Calls for a meeting with Chancellor George Osborne to find a way of progressing plans for a £1.6bn West Yorkshire Plus Transport Fund received cross-party support at today’s West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA) meeting.
At the meeting members were told that despite a deal having been reached over the Transport Fund as part of setting up the Combined Authority, Ministers are continuing to drag their feet. They heard that last week Treasury Minister Danny Alexander had cancelled a meeting on the Fund at short notice. Mr Alexander had declined to meet with West Yorkshire leaders despite them offering to travel to Scotland so the discussions could go ahead.
Combined Authority Chair, Cllr Peter Box said, “Throughout our negotiations with Government over establishing the Combined Authority, George Osborne was committed to proposals for devolving transport spending in line with our proposals.
“There is no reason to believe that Mr Osborne is no longer committed so we need a meeting with him as soon as possible to find a way to break through the current stalemate since it is the Treasury we are being told is blocking the deal.
“We are not asking for a hand-out from the Government. We are simply seeking a way of raising revenues locally to realise these schemes that will deliver 20,000 real jobs and £2.4bn GVA.”
Leeds City Council Leader and Combined Authority member Cllr Keith Wakefield said, “During the City Deal negotiations, which resulted in the setting up the Combined Authority, we agreed a deal with Ministers over establishing the Transport Fund, which could be seen as a contract.
“We have gone back to them with alternative proposals of how we can make it work but we’re being stonewalled. If we cannot now get agreement from the government, the Combined Authority is going to struggle to achieve its aims.”
Leeds City Councillor and Combined Authority member Cllr Andrew Carter said,“This may be a case of there not being joined-up thinking between the various Government departments involved in these discussions but the Treasury holds the purse strings and it is George Osborne we should be speaking to.”
Roger Marsh, Combined Authority member and Chair of the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership (LEP) said that the Transport Fund is one of the key pillars upon which the City Region’s transformational Strategic Economic Plan has been built and that without it major game-changing schemes such as HS2 would deliver ‘sub-optimal results regionally and nationally.”
At its initial April meeting the WYCA heard that the proposals for the fund had been accepted by senior ministers, including Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles but that the Government’s position had subsequently changed, due to new Council Tax rules that would prevent the Combined Authority raising funding locally as intended.
Today’s meeting of the Combined Authority also adopted the LEP’s Strategic Economic Plan (SEP) as its overall economic plan with a commitment to monitoring and reporting progress on how the plan’s implementation is being delivered. Submitted to government in March, the SEP will access a portion of the government’s £2bn Local Growth Fund to unlock the City Region’s immense potential, becoming the growth engine for the north and in turn, the nation. The outcome of this process is due in July 2014.
The planned £1.6bn West Yorkshire Transport Fund has been designed to reduce congestion, improve the flow of freight and make it easier for people to commute to and from centres and expected major growth areas. This will help create up to 20,000 new jobs over the next 10 years and increasing economic output by £1bn per year.
Among the almost 30 schemes that could be progressed through the Fund are the Wakefield Eastern Relief Road, enhancements to the areas around Bradford’s Interchange and Forster Square rail stations, York outer ring road, the Leeds Station MasterPlan and improvements to the Cooper Bridge junction near Huddersfield and to Halifax Station.
Proposals that would see Fund projects that grow the local economy receiving ‘earn back’ from the Treasury were originally accepted by senior Ministers but a later change to Council Tax ruling that would prevent councils raising funds locally as intended has thwarted the Combined Authority’s plans.