Calls for urgency on new Leeds transport system before Downing Street handover

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A cross party call to arms has been issued in Leeds for the city to come up with a “swift” and “dynamic” urban transport plan to replace its shelved trolleybus scheme - or risk years of uncertainty when a new Prime Minister takes office.

The clarion call was sent out at last night’s meeting of the full council at Leeds Civic Hall.

During a lengthy debate on the city’s and wider region’s transport future, the chamber voted unanimously in favour of a motion calling for a “comprehensive Leeds transport strategy to be developed and delivered as a matter or urgency”.

The motion said: “A modern, fit for purpose transport system that benefits all parts of the city is now long overdue in Leeds and should be the city’s number one priority”.

Leeds council’s main opposition Conservative group had tabled the original motion, but - in a rare bout of total accord in the chamber - accepted an amendment from the ruling Labour group.

It is hoped the move will pave the way for intense work in the coming weeks to come up with a viable alternative for an urban transport scheme in Leeds.

However despite the unanimity about urgency, there were concerns about the exact nature of the scheme or schemes that the city now needs to now pursue.

Councillor John Procter, who had submitted the original motion for the Tory group, warned that whatever follows the scrapped NGT scheme, it must be big and bold - and not limited to the £173m ringfenced cash atatched to it.

Speculating on how much it might cost the city to have an underground system or other radical alternative to trolleybus, he said: “We need to commission some studies, see what the numbers are, and be bold in our ambition.”

He added the imminent rounds of talks would form “the cornerstone of any [devolution] deal”.

Councillor Tom Leadley from the Morley Borough Independents suggested the city should shy away from pushing another “vanity project” and instead urged that “a shopping list of smaller projects”.

“With any luck, the days of cash guzzling vanity projects have ended,” he said,

“People should be invited to put forward their shopping lists and officers should find ways to pay for smaller projects.”

Councillor Keith Wakefield, who chairs the transport committee on West Yorkshire Combined Authority, successfully tabled an amendment to the original motion, whereby the authority has now pledged to “respond swiftly to the Department of Transport’s funding offer”.

The council is now launching its own scrutiny inquiry into the NGT scheme.

Despite the cross party accord, concerns were expressed about what the post Brexit uncertainty at national Government level means for Leeds and West Yorkshire’s transport and wider devolution ambitions.

Coun Procter said: “Frankly, we don’t know the infrastructure thoughts of those who will come in now.

“If Boris were to become Prime Minister we do know that he is deeply sceptical about HS2, as he is about the expansion of Heathrow as well.

“So there are potential significant changes on the horizon. It is for this council to set out its stall for what we expect from the devolution agenda.

“The events of last week were a game changer for us all.”

Judith Blake, leader of Leeds City Council, admitted there was a “degree of uncertainty about how deals will progress from now on”, adding that “a lot of authorities are seeking urgent talks about where things will go”.

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