Prime Minister hints at new transport system for Leeds after Queen's Speech

Leeds could be set for a new mass transit system as Prime Minister Boris Johnson hinted he would address the fact the city is the largest in Western Europe without a light railway.

By Geraldine Scott
Thursday, 19th December 2019, 5:03 pm

Speaking in the House of Commons today after the Queen’s Speech Mr Johnson said: “We will take forward our plans to rejuvenate and in some cases and in many cases revolutionise the infrastructure of Britain, including Northern Powerhouse Rail.

“And we shall remedy the scandal that Leeds should be the largest city in Western Europe without light rail or a metro.”

It was one of a number of measures aimed at wooing northern voters who had backed the PM in the General Election last week.

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaking during the debate in the House of Commons, London, on the Queen's Speech. Photo: PA Wire

And Government plans unveiled yesterday in the second Queen’s Speech of the year were heralded by newly-elected Yorkshire MPs as showing Mr Johnson is “serious about rebalancing our economy” between the North and the South.

The Prime Minister's legislative programme includes Bills which will give greater devolved powers to regions, proposals for long-term reform of social care, and “levelling up” areas such as the North.

The Queen said: “My Government will give communities more control over how investment is spent so that they can decide what is best for them.”

The Government plans to publish a White Paper setting our their devolution strategy, but it is expected to include information on plans for full devolution across England, including increasing the number of mayors and doing more devolution deals.

Imran Ahmad Khan, the fresh Tory MP for Wakefield, welcomed the full package of promises.

He said: “This is a Queen’s Speech which will truly bring benefits to the North and help repay those voters who put their faith in us last week.

“From the levelling up of our communities, to a strong message on devolution, to boosting productivity and growth, the plans this Conservative Government has in place show we are serious about rebalancing our economy.”

While Jason McCartney, the new Conservative MP for Colne Valley, added: “I’m delighted we’re going to deliver more devolved funding deals, we’re accelerating the rollout of superfast broadband, investing £100bn to upgrade infrastructure, and helping our struggling high streets with a cut to business rates.”

Alexander Stafford, newly-elected MP for Rother Valley, said the plans would “supercharge” Yorkshire, and added: “This shows the Conservatives’ intent to not only deliver on manifesto pledges but restore trust in politics by focusing on what really matters to people across the North and especially Rother Valley.”

Kevin Hollinrake, MP for Thirsk and Malton, said: “It will come as no surprise that delivering Brexit and the NHS were top of the list of the government’s priorities but I was also very pleased that there are to be measures to ensure every part of the UK will prosper and that there will be a greater share of investment spent in our region.

“This will include investment in our digital, transport and energy infrastructure and proposals to enable communities to have more control about how the money is spent. Narrowing the North-South divide and devolving powers to regions are two issues for which I have been campaigning hard.”

But Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said Boris Johnson has made "many promises to many different parts of the country", including on problems created by the Conservatives in government, adding: "There can no longer be any doubt that austerity has caused unnecessary suffering for millions of people all across this country.

"The communities to whom the Prime Minister made his promises will now judge him on whether he keeps them.

"In this Queen's Speech the Government has tried to mimic some of the priorities and, interestingly, much of the language of Labour policy but without the substance - on austerity, on investment, on regional inequality and on the National Health Service, we can see how we forced the terrain to shift."

At this point, one Tory MP shouted: "It's all blue."

Mr Corbyn went on: "They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, even when it's a very pale imitation, but I fear those swayed by the Prime Minister's promises will be sorely disappointed."

Despite a number of measures designed to please northern voters, legislation proposed in the Queen’s Speech to allow parts of HS2 to go ahead failed to mention the link up to Leeds from Birmingham.

The Rail Reform and High Speed Rail 2 (West Midlands - Crewe) Bill, included in the raft of Government plans revealed today as the Queen officially opened Parliament, gives the powers to build and operate the next stage of HS2, phase 2a which will run between Birmingham and Crewe.

It does not mean phase 2b, which carries the route up to Leeds, will be scrapped and the Oakervee Review into what happens next with the project is still awaited.

But a Government briefing said the Bill’s purpose was to bring “the improved connectivity of HS2 to more cities in the North, sooner.”

The law would allow for the land needed to be bought by compulsory purchase, the construction of the railway, and the operation of it.

On plans for a ‘national infrastructure strategy’ and an investment of £100bn in UK infrastructure Interim Director of the IPPR North thinktank Arianna Giovannini said: “For too long, the North has received political promises of infrastructure that have failed to materialise.

“The new government cannot afford more empty words, so it will need to deliver infrastructure investment with urgency - putting spades in the ground as soon as possible to get the North’s economy moving.

“We now need to see £70 billion going into Transport for the North’s investment plan, with powers passed to Northern leaders, so that our region can take control of its transport network. And whilst the commitment to building Northern Powerhouse Rail between Leeds and Manchester is a start, it is imperative that the full proposals, drawn up by the North itself, are delivered from Liverpool to Hull and Newcastle.

“Our railways should be controlled by Northern leaders and Transport for the North. Only then can they serve the people living here”.

Henri Murison, Director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership added: “The Queen’s Speech has rightly referenced infrastructure and research and development, both of which are vital tools to rebalance the economy.

“Giving local communities more control over investment in their areas is devolution with a legislative framework still needed to make this a right no longer just a privilege to be given from Whitehall. This must include levelling up of all powers that those like Greater Manchester have where fellow Mayors want them.

“The turnaround in economic growth in South Yorkshire this year is a positive, and it is important the relevant council leaders finalise their devolution deal with government to get Dan Jarvis his powers and the associated funding which they shouldn’t be missing out on.

“The longer term lower performance over the previous five years is why devolution here is so essential, and why the work of those like the AMRC is so critical alongside wider R&D investment by public and private sectors.”

While on measures for the NHS, which much of the speech was focused on, Dr Nick Scriven, a consultant in acute medicine in Calderdale and president of The Society for Acute Medicine, said: "The NHS is under the most pressure it has ever seen and quite how we will get through the next few weeks and months remains to be seen.

"We need to urgently support our staff throughout the NHS as they are reaching the stage of utter exhaustion after more than two years of unrelenting and increasing stress and workload.

"Promises or commitments of investment today will not make up for years in a matter of months, which is what would be needed to get us through the winter period safely. It is the bare minimum."

Mr Johnson said he had unveiled the "most radical Queen's Speech in a generation" with measures to toughen up criminal justice, invest in the NHS and deliver on the "people's priorities".