Backlash as city is forced to wait for trolleybus

Transport Minister Norman Baker
Transport Minister Norman Baker
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MINISTERS faced an angry backlash after delaying a decision on funding for Leeds’ trolleybus scheme by up to five months – despite admitting there is a “strong strategic case” for it.

The delay, first revealed in yesterday’s Yorkshire Post, was criticised by MPs and transport bosses and means the £250m project will have been left in limbo by the coalition for up to two years by the time a decision is made.

Transport Minister Norman Baker said: “Nothing’s been counted out – we haven’t said no.

“It’s a novel scheme in the sense there aren’t any other trolleybus systems in the country so it’s important to bottom out the finances more than would otherwise be the case. We haven’t yet been provided with sufficient evidence to assess the value for money.”

West Yorkshire transport authority Metro wants £163.5m from the Government towards the cost of the scheme, which is designed to ease congestion, but the scheme has been under threat since the coalition put all major local transport projects on hold when it came to power.

But despite Metro offering to finance more of the scheme locally, the Department for Transport said it wants an updated business case by March 31, and has promised a decision by the end of May.

Leeds North West MP Greg Mulholland said: “Once again the Leeds bid team have been passed from pillar to post by the Department for Transport, as they have been for the past 30 years. It simply demonstrates the very real need for decision making powers on transport and other projects that directly affect the local economy, to be located in the city, as opposed to by a centralised department based down in London.”

Shadow Transport Secretary Maria Eagle said: ”By signing off almost every single road scheme on her desk but stalling on this vital scheme, the new Secretary of State will raise real fears about her commitment to improving public transport.”

However, there was good news for vital maintenance to the city’s inner ring road with officials agreeing to help fund the project, although its final contribution has yet to be agreed.

Metro chairman James Lewis said: “The 50 year-old Inner Ring Road is used by over 80,000 vehicles a day and is essential for removing through traffic from the city centre. This programme of essential maintenance and strengthening works will extend its life and help prevent disruption to traffic and the local economy.”

Also getting the go-ahead is the 1.8-mile Beverley southern relief road will cost £27.3m, of which the Government is contributing £20.7m. Planning permission has already been granted and it is expected to be open by the end of 2014. It will connect the connect the A164 from Morrisons roundabout to the A1174 Hull Road near Figham, providing a route around Beverley for through traffic and relieving congestion in the town, particularly around the Minster.

Council leader Stephen Parnaby said: “It is pleasing that a project which in one form or another has been under consideration for decades has now finally come to fruition.

“We have worked hard to bring costs down and do all we can to ensure that the scheme was in the best possible position to win Government funding. It is great news that our efforts have paid off.”

And the Government will pay £19.4m to meet just over half the costs of building a bus route from Sheffield along the Don Valley towards Rotherham, including a new road link under the M1.

But Ministers have offered North Yorkshire County Council only £35.9m for a bypass for Bedale, Leeming Bar and Askew – £7.8m less than the authority asked for.

The scheme is seen as vital to reducing congestion in and around the three villages, as well as improving access between the A1 and the Yorkshire Dales.

Mr Baker said he was offering “a big chunk of money” and said the council had “applied a slightly odd financial calculation”, adding: “We don’t think it’s reasonable”.

A council spokesman said it was “disappointed” by the decision, adding: “The county council submitted its bid for funding in September 2011 for a DfT contribution of £43.72m.

“However, whilst the DfT has accepted the scheme is a priority for funding, it has only agreed to fund up to £35.9m – a shortfall of £7.8m. This funding offer will now require careful consideration by the county council before a decision can be made whether or not to accept the offer in time for the DfT’s January deadline, bearing in mind the financial pressures faced by the County Cous