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New blow over city trolleybus funding

NGT Trolley bus/ Boar Lane to City Square
NGT Trolley bus/ Boar Lane to City Square
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HOPES of getting Government funding for Leeds’ prized trolleybus scheme have suffered a blow after it was revealed to be near the bottom in a value-for-money table of projects fighting for Whitehall backing.

Although Ministers have given the final go-ahead for a new southern entrance at Leeds Station, there was more disappointment in the region as they announced they would definitely not fund a new train and bus interchange in Castleford or road improvements on the A61 in Sheffield during this parliament.

A raft of other schemes in the region – including new vehicles for Sheffield’s Supertram, park and ride projects in York and two new rail stations in Leeds – will now compete for a share of £600m of funding which the Government is set to rule on by the end of the year. Officials will be buoyed by the revelation that three Yorkshire schemes – a controversial link road between the M1 and a proposed new town at Waverley in South Yorkshire, a package of road improvements in Beverley and the A684 Bedale, Aiskew and Leeming Bar bypass in North Yorkshire – come out at the top when projects are rated according a cost-benefit analysis.

But while it is estimated they will all produce benefits at least 4.2 times their cost, the £200m trolleybus scheme – designed as a green way of cutting congestion – is rated to have benefits only 2.2 times the cost when last examined by Ministers.

Bosses at Metro, West Yorkshire’s passenger transport authority, are currently looking at how to cut costs and find more money locally to reduce the amount of Government funding required, but the figures will raise concerns over the likelihood of the scheme going ahead without dramatic changes.

They hope to meet Transport Secretary Philip Hammond to make their case for the scheme, which they say would not even need Government money until the next Spending Review. They will pledge to use local contributions to meet any costs over the next three years as long as the Government guaranteed funding after that, and will urge Ministers to treat the project as a “special case” when they make a best and final offer in the spring.

Pudsey MP Stuart Andrew said: “Naturally it’s disappointing that it’s come in that sort of ratio, but I think the important thing is that this isn’t the only consideration that’s taken.

“I think it’s important we recognise Leeds hasn’t had any significant investment in an integrated scheme, so I hope that will also be taken into account.”

Mr Hammond announced the go-ahead for nine transport schemes – including the southern access to Leeds station, for which the Government will pay £12.4m of the £14.4m costs – after £45m was cut from project costs.

Eleven projects have no chance of funding before 2015, including the Castleford interchange, although a bid for that has also been submitted to the Regional Growth Fund. Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough MP David Blunkett said the decision to rule out cash for the A61 Penistone Road improvements was “just another example of the plug being pulled on key investment in Sheffield”.

The remaining 45 schemes around the country – seeking £950m – will now fight it out for £630m which is available for projects over three years.

Metro chairman Cllr Chris Greaves welcomed the Leeds station funding but said: “Of course we are disappointed the Department for Transport has decided not to promote our plans for a new transport interchange that would provide a vital shot in the arm to the economy of Castleford and the Five Towns, to its Development Pool of projects.”

Mr Hammond said: “The Government is committed to delivering transport projects which improve journeys while also helping economic growth.”