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‘Government has let Leeds down for 30 to 40 years’ over rail, council agrees

Words: Richard Beecham, local democracy reporter

The leader of Leeds City Council’s Conservatives group has criticised his own Government’s integrated rail plan, suggesting it was pointless improving journey times if there was not enough space for trains on station platforms.

His speech came during a full council meeting debate on a motion from the council’s ruling Labour group, which warned government that its Integrated Rail Plan (IRP) would not work unless improvements were made to Leeds Rail Station.

The IRP, presented by transport secretary Grant Shapps last November, saw the Leeds legs of both the north-south HS2 and east-west Northern Powerhouse Rail lines scrapped, despite previous assurances that they would go ahead.

Among the promises included was electrification work to help speed up journeys between Leeds and Bradford, as well as £200m towards work to help get high speed trains and a mass transit network to the city, something which the council’s Labour-run administration said was not enough.

Leeds Conservatives leader Coun Andrew Carter, who represents Calverley & Farsley ward, agreed. Referencing the previous Labour government’s scrapping of a previous mass transit scheme in 2005, he said:

“The secretary of state at the time said I should get on the bus, and that they weren’t going to fund it. No Government has got clean hands on this.

“My annoyance with the [current] Government – real annoyance – is that they have put some things in [the IRP] that are good – but I don’t think they can achieve them.

“What good is it cutting journey times from Bradford to Leeds when you have to wait outside the station for 10 minutes because you can’t get a platform?

“You should look at all the mechanisms to solve this problem – we are with you.”

Council leader Coun James Lewis (Labour) said the current Victorian rail system was “built for a world none of us can even imagine, let alone remember”, adding:

“Those of us around during the Supertram saga, there is clearly someone down in Westminster or Whitehall that doesn’t like us, because when we have needed investment we haven’t had it.

“It’s time we moved onto delivering transport investment – the time for talking is over.

“What we got in Leeds was reviews, not decisions. We need to get on with it. A high speed rail line comes out of Manchester and stops in Last of the Summer Wine country, before heading onto our Victorian railway system. That is not good enough.

“We need a modern railway, we need investment in mass transit.”

Supertram was a previously-planned scheme to bring a mass transit system into Leeds, which was scrapped by Government in 2005 due to spiralling costs.

Liberal Democrats group leader Coun Stewart Golton took a more combative tone, adding:

“We need to accept where we have got this wrong. One of the mistakes we have made was to trust this government was going to do the things it said it would do.

“The fact that you have followed it blindly, with the lack of powers, without any great complaint, as long as you are sat round the top table. We should have been shouting even louder.

“Continuing to complain on the level you are has not proven to deliver results.”

West Yorkshire Combined Authority transport committee chairwoman Coun Kim Groves said: “The IRP lets us down at every level. It was a chance for the Government to recommit to one of its flagship policies.

“It has failed. We have a half-baked plan full of broken promises. Cancelling NPR is a kick in the teeth and will restrict our growth.”

Coun Alan Lamb (Con) said: “This is not Government letting us down for 10 or 11 years, it is Government letting us down for 30 to 40 years.

“There are numerous reasons why we are the biggest city in Europe without a mass transit system. It is essential we stop squabbling.”

All council members voted in favour of a Labour motion calling on the Government to provide more clarity on how it plans to help improve transport in the region.

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