Less than 24 hours after the launch of the new timetable and Leeds City Region submitted multiple bids for their share of the £2.3bn Transforming Cities Fund.
The money will (hopefully) be used to upgrade six orbital roads and three railway stations in the city. However, it seems that these upgrades are mostly to the benefit of retail emporia (White Rose), but not much good to the commuter eager to the get to work or the hospital patient needing to get to St James’s Hospital.
What’s more, we are faced with a climate emergency and we need to be doing more to get cars (and lorries) off the road and people onto public transport. Commuters are eager to play their part, but the first thing we need is a Secretary of State for Transport who understands their brief and the importance of public transport for businesses, commuters, leisure and tourist travellers. Not to mention freight in order to reduce the number of HGV journeys.
The overwhelming priority is for public transport to be reliable and affordable. An obvious quick win would be to scrap the yearly rail fare increase unless the providers prove they have earned it by meeting or exceeding strict targets (no excuses). This year has been marred by falling reliability for the main operators. Cancellations soared and the introduction of new rolling stock delayed. Indeed, the launch of the new rolling stock in the summer prompted the chief executive of West Yorkshire Combined Authority, Ben Still, to refer to travelling on Northern as an experience, “and not a good experience”.
It is not just the train operators who are at fault. There are a number of bus operators in the city although First and Arriva dominate. Ask any passenger, and particularly those on the fringes of Leeds and the story will be the same. High fares, late buses and frequent cancellations. Why does it cost as much to go from central Leeds to St James’s Hospital as it does to catch a train to Wakefield?
Falling service standards simply do not meet the needs of Leeds Inner City or its ambitions to be a 21st century city. The city’s recent bid for investment in park-and-ride, new railway and bus stations and cycle routes will fail if these are not part of an integrated transport network.
If the bid gets the go-ahead, it should be an opportune time to amalgamate the bus, rail and road transport systems into a coherent network.
The Transforming Cities Fund announced by Theresa May’s government was welcomed. But why does the bidding process have to be a beauty parade with cities competing against each other? Why can’t the funds be allocated according to need and other hard criteria such as return on investment?
For too long, West Yorkshire has missed out in these “beauty parades”. Funding should not piecemeal but allocated according to targets and the benefit to each region. And bluntly put, given all of the problems, £2.3bn is a sticking plaster. So, what needs to be done?
Given that there is now a majority government, and one with a large number of new MPs in Yorkshire, the Prime Minister has a great incentive to deliver the necessary investment to get Yorkshire’s economy – and people – moving.
First, the Government should give the green light for Northern Powerhouse Rail from Hull to Liverpool. This is a far less “toxic” project than HS2 and the potential benefits are enormous.
Secondly, the Leeds Inner City desperately needs an integrated mass transport system extending around West Yorkshire and encompassing York and Harrogate.
These two actions should take precedence over HS2 where the “added capacity” is still open to question.
Thirdly, stop projects being bogged down by consultations and consultants. In other advanced economies, a decision is made based on the facts and an implementation plan is developed. Here we have consultants, consultations, public hearings, white papers, green papers and inertia.
Our cities are choked and the pollution will choke our children. Action, not words.
Carmel Harrison is a Lib Dem councillor on Leeds City Council. She represents Rothwell.