Jeremy Corbyn pledges investment in better transport for Leeds and wider Yorkshire region
Leader of the Opposition Jeremy Corbyn has condemned the state of Leeds' public transport services.
The Labour leader was in Morley & Outwood on Sunday, supporting candidate Deanne Ferguson's campaign to win back the Tory-held seat ahead of a looming snap election.
Speaking to the Yorkshire Post and Yorkshire Evening Post, Mr Corbyn said news of the possible axing of HS2's route to Leeds and Sheffield was "awful", adding that the project "should have been started in Birmingham" and built northwards.
The politician also backed devolution of powers to cities in the North, and admitted that the discussion around Brexit had "distracted" public debate around issues affecting Leeds such as the rising levels of poverty and homelessness.
"The danger of axing everything north of Birmingham would be awful", Mr Corbyn said on the issue of HS2.
"The reality is that rail infrastructure investment north of Birmingham is much lower than London and the South East, and if it is axed then that indicates a lack of ambition to improve transport infrastructure to the North.
"If savings are to be made, then I would suggest they look much more seriously at the southern area than HS2. Labour has not been in government while these decisions were made but frankly I think it would be much better if HS2 was to actually start in Birmingham and go on north, because that is where the rail infrastructure does need improving."
"There are so many places you can get to quite quickly by mainline trains, but if you can't get beyond that all you're doing then is encouraging urban car use with all the congestion that goes with it.
"Leeds and West Yorkshire as a whole needs huge investment improvements, both in tram, bus and light rail services as well."
Mr Corbyn said he "absolutely" backed the devolving of power to individual cities through regional investment banks, adding that investment decisions should be made by the authorities with the best knowledge of which issues were most important.
"That would be a combination of local authorities as well as local trade unions and business interests coming together around the principle that you get the best economic development when the decisions are locally-made and locally-focused, and I would be absolutely determined to achieve that."
As Brexit talks rise to pressure point ahead of October 31, Mr Corbyn also said the past three-and-a-half years had distracted debate on important social issues such as poverty.
The Office of National Statistics released data this week revealing that Leeds had joint ninth highest numbers of homeless deaths in 2018, while the Morley & Outwood constituency alone currently has 4,000 children classed as living in poverty.
"It's clear that the national debate and particularly the focus on Brexit has distracted from everything else", the Labour leader said.
"Sometimes when I'm doing my six questions to the Prime Minister each week I've done it on other subjects, like housing and bus services. I get shed loads of emails saying, 'thank you very much'.
"The numbers of people who are homeless and rough sleeping are going up very, very rapidly. We're a nation of food banks and homeless people at one end, and empty luxury flats at the other. There's something morally wrong about knowing that as many as 15,000 people are sleeping rough across the country - this is not a poor country, it's one that can house people.
"When you go into any park in any city, look around and you'll find a tent with a homeless person inside."
"We're a nation of food banks and homeless people at one end, and empty luxury flats at the other" - Jeremy Corbyn
Hot on the topic of the current scale of abuse experienced by female MPs, Mr Corbyn told how the Party was offering counselling, protection and one-to-one support, but ultimately declared that the "toxic" rhetoric used in Parliament was unacceptable.
Dewsbury MP Paula Sherriff this week revealed threats she has received off the back of asking Prime Minister Boris Johnson not to use divisive language. Some of the threats included rape and death threats.
Mr Corbyn said: "It's nearly always women MPs who receive the most abuse. It's not just about MPs, it's about that language that then relays onto the streets where people suddenly feel emboldened to use sexist and misogynistic language to attack people. Then that becomes physical violence against Muslim women, against Jewish people. It's got to stop."