Clegg says £1bn transport plan for West Yorkshire will go ahead

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A £1bn transport plan to kick-start dozens of road and rail projects across West Yorkshire will still go ahead despite concerns of obstruction from Whitehall, Nick Clegg has pledged.

The Deputy Prime Minister said he has found a “solution” to prevent the collapse of the West Yorkshire transport fund proposed by town hall leaders.

Asked if the scheme will still go ahead, Mr Clegg said: “Yes, I see no reason why it shouldn’t.”

The ambitious plan was unveiled in 2012 by the leaders of Leeds, Bradford, Wakefield, Kirklees, Calderdale and York.

Town hall chiefs want to place a small levy on council tax bills worth a few pounds a year for the next decade, to help raise a £1bn for overhauling the area’s creaking transport networks.

More than 30 major projects have been earmarked including new link roads to Leeds
Bradford Airport and the Aire Valley; major improvements to Leeds city centre; extensions of the ring road and the new trolleybus network; and a new junction on the M62.

Leeds City Council leader Keith Wakefield described the package as the biggest overhaul of local transport in 100 years.

However, the plan was thrown into severe doubt last year when Communities Secretary Eric Pickles announced that transport bodies seeking to raise council tax beyond a certain level would be required to hold a local referendum.

Furious councils say the new law will mean all six authorities having to win a referendum every year for the next decade.

But Mr Clegg – who signed off the transport fund in 2012 –said the Government may now speed up the rate at which it makes its own contributions to the fund, in order to fill the gap.

“I really do think there is a straightforward way we can address the concerns raised,” he said. “I think we’ve got a solution, but I accept we need to work with the leaders.”

Mr Clegg said there will be no exemption from Mr Pickles’s “referendum lock”, however.

“The Government remains committed to keeping council tax increases to a minimum,” he said. “That principle is going to stay.”

PIC: Simon Hulme

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