Liberal Democrat candidate for West Yorkshire mayor Stewart Golton wants to 'break up the consensus' that HS2 is the only answer to county's transport woes

The Liberal Democrat hoping to become West Yorkshire's first elected metro mayor says he wants to "break up the consensus" that HS2 is the "holy grail to the delivery of decent transport in our area".

Stewart Golton, who has served as a city councillor in Leeds since 1998, says leaders in the North have "allowed themselves to be mesmerised" by the controversial high speed rail scheme which would connect Leeds and Sheffield with London and the Midlands.

The Labour and Conservative candidates to be West Yorkshire mayor, Tracy Brabin and Matt Robinson, both support HS2 because of its importance to the region for rail capacity and job creation, despite concerns over its cost and environmental impact.

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Stewart Golton, a Liberal Democrat councillor in Leeds.

But Coun Golton said it was an "over-centralised, over-costed and environmentally destructive scheme, which does not deliver the transport revolution that we need locally at the pace that we need it to."

He told The Yorkshire Post: "It's going to take 20 years for it to be built and it's at that point that we're supposed to have the capacity available to deliver local services.

"I think northern leaders, especially through the structures like Transport for the North, have been led down this path that you've got to be lobbying for HS2 to be delivered and then we'll get our TransPennine Route Upgrade and Northern Powerhouse Rail on top of that, and then we'll get our local rail services because more capacity is created.

"Well actually we can't wait for the capacity that HS2 is meant to offer to deliver the local train rail services that we need."

Further details about how the Eastern leg of HS2 to Leeds will fit in with other major rail schemes - and whether it will go ahead as planned - will be revealed in the Government's Integrated Rail Plan after the election. Pic: PA

A member of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority that will work with the elected mayor, Coun Golton said he had not seen any evidence from the authority's officials that HS2 would create more jobs than a slower, less expensive rail route.

He said: "So they spent all this time over the past five or six years advocating this high speed route, which through its very rigidity, having to be very straight, means that it destroys loads of neighbourhoods and actually inflates its cost through the level of infrastructure which is required to enable it to go that little bit straighter.

"They haven't actually challenged that to see whether actually, a lower speed, but high frequency and high volume alternative could deliver actually the same amount of jobs in less time, because it takes less time to plan when your infrastructure is less invasive.

"And that's the kind of consensus that I want to break so that we can get some realism into the discussion, because our local rail services have just been literally shunted to one side and all of the reviews that are meant to be happening from the government just get delayed and delayed.

"Nobody seems to be complaining that the decisions around our local rail services just, just get kicked down the road, and we need to actually have a far stronger challenge of that."

Further details about how the Eastern leg of HS2 to Leeds will fit in with other major rail schemes - and whether it will go ahead as planned - will be revealed in the Government's Integrated Rail Plan after the election.

The West Yorkshire mayor will be elected on May 6 as a result of the devolution deal signed last March handing over powers and new funding sources from central government.

As well as Coun Golton, Labour's Tracy Brabin and Conservatives Matt Robinson, other candidates are Andrew Cooper of the Green party, Waj Ali of Reform UK and Therese Hirst of the English Democrats.

The combined authority will assume control of the government’s Adult Education Budget, currently £63 million per year, used to engage adults and provide them with the skills needed for entering and sustaining employment, an apprenticeship, traineeship, or other further learning.

Coun Golton said he wanted to make sure parents can access adult education close by in the community to help make a difference for their own children and give them a better chance of entering the jobs market straight from school.

By doing so, he hopes the county can break the intergenerational pattern of poverty where a lack of aspiration and poverty is passed down from generation to generation.

He said: "Adult education has been seriously overlooked for many years and, unfortunately, generally when the government wants to devolve something to you, it's something that they think has proved a bit of a problem for them and they want to pass that problem on to you.

"Well, it's for me, it's actually a real opportunity to make a difference in a significant way for that inclusivity in our economy. Over the years we've put billions into trying to solve deprivation by intervention schemes in different areas.

"The best way to enable people to get out of poverty is to give them the skills to do so and the adult education environment needs to focus not just on the skills which are needed for industry which is key.

"And one of the biggest challenges we're going to have is identifying what the key growth areas are going to be to tackle climate change, and enable the skills in those areas, like eco-building to be delivered by adult education colleges.

"This is the problem, too many decisions are very short term when it comes to government, whether it's local or national, in the long term, we want to have better educated people entering the workplace through the normal children's education system.

"COVID has taught us that a huge factor in terms of their ultimate success in that system is how they are enabled to be supported at home. And if you come from a family where you have generational lack of education qualifications, the cycle needs to be broken.

"In charge of adult education as mayor, I would be wanting to ensure that those parents that don't feel they've had the confidence to help their kids in their education can actually have access to adult education close at hand, within the community, to enable them to make a difference for their own children, so that we break that cycle of families, generation after generation after generation, having to exist on low incomes or benefits.

"Also in the new economy going forward, there's lots of research that employers recognise that flexibility is key to them achieving greater productivity and in attracting the best talent.

"If we can enable people to have part time work, which allows them to care for elderly relatives or for children and that is done through enabling people to have some qualifications which enable them to enter the workforce in the first place that would be a really progressive, long term investment in West Yorkshire and its inclusive economy.

"At the moment, the gaps between the poorer communities in West Yorkshire and the richer communities in West Yorkshire are not getting any less, whether it's through measuring education or whether it's through measuring household income, whether it's through measuring crime rates.

"And that is part of my crime strategy because I want to ensure that less young people are entering the criminal justice system by enabling them to actually have confidence to enter into the mainstream job market. And that depends on their parents as well being able to offer that kind of support in the home.

"So, hopefully it's a virtuous cycle. But that is my key long term goal in terms of focusing on adult education, and making sure that it's not just chasing work based skills to benefit employers filling their vacancies, but it's also about enabling people to be in a fit position to enter the jobs market at the very first rung."