This is what we want Transport Secretary Grant Shapps to do to improve Leeds transport

Leeds is a thriving city on the up - but its woeful transport network is holding us all back.

By Joe Cooper
Wednesday, 8th January 2020, 6:00 am
Updated Wednesday, 8th January 2020, 10:34 am

Buses regularly run an hour late or more, commuters are crammed on to out-of-date trains - if they turn up at all, and motorists - who often have little choice but to drive - are left inching through gridlocked traffic on the city's main roads.

Leeds City Council itself agrees that we have a "city centre transport network which we would all agree is near breaking point."

A new Government is in place and ministers are talking up how much they are going to invest in the North and its infrastructure.

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Transport Secretary Grant Shapps is visiting Leeds.

But, as anyone - be they transport expert or fed-up commuter - will tell you, we need more than warm words.

With that in mind, we're asking Transport Secretary Grant Shapps - who is in Leeds this week - to get behind our list of five things which will get the city moving.

They include looking again at a mass-transit-system, improving the reliability, value and operation of Leeds' buses and trains, and making the city more attractive for cyclists and walkers.

Adrian Jones, a former director of planning and transport at Nottingham City Council who now lives in Wharfedale, said Leeds needed a long-term financial commitment from Whitehall, more devolution of decision making and an overall plan for the city, not just individual schemes.

Traffic builds up on Kirkstall Road.

Leeds is the largest city in Europe without a mass-transit system and attempts to secure one have failed repeatedly over the years. The Conservative Party manifesto mentioned this, but did not commit to building one.

Tom Forth, Head of Data at The Open Data Institute Leeds, said: "Now is the time for details on how this will be fixed so that we can grow and pay more of our own way in the UK.

"Governments of all major parties have cancelled a tram in Leeds, and more recently forbidden a trolleybus system from continuing. If the city or the combined authority now develops a new plan, what faith can those working on it and responding to consultations on it have that it will not also be cancelled?"

Mr Jones said: "In the short-medium term should focus on electric bus network which would be like a tram without rails. There are examples elsewhere, notably Amiens in France."

He told the YEP last month: "What has held Leeds back in the past has been the central control of funding by the Department for Transport, who have a template for schemes with rules and checklists and no concept of what the city is like."

Mr Jones added that buses, mainly provided by First, were "a disaster, the worst bus service in any big city I know".

He added: "Leeds must be in control either by franchising or a municipally owned bus company like Nottingham.

"The Department for Transport have for years stood in the way of cities outside London being able to manage their bus networks so Grant Schapps should just get out of the way and let Leeds get on with it."

First Bus is looking to sell its UK operations and Mr Forth said Leeds needed clarity on the legal situation if the city wanted to run its own bus services, particularly as we do not have a mayor like Greater Manchester.

Mr Jones said more work also needed to be done to overturn decades of car-centric policy in the city.

"Leeds needs to bite the bullet with Workplace Parking Levy like Nottingham and/or London-style Congestion Charging," he added.

Leeds transport campaigner Rob Greenland agreed about the need for prioritising cycling walking at the expense of cars, by building a "comprehensive, city wide network of high quality, protected bike lanes".

He added: "One of the main things you need to do in order to achieve this is to remove on-street parking - which can be used for protected cycle infrastructure instead.

"We also need to look at what the city is like to walk around - too often it isn't a pleasant experience.

"Overall we need to re-prioritise - valuing more journeys made on foot or by bike. This will bring all sorts of benefits to all of us - not just people who cycle or walk."

The council's works on The Headrow will improve things in the city centre, but for now they are contributing to the congestion.

Mark Parry, from the West and North Yorkshire Campaign for Better Transport, said: "The work on the Headrow and elsewhere around the City Centre will encourage active travel, we are currently going through the pain to get the gain."

But he too called for some kind of pollution charge, an increase in city centre parking fees and more bus-only lanes to cut congestion.

Leeds gridlocked - a timeline

September 2019: Bus services and stops change as work continues on transforming The Headrow to make it a "world-class gateway for bus users, pedestrians and cyclists"

October - present: Gridlock on city centre roads becomes a frequent occurrence at peak times. Delays to busses regularly run at an hour or more

November: First Bus admits it is cutting services from several routes across the city

December 4 - Leeds City Council admit the city transport network is "near breaking point"

December 6 - A Leeds First Bus driver says "it's just not possible to run a service" after weeks of bus gridlock

December 16 - Leeds commuters hit with cancellations and delays on the first day of the new train timetable

January 6 - Roads into Leeds are jammed as everyone heads back to work and school