Third time lucky for Leeds mass transit plans? (And could it cut through West Leeds?)

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The “scale of benefits” that a new mass transit system would bring to Yorkshire have been hailed by a transport body, as proposals to revive a travel masterplan move one step closer, writes Richard Beecham.

Previous attempts at bringing a light rail-based transport system to the city were thrown out by successive governments due to either being too expensive or inconvenient to build.

The results of an inquiry in 2016 led to the government shelving a proposed £170m trolleybus scheme, left Leeds as the largest city in Western Europe without an integrated mass transit system.

But regional leaders appear to be willing, once again, to look into the possibility of creating one.

The West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA) in collaboration with partner councils are developing a mass transit system which will offer a new public transport option and an attractive alternative to car travel.

In late 2018, WYCA raised eyebrows by discussing a ‘tube’-style map – featured at the top of this article – indicating the communities most likely to be served by mass transit. These included Armley, Bramley and Pudsey in West Leeds.

A document set to go before WYCA’s transport committee claims a mass transit system would help create a “low carbon future” as well as regenerate neighbourhoods and strengthen the economy.

The report added:

“Whilst the cost of implementing mass transit can be high, the scale of benefits which it delivers are also high. Other cities in the UK and beyond are demonstrating mass transit does offer high value for money and can also open up new funding opportunities.”

At its meeting earlier this year, WYCA agreed to continue to undertake early works to plan for mass transit across the region, while the devolution deal published by government in March 2020 included a commitment to “explore the case for funding a modern, low carbon West Yorkshire Mass Transit System”.

The board now looks set to approve £2.041m to enable early feasibility and design work, which is expected to continue until early 2021.

However, the report adds that, even if the scheme is successful, it is unlikely building work would begin until at least the “mid-2020s”.

The report, set to go to next week’s meeting, stated: “It is essential that the business case for mass transit considers the emerging longer-term implications of Covid-19. As the timescales to deliver any mass transit proposals are longer than the time it will take for Covid-19 implications to become clearer, it will be possible to continue to test the mass transit/Covid-19 implications at each stage of the business case and Assurance Framework process.”

In late 2018, WYCA raised eyebrows by discussing a ‘tube’-style map indicating the communities most likely to be served by mass transit.

In 2016, plans to build the trolley bus network in Leeds were rejected by the Government, following a report from a planning inspector who said the scheme was “not in the public interest”.

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