I have read with interest the debate on your letters page about the kind of public transport system we should provide for the city.
My friend George Mudie, for instance, has called for an underground system, while Tory councillor John Procter has called for us to spend money that currently exists only in the imagination of Lord Heseltine.
Whilst we all share huge frustration over the slow progress of Supertram and then New Generation Transport (NGT), we have got there. Scrapping the concept at this stage would throw away the Government funding we have got – and Leeds would not be allowed to switch it to another scheme – and put us back at least a decade. It is worth remembering that the cost of an underground system is around £400 million a mile (let’s just say that the cost of NGT would cover half a mile of underground!). We should be ambitious for our city, but council finances are in a far more difficult place than they were when George Mudie was in charge of the council two decades ago.
There is a tendency to talk down NGT because of the disappointments we have all experienced over the past two decades, but it will help regenerate a huge chunk of South Leeds and – in conjunction with a Quality Bus Contract – give a very attractive public transport alternative to the car users on the congested Headingley Lane corridor. We also need to start having a debate about where NGT could go next. I am sure there will be no shortage of ideas coming forward.
There is ambition on the transport front. Leeds is currently working with the other West Yorkshire councils and Metro on a £1 billion transport fund as part of the City Deal. A couple of years ago this was a pipedream, but it will be able to deliver ambitious transport projects to improve transport and bring growth to the economy. I expect a considerable proportion of this expenditure will fund improvements to public transport, whether it be on major infrastructural projects like NGT or on more modest schemes such as highway improvements, or red routes which can bring benefits to large numbers of residents for the fraction of the cost of prestigious schemes which people often see as the solution to all our problems, but which would actually improve the lives of a relatively small number of citizens.
Coun Richard Lewis, executive member for Development and Economy