Local leaders could be handed control over the design and funding of a new metro system serving Leeds under new legislation due to be introduced by the Government in 2020.
The devolution White Paper to be published next year is expected to contain provisions which may end the Leeds City Region’s status as the biggest metropolitan area in Europe without a mass transit system.
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick has told The Yorkshire Post that the legislation could see metro mayors given funding for longer term and more significant transport projects than are currently available under the existing Transforming Cities Fund.
To be eligible for such an arrangement a devolution agreement would have to be reached, something leaders in West Yorkshire and the Sheffield City Region hope will happen in the near future.
Mr Jenrick said: “Mayors have come to us with proposals for further responsibility in transport, the longer term transport funding to enable communities to invest in really significant transformative transport projects like metro systems, which you could imagine being very important for a city like Leeds, for example, which just doesn’t have it and probably needs one.”
In the Commons last week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said his newly-elected government will “remedy the scandal that Leeds should be the largest city in Western Europe without light rail or a metro”.
And council leaders on the West Yorkshire Combined Authority have written to the PM asking for £20m in development funding so that construction can start from 2023/24 on the first phase of the scheme, as well as “agreement to work with the Combined Authority to fund delivery of mass transit proposals”.
In 2016, plans to build a £250m trolley bus network in Leeds were rejected by the Government. And in August, transport bosses in West Yorkshire appealed for experts from around the world to come forward with ideas in the aim to develop designs for an advanced urban transit system that could be delivered by 2033.
On the back of a series of gains in Labour-held northern seats at the General Election, Mr Jenrick will be visiting a number of northern towns early in 2020 to promote the Government’s £3.6bn Towns Fund.
It comes as another Tory Minister, Jake Berry, suggested that a technological institute similar to the famous Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US could be coming to Leeds.
In an interview with The Sunday Times, Northern Powerhouse Minister Mr Berry said the Government was in talks to set up a centre in the North to invent products for the global market, with Leeds as a suggested home.
Mr Berry is leading the discussions and told the newspaper: “MIT in Boston is one of the world’s most dynamic universities and provides its region
with a significant boost to its economy.
“We want to set up a world-leading institution in the North to rival Oxford and Cambridge, where the best and brightest will base themselves to create new ideas and sell them.”
Tory sources said funding would be on offer for those at the centre to develop inventions.
West Yorkshire’s leaders last week wrote to the PM urging talks on the long-awaited transfer of powers from Whitehall to resume as soon as possible.
Northern Powerhouse Minister Jake Berry had been in advanced talks with the county’s political leaders over a devolution deal but the discussions were halted by the General Election.
It was reported that the devolution package for West Yorkshire would be worth £900m.
In response to last week’s letter, the PM’s spokeswoman said: “We will do all we can to support these ambitious plans to deliver more opportunity and prosperity across the region.”