We need £20m to help develop a metro system for West Yorkshire, county's leaders tell Boris Johnson

Political leaders in West Yorkshire and York have today urged Boris Johnson to commit £20m to help them develop the long-awaited mass transit system he promised during the General Election campaign.

The letter to Boris Johnson, published today, sets out the opportunities and challenges for the Leeds City Region in key areas, with specific requests for Government support on devolution, skills, transport, tackling the climate emergency and development of mass transit proposals.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a recent visit to Leeds. Pic: Chris Etchells

Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a recent visit to Leeds. Pic: Chris Etchells

It also asks the Prime Minister to recognise the significant pressures on local government and deliver a funding settlement which addresses that demand, particularly in protecting children and adult social care.

In the Commons yesterday, Mr 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”.

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The remarks repeat comments he made during the General Election campaign and while he was bidding to become Conservative leader this summer.

The letter by political leaders on the West Yorkshire Combined Authority says the Leeds City Region is the largest metropolitan area in Europe without a mass transit system and its economy is forecast to grow rapidly.

Separately, Leeds North West MP Alex Sobel has written to Boris Johnson to demand that the promises made about Leeds’ transport infrastructure during the election are now met.

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”.

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.

The letter published today says that a transit system was needed which is capable of transporting more people than bus, bikes and care can accommodate.

Work is already going on but the letter says "what will be critical will be ongoing central Government support throughout the process, to ensure we are able to once and for all deliver a mass transit solution for our region".

It adds: "During the general election campaign, you specifically committed to supporting the development of a new metro/light rail scheme for West Yorkshire.

"We are ready to work with you to deliver this critical infrastructure. We want to develop a joint approach with Government to deliver a mass transit solution for the region, which in the first instance would be through the commitment of £20 million in development funding so that construction can start from 2023/24 on the first phase, and agreement to work with the Combined Authority to fund delivery of mass transit proposals."

Last month, the combined authority submitted a bid for nearly half a billion pounds of smaller transport improvements to the Government's Transforming Cities Fund.

And during the election campaign the Conservatives announced a new Local Public Transport Fund worth £4.2bn which Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said could help fund include a new metro or light rail for West Yorkshire.

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.

Today's letter from West Yorkshire leaders also urged the Prime Minister to resume talks on devolution which had reached an advanced stage before the election was called.

It adds: “Our urgent priority is to secure the benefits of devolution for all our communities. This is a vital part of completing the devolution map across the country and will enable us to drive economic growth, tackle the climate emergency and regenerate, strengthen and level up our towns.

“We seek to build on the progress made following your speech in Rotherham supporting Yorkshire-wide collaboration and opening up negotiations on a possible Leeds City Region agreement, as well as deals covering the rest of Yorkshire. We ask that these productive discussions continue, with a view to agreeing a way forward that can be announced in your Government’s first budget.”

It also urges the PM to help the Leeds City Region meet its target of becoming net zero on carbon by 2038 and devolve dedicated funding to directly address the current climate emergency.

And it says: "Above all, we ask your Government to recognise the role local government plays in supporting inclusive communities with a funding settlement which reflects the scale of the challenges and opportunities our district authorities face, particularly in terms of protecting children and adult social care.

"We look forward to working with you to deliver transformational benefits across our towns, cities and communities, and would welcome meetings at the earliest opportunity in order to progress these ambitions at pace."