Fears for fast trains to Yorkshire after Queen's Speech blow

THE Government is facing pressure to back a high-speed rail link from Yorkshire to London with politicians and transport bosses fearing that plans could be derailed.

As the Queen officially opened Parliament yesterday, the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition Government spoke of a "vision" for a national network of 250mph lines which it said would include a link to Heathrow.

But – despite the Labour government having proposed a route to Sheffield and Leeds, and the Tory manifesto promising a link to Leeds – the Government has yet to set out any route or offer any timescale for building the route other than saying legislation would be needed "in due course".

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Worries among politicians and transport officials in the region have been heightened by the absence of a Yorkshire reference in a Government briefing document published yesterday despite it mentioning possible links to Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow.

The Tories had proposed starting work in 2015 – two years earlier than Labour – and completing the link to Leeds by 2027 but the uncertainty and state of the public finances have fuelled fears that may be pushed back.

Transport bosses admit they are "very concerned" about the lack of any mention of the region in yesterday's statement and the South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive (SYPTE) is already seeking a meeting with new Transport Secretary Philip Hammond.

Ben Still, director of strategy at SYPTE, said: "High-speed rail must come to Yorkshire. It could lead to 4bn of benefits for the Yorkshire economy and will reduce travel times from London to under 80 minutes. The Government should consider balancing the economy of the North by committing to a direct route to Sheffield and Leeds as a next step after building to the West Midlands."

Yesterday's Queen's Speech outlined 22 Bills that the new Government plans to introduce over the next 18 months in the first session of an historic Parliament, the first led by a coalition government for 65 years.

The legislation includes widespread political, economic and social reform with a mix of policies from both parties' manifestos. The first Bill to be published today paves the way for hundreds more schools to be turned into Academies.

There were also controversial moves allowing a directly-elected individual to hold police to account, repeal a string of state powers, extend the right to request flexible working, introduce fixed-term parliaments and to set up Local Enterprise Partnerships to take the place of regional development agencies.

Widespread benefit reforms are planned along with increases to the income tax threshold and action to spare businesses from a rise in National Insurance payments, while residents will be able to demand a referendum on local issues, veto their council tax rise and sack errant MPs.

There was no mention of a coalition promise to hold a referendum on whether to install elected mayors in Leeds, Wakefield, Bradford and Sheffield, but sources said it would either be done without legislation or added into a Bill later this year.

But there was concern at the lack of a commitment on high-speed rail – for which the Yorkshire Post's Fast Track to Yorkshire campaign has been calling – with Angela Smith, Labour MP for Penistone and Stocksbridge, claiming Yorkshire had been left "out in the cold".

Clive Betts, Labour MP for Sheffield South East, said it was "crucial" for the region's economy, adding: "We need a link to Sheffield and Leeds."."

Stuart Andrew, Tory MP for Pudsey, who has already written to Mr Hammond seeking a meeting about the importance of transport improvements in Leeds, said: "Given we found the finances are a lot worse than we might have hoped for, it's probably going to have to be in a staged process, but it's absolutely crucial there's a long-term commitment for it to come up to Leeds."

Greg Mulholland, Liberal Democrat MP for Leeds North West, said he would continue to lobby for a fair deal.

MAIN POINTS

New providers allowed to set up "free schools"

ID cards abolished

Referendums on any future EU treaty

Fixed-term five-year parliaments and referendum on voting reform

Annual limit on non-EU immigration

Directly-elected individuals to hold police to account

City supervision powers for Bank of England

Simplification of benefits system

Part-privatisation of the Royal Mail

Housing and planning powers returned to councils and communities