Judith Blake: After trolleybus hits buffers we need a new plan

Judith Blake, front left, at the opening of a new entrance to Leeds Station.
Judith Blake, front left, at the opening of a new entrance to Leeds Station.
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A LOT has been said and written about transport in Leeds following the rejection of the trolleybus scheme by a Government-appointed planning inspector.

It is deeply frustrating and regrettable that Leeds will remain the largest city in western Europe without a rapid transit system. The people of the city deserve better.

There are lessons for Leeds Council, West Yorkshire Combined Authority and transport industry to learn.

Mistakes were made with transport modelling and in the way the evidence for the scheme was presented at the inquiry, and we need to do better.

There was not consensus that the trolleybus was right for the city. We need to look at decisions that were made by the previous administration of the council as well as this one.

However, we must put this setback into context and now focus on the future – in particular on the huge progress we have made and are continuing to make as a city.

Our economy is growing fast, we have cranes on our skyline and we are attracting major events and businesses to Leeds.

We have proven we can deliver significant transport improvements.

The Elland Road park and ride, delivered in partnership with First Bus, has won awards for customer service, and has been so successful that the car park is now being extended. We are building our second park and ride site at junction 45 of the M1.

The southern entrance to Leeds Station opened earlier this year, and has been a huge boost to the regeneration of the South Bank area of the city centre. The new station at Kirkstall Forge will open in the next few weeks, providing a new park and ride option, and unlocking the development of thousands of new homes and jobs.

The next few years will see major improvements to the rail network serving Leeds with faster journeys and more trains, new trains and longer trains providing a huge increase in numbers of seats.

This is a result of the new Northern and Transpennine franchises which we have commissioned. Working with other councils and Government through RailNorth, this demonstrates the benefits of devolution.

Leeds is already the busiest station in the North. We are leading the work on the plans for rebuilding the station to accommodate HS2, HS3, local rail improvements, enhanced concourse areas, and to support regeneration.

When the HS2 station was proposed to be almost half a mile away from the existing station, we then worked with HS2 Ltd and Network Rail to show how an integrated station could work, and how it would benefit the city and city region.

But it is not enough. We now need to set out a clear, ambitious and realistic 30-year vision and plan for transport in Leeds.

The plan should be pragmatic, deliverable, and focus on the outcomes we are trying to achieve – faster journeys, more capacity, economic growth, better air quality – identifying the right transport solution for each corridor.

Hard decisions on priorities will be needed, backed up by robust evidence and modelling.

It is essential we build strong consensus so we can shout with one voice to get investment.

That is why I am convening a transport summit on June 10 to bring together communities, businesses, commuters, city region partners, people that use transport, and the best transport brains nationally and internationally.

We also will involve the transport industry. We are now showing what can be achieved by working with rail companies. But the current bus system is not delivering what we need as a city.

We must forge a more effective partnership to plan and regulate bus services in a way that works for passengers.

Our plan should identify schemes that can be delivered soon, such as park and ride sites, high quality fast bus routes, new rail stations, better public spaces, cycle and walking routes.

It should also set out transformational long-term projects, potentially tram-train, which would enable us provide new stations and more frequent services on existing rail lines, and a route to the airport.

We must embrace changes in technology, how people access and use information and live their lives in the 21st century. Look at the way people use debit cards as bus and Tube tickets in London, or how mobile technology has revolutionised the taxi industry.

It is clear that the current system does not give us the control over our own destiny that we need to make real, sustainable progress.

We need devolution to give us control over the powers and resources to deliver.

And we now need to demonstrate the leadership, ambition and vision to give the people of Leeds the transport system they deserve.

Judith Blake is a Labour councillor and the leader of Leeds Council.

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