Expert who delivered A14 road improvement scheme on budget and eight months early will help 'unblock' Yorkshire transport projects

A highways expert who helped deliver a £1.5bn improvement scheme to a major road in southern England early and on budget has been brought in to help remove the blockages that have slowed down major infrastructure projects in Yorkshire.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told The Yorkshire Post that Chris Taylor, a leading official behind the A14 scheme in Cambridgeshire was part of a panel of experts who will "unblock issues on key transport programmes and push forward progress for passengers".

Mr Shapps today said the pandemic made it "more critical than ever that we turbo-charge our efforts to power up the North" as he held the second meeting of the new Northern Transport Acceleration Council.

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And he said the expert panel would help ensure projects like a mass transit system for Leeds, something that West Yorkshire leaders have been trying to get built for decades, would finally make progress.

The £1.5bn A14 Cambridge to Huntingdon improvement scheme includes a major new bypass to the south of Huntingdon and upgrades to 21 miles of the A14.

Work officially started in November 2016 and the new road opened to traffic in May this year, eight months ahead of schedule.

Mr Shapps said: "You so often hear about mega projects going wrong being late, think of HS2 for example. But what about the projects that really work?"

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Transport Secretary Grant Shapps. Pic: PATransport Secretary Grant Shapps. Pic: PA
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps. Pic: PA

He said the panel's brief would be "you've got this project in Yorkshire that [Leeds City Council leader] Judith Blake needs done, what lessons can we learn and how can we apply those".

He added: "That's really the purpose of the expert panel and it essentially contains people from sometimes parts of government, other times people outside of government who have just really shown phenomenal track record of delivering ideas, faster than anyone expected and under-budget and they get a place on the expert panel."

Asked whether there were specific projects the expert panel could help deliver, he said: "No conversation in Leeds or West Yorkshire is complete without talking about mass transit.

"Leeds station was the last visit I made before all the COVID lockdowns but a lot of work has already gone on at Leeds station, there's more work that I think we'll be progressing with, this is because we're really focused on trying to assist and when those projects happen these individuals will help bring the expertise of getting things done faster and more to budget."

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The panel of experts will work with the Department for Transport's new Acceleration Unit which began operating in October. It was set up because of concern about the amount of time major projects in northern England have taken to deliver.

There have been a number of failed attempts to get a mass transit system up and running in Leeds and the surrounding area.

New plans to build a network connecting the centre of Leeds to its suburbs, as well as Bradford, Dewsbury and Castleford were first discussed last year.

The system may take the form of a tram, light rail or rapid bus network, though if built it's unlikely to be up and running before 2033.