COALTION divisions over the future of transport in Yorkshire were exposed yesterday as David Cameron promised a commitment to a transpennine high speed rail line will be included in next year’s Conservative manifesto.
The Prime Minister insisted the Government was seriously pursuing the idea, floated yesterday by Chancellor George Osborne, of linking Leeds and Manchester with a new high speed railway dubbed HS3.
Critics yesterday questioned whether the Government was making a serious commitment to a dramatic improvement of transpennine rail.
During a visit to Wakefield, Mr Cameron told The Yorkshire Post: “We are very serious about it. These things take a long time as we have seen with HS1 or HS2 or Crossrail in London.
“These things are a long time in the planning so I think it is absolutely right that the Chancellor puts this on the table and says ‘right, this is the sort of thing we want to do’.
“Better transpennine links would actually make the most of the economic strength we have got in Leeds and Manchester and other cities besides.
“So yes, it is something we want to do, it is something that will be in the manifesto but let’s start talking about how it could work.”
The idea of a new transpennine high speed rail line was floated in a speech by Chancellor George Osborne yesterday on how to turn the North into an economic “powerhouse”.
But the promise of investment in Yorkshire transport drew a barbed response from the Deputy Prime Minister who pointedly referred to the ongoing deadlock between the Government and the Leeds City Region group of councils over how to pay for a proposed £1 .6 billion transport fund.
The fund was part of a “city deal” first agreed by the Leeds City Region and the Government two years ago but the final details are still to be thrashed out.
And Nick Clegg yesterday appeared to back the Leeds city region against his Coalition partner.
He said: “George Osborne’s new found commitment today is welcome and we are now hopeful that he will match his words with action by backing the Leeds City Region growth deal and its proposals for better transport links to other cities across the North.”
Peter Box. chairman of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, which will take charge of the fund, said: “Complementing HS2 by developing an east-west HS3 route connecting major cities across the north would drive economic growth, but we also need to see the types of improvements that our planned £1.6 billionn West Yorkshire and York Transport Fund will deliver.
“I was pleased, therefore to hear that Nick Clegg has today backed the WY and York Transport Fund and would welcome any ‘pressure’ he can apply to George Osborne to get the Fund approved and enable us to get on with transport initiatives that will deliver 20,000 new jobs and almost £2.4 billion of additional output per year by the mid-2030s.”
There was also concern that the HS3 idea is focused on connecting Leeds and Manchester.
Sheffield City Region Local Enterprise Partnership chairman James Newman said it was “disappointing” Sheffield was not included and he would be “seeking to explore this further with Government, including accelerating the delivery of HS2 and reducing journey times from Manchester to Sheffield on the southern transpennine route.”
Humber LEP chairman Lord Haskins said he was “delighted” to hear a senior politican talking about transpennine rail links.