Tory Minister Chris Heaton-Harris insists £4.2bn transport fund is' not targeted' at marginal seats

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A Conservative Minister has insisted his party's pledge of £4.2bn for a new transport fund was "not targeted" at voters in marginal seats.

The Local Public Transport Fund, which will come from central government funding, would give eight combined authority areas, including West Yorkshire and the Sheffield City Region, new funding that they could bid for.

Chris Heaton-Harris. Picture credit: UK Parliament official portraits 2017

Chris Heaton-Harris. Picture credit: UK Parliament official portraits 2017

However the funding will be spread over five years and works out at £840m a year which areas can bid for, meaning some authorities could get more funding while others could get nothing.

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Areas highlighted in a press release to promote the scheme are Dewsbury, Pudsey and Stocksbridge. The Conservatives have a majority of just 331 in Pudsey while Labour defends a majority of 3,321 in Dewsbury and 1,322 in Penistone and Stocksbridge.

Speaking today at New Pudsey railway station, Transport Minister Mr Heaton-Harris denied the funding was targeted as marginal seats .

He said, “I'm sure you could overlay a Venn diagram of where this is and you would find as many safe seats for other parties. It is not targeted in that way. Find me a place in a General Election where there aren't seats up for grabs.”

Mr Heaton-Harris emphasised that the Conservatives have trust in local people to deliver the results of the funding.

“We actually do trust people, even of other political colours, to deliver good services at value for money to the taxpayer”, he added.

Combined authorities will be asked to form bids to central government to access the devolved fund to move forward projects such as a new metro or light trail in West Yorkshire.

Mr Heaton Harris said he hoped that a strategic, integrated transport system would be formed from the fund “but that has to be planned by local people”.

He said the fund was devolved as the Conservatives thought the projects would be delivered faster using local rather than central government and that this would give local leaders a chance to lead the developments.

“This is a big sum of money, you can do an awful lot of good, which is why we want to work with local leaders, why it is devolved, because they know their areas best”, he added.

The Conservative said he understood the public anger about 1980s Pacer trains still being used on northern rail routes, but stopped short of a guarantee that they would be off the lines by May 2020 as rail bosses have promised.

He said that while that remained the plan, it was down to Spanish rolling-stock manufacturer CAF to produce them on time and that the firm had been having issues.

Instead he said, “As long as they keep to their word, and I've got no reason to disbelieve them, then all the Pacers will be off by May.”

On the controversial HS2 high speed rail project, the Minister said that he was 'fortunate' that the project didn't fall within his portfolio.

Mr Heaton-Harris added that as the nation has been divided on the 250mph project connecting London, Leeds and Manchester, value for money had to be ensured from the project.

Defending the Conservative policy of waiting for the judgement of the government-commissioned review, which will not be published until after the election, to make a decision over HS2,

Mr Heaton-Harris said “having set it (the review) up, it would be churlish to then say you are not going to take the view of it (the review).”

Stuart Andrew, the Conservative candidate for Pudsey, said of the Local Public Transport Fund: “This is a chance for us to sort lines like this out.

“The amount of complaints I get for people who stand on the platform and when the train arrives it is chock-a-block and they can't get on, this is a chance to resolve this once and for all.”

Mr Andrew said he also supported using the fund for a new light rail system that would “help us reduce congestion, contribute to tackling climate change, these are what people want.

“It is great that it is being announced today that it is actually being delivered.”