Conservatives target Yorkshire's marginal seats with promise of £4.2bn transport fund

The Conservatives today ramped up their bid to win over voters in some of Yorkshire's floating voters by announcing a £4.2bn transport fund to pay for schemes which would benefit some of the region's most marginal seats.

Announcing the Local Public Transport Fund, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the scheme would give eight 'combined authority areas', including West Yorkshire and the Sheffield City Region, the control and certainty of funding they need to invest.

A press release setting out details of the scheme said projects it could help fund include a new metro or light rail for West Yorkshire, 'including to Dewsbury, Pudsey and the Spen Valley', and 'new heavy rail or tram-train services around Sheffield, including to Stocksbridge'.

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

Labour will defend a majority of 3,321 in Dewsbury and 1,322 in Penistone and Stocksbridge, while Tory Stuart Andrew has a majority of just 331 in Pudsey. The Tories also singled out Labour-held Keighley, Yorkshire's most marginal constituency, as one of the potential beneficiaries.

Local leaders will have the final say over how to spend the money, which the Conservatives say will be given out to combined authorities "depending on their need, capacity and ambition". They will also have to raise some of the money themselves, perhaps by means such as commercial development at stations.

With a population of three million people, the Leeds City Region – taking in West Yorkshire and the surrounding area – remains the largest metropolitan area in Europe without an urban transit system.

In 2016, plans to build a £250m trolley bus network in Leeds were rejected by the Government. The Department for Transport accepted a report from a planning inspector who said the scheme was “not in the public interest”.

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During the campaign to become Prime Minister, Boris Johnson said it was ‘madness’ that Leeds does not have a mass transit system.

And last month Liberal Democrat Ed Davey promised to build a mass transit system for Leeds as he unveiled his party's economic plans during a speech in the city.

West Yorkshire and the Sheffield City Region have been bidding for money as part of the £1.7bn Transforming Cities Fund, though they have received less than other areas of the country as half the pot was reserved for areas with devolution deals.

In the weeks before the election was called, Northern Powerhouse Minister Jake Berry held talks with leaders about agreeing deals to hand over powers to city regions across Yorkshire.

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He said: “This new Public Transport Fund will allow us to fund a new metro or light rail, including to Dewsbury, Pudsey and Spen Valley.

“It will also kickstart the transformation of services so they match those in London, ensuring more frequent and better services, more electrification, modern buses and trains and smart ticketing."

Labour's Shadow Transport Secretary Andy McDonald said: “This announcement is a pathetic attempt to cover up the government’s disastrous and incompetent failure to invest in public transport.

"Tory cuts have caused public transport fares to rise at twice the rate of wages and thousands of bus routes to be cut, worsening congestion on our roads as a result.

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“You can’t trust the Tories to deliver on transport in your region. The North is set to receive £2,389 less per person than London on transport. The Tories have presided over an unbalanced and unequal economy.

The announcement follows the Government's £3.6bn Towns Fund, where towns can bid for up to £25m each to "help businesses grow, connect communities and give people the skills they need to succeed".

Of the 100 towns, 94 are in Leave-voting areas, with the remaining six all in Tory marginals in danger of being lost to Labour or the Liberal Democrats.

Earlier this month, Jeremy Corbyn promised that regulated rail fares in England will be slashed by a third from next month if Labour wins the General Election.Mr Corbyn intends to re-nationalise the railways when contracts expire if he wins the December 12 vote and has announced plans to cut regulated rail fares by 33% from January 2020.