration of Leeds’ south bank covers 136 hectares—60 acres of land that is prime for development—and has the potential to deliver more than 10,000 jobs for the city. It will create a 3.5 hectare city centre park and the jobs that young people growing up in the city need. It will add to what is an already exciting part of south Leeds, which includes the HQs of Asda, Eddisons and aql and cultural attractions such as the Royal Armouries, and will provide homes for local people. It will also help to generate a growing economy across the city region and across the north as it will link into the additional investment that we are already seeing in rail infrastructure across the north of England. It will help to improve connectivity, creating a powerful non-London economic zone and helping us truly to rebalance our economy. HS2 will bring Leeds within far faster reach of Sheffield City Region, the Derby, Derbyshire, Nottingham, Nottinghamshire local enterprise partnership, Birmingham and, of course, London. All that, along with east coast connectivity, provides us with a real chance to reshape the economy of the north.
Today, the Leeds economy is worth some £18 billion and has grown almost 40% over the past decade. There are 25,000 businesses in the city alone, which has the highest ratio of private to public sector jobs of all major cities bar London. It has also been resilient in these difficult times. Employment is up 11,000 since 2011. In 2013, we saw the opening of the £350 million Trinity retail centre. A new arena opened this year, which will also see the start of the new Victoria Gate development that will bring John Lewis to the city. The prospect of HS2 has seen Leeds and Manchester working together to set an ambitious growth strategy.
All that is incredibly important, but I am worried that it could all be at risk if we do not get our north-south connection working effectively. We need to ensure that we face the creeping problem of capacity. We need to connect our major cities so that they can do business with each other. We need a modern line that deals effectively with the problem, and not the usual make-do approach. We need a transport system that can cope and complement, and for me, HS2 is it. Let us be ambitious, let us spread the wealth, let us create the opportunity, and let us get HS2 going.