Leeds City Council leader’s fury over Pickles referendum plan

Coun Keith Wakefield says proposals on transport and council tax are a 'destructive blow'.

Coun Keith Wakefield says proposals on transport and council tax are a 'destructive blow'.

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FURIOUS council chiefs will seek an urgent meeting with Eric Pickles to voice concern over his “sledgehammer” move to block a massive programme of transport investment without a local referendum.

Leeds City Council leader Keith Wakefield said proposals set out in the Queen’s Speech to prevent transport authorities from hiking up council tax bills without a public vote are a “destructive blow” to West Yorkshire’s ambitious £1 billion transport plan.

Coun Wakefield and his counterparts in West Yorkshire signed an agreement with Whitehall last summer – known as a ‘City Deal’ - giving them the power to raise an extra levy on council tax bills to pay for new roads and rail improvements.

But the Local Audit and Accountability Bill, drawn up by Mr Pickles and announced by the Queen on Wednesday, will force West Yorkshire transport body Metro to put any large increase in council tax to a local vote.

Coun Wakefield said organising a referendum across the whole of West Yorkshire would be hugely expensive.

“Once again we have Eric Pickles applying the sledgehammer, and the effect is to stop authorities like the Leeds City Region being bold and ambitious,” Coun Wakefield said.

“This will be a very destructive blow to our transport plans.

“We were told we had new freedom. Are we now saying that a Government commitment made less than a year ago no longer applies?”

Shadow Communities Secretary Hilary Benn, MP for Leeds Central, added: “It’s ridiculous that one bit of Government doesn’t know what the other has agreed.

“It was always part of the City Deal that the authority would increase its levy to fund big improvements in transport. Now the whole thing is being undermined by Eric Pickles.”

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