Calls have been made for a “transport revolution” in Leeds as a heated debate took place among city councillors over the possibility of resurrecting plans for a mass transit system in the city, writes Richard Beecham.
It followed a motion, known as a white paper, introduced to councillors by the leader of the authority’s Conservatives group Coun Andrew Carter (Cons, Calverley & Farsley), suggesting the city take advantage of recent government funding announcements to try and put together plans for a brand new transport network.
Previous rail-based schemes for the city were cancelled by governments in 2005 and 2016, the latter due to advice from an independent inspector who ruled the works would cause too much disruption to existing transport networks.
But, following a recent announcement from Prime Minister Boris Johnson that an extra £4.2bn would be pumped into transport schemes in the north, Coun Carter told a full Leeds City Council meeting he believed the city could once again get the transport system it needed.
Seconding the motion, Coun Neil Buckley (Cons, Alwoodley) added:
“Leeds is the biggest city in western Europe without a mass transit scheme. It regularly succumbs to this situation of gridlock.
“Stop reinforcing failure.”
Leader of the Greens group Coun David Blackburn (Farnley & Wortley) called for an amendment to the motion to include the use of disused rail infrastructure which was shut down during the Beeching cuts of the 1960s and 70s. He said:
“We need some kind of system for the whole city.
“Surely we can use some of that infrastructure and deliver it much cheaper than if we started it from scratch. We have to use as much as we can.”
The Liberal Democrats group suggested amending the motion to also focus on road-based transport systems, as designing and building an integrated transport scheme would take the authority past its 2030 climate change targets.
Coun Jonathan Bentley said:
“A mass transit scheme is part of the solution. We all know that even if Coun Carter’s optimism is fulfilled, we are not going to get a mass transit system any time soon.
“We need to be doing other things as well. Things that are quicker to implement and relatively inexpensive.”
Coun Stewart Golton (Lib Dem, Rothwell) added:
“Without devolution and the flexibility offered to us, we are going to end up with something that is elitist. The debate until recently has been ‘how do we get middle class people out of cars?’.
“It’s not about how sleek it is, it’s about how affordable it is.”
Council leader Judith Blake (Lab, Middleton Park) warned that massive transport overhaul was needed, and the region needed more than just a new mass transit scheme.
Responding to Coun Carter, she said:
“Integration all the way through is the thing. How do we really remove the need for people to get into a car in the first place? We need to have a revolution to get people into other forms of transport.
“Public opinion is not with us on [Next Generation Transport].”
She suggested a system similar to the recent climate jury to find out what could get people out of their cars and into public transport.
Summing up, Coun Andrew Carter said:
“We are peddling the politics of despair – either the world is coming to an end and we can’t do anything, the government won’t give us what we want.
“The people of this city want something a bit more positive. Mass transit is a part of the jigsaw, the railways are part of the jigsaw and the private car is part of the jigsaw.
“Nobody is pretending that tomorrow we will deliver a mass transit system, but it doesn’t stop us from strategic thinking to have a bigger idea down the line.
“Please, please, please, let’s have some positive thought about what we can do incrementally.”
Councillors then voted through an amended motion from Coun Judith Blake.