A NEW TRANS-PENNINE mottorway could be among the proposals put forward in response to growing concerns about the Government’s transport ambitions for the region.
Extending the M65 from East Lancashire to Keighley will be one of the ideas considered as part of new plan being drawn up by the West Yorkshire Combined Authority.
The move follows concern that George Osborne’s recent Budget promises to improve transport in Yorkshire were limited to a speeding up of upgrades to the M62 and money to further develop long term plans for high speed trans-Pennine rail and a road tunnel between South Yorkshire and Manchester.
Council leaders want to make the case for projects which go beyond modest upgrades but could be delivered in a quicker timescale than the flagship schemes already under discussion.
There is also anxiety in some quarters that George Osborne’s promise to improve transport as part of his ‘northern powerhouse’ plan are focused heavily on connecting Leeds, Sheffield and Manchester and do not pay enough attention to the wider network.
Coun Keith Wakefield, chairman of the combined authority, argued transport improvements for Yorkshire needed to go beyond “headline” projects such as the trans-Pennine tunnel which could cost £6 billion.
He said: “There’s a lot of other work that needs to be done on the M1, the M62, the freight issues that have been identified, the rail issues around our area that we have got to keep pushing for.”
Coun Wakefield added: “Nobody can accept that just putting a fourth lane along the hard shoulder along the M62 is going to solve the transport problems and the freight problems.
“We have to fight our corner hard and make sure projects are justified.”
The establishment of Transport for the North, a body drawning up plans for better connections across the North of England, and the recent report by the National Infrastructure Commission on North transport have been widely welcomed as important steps forward.
But there are concerns that the debate is becoming focused on a small number of highly expensive projects and particular scepticism over the trans-Pennine tunnel ever being delivered.
Coun Simon Cooke, leader of the Conservative group on Bradford Council, is among those making the case for the extension of the M65 as a more realistic alternative.
He said: “We need to ask whether in the region’s interests there are actually better road solutions in terms of new road rather than a tunnel under the Pennines.
“From our point of view there is a case to be made, not least that that kind of approach or that kind of route, which would have challenges, would be significantly cheaper than a tunnel under the Pennines.”
Coun Cooke said the area needed to be more “up front” about its transport ambitions.
The West Yorkshire Combined Authority agreed this week to draw up a plan of “shared priorities” on transport that is also likely to press for the Government to give clear commitments on upgrades that have long been discussed.
As an example, council figures in West Yorkshire point to the Government’s failure to make a clear commitment to electrify the Calder Valley rail line despite its potential featuring in the National Infrastructure Commission’s report.
There are also ongoing concerns about the timetable for the electrification of the north trans-Pennine route between Leeds and Manchester.
The project was put on hold and then restarted last year amid concerns about ballooning costs.