The Boxing Day floods still dominate our news as communities continue to suffer the consequences of Storms Desmond and Eva.
I was out helping residents the day after Boxing Day and since then I’ve been seeking repair funds for the bridge. After much lobbying I was delighted that the Chancellor of the Exchequer specifically mentioned Linton Bridge in his recent Budget, designating repair funds as part of a £130 million package across the North.
This is a good example of when our great local councillors need national support; for what is ostensibly a Leeds City Council issue I am able to support councillors by representing concerns to Government after such a devastating event.
Now the funds have been released the bridge repair is in the hands of Leeds City Council, who now need to get on with the job as a matter of urgency. Despite being in the main opposition party on Leeds City Council, I know our local Conservative councillors will work tirelessly to fight for this outcome.
However, it’s also important that elected representatives be realistic and don’t tread into offering false promises. The bridge repair is an immense engineering project, involving partial demolition and rebuilding. There are huge concerns about the impact on commerce in the villages of Collingham and Linton and I very much hope a temporary footbridge can be installed in the short-term to allow access to businesses and schools until the bridge repair is completed, which could still be over a year away.
With the closure of Linton Bridge we have seen a huge increase in traffic having to cross the main bridge over the Wharfe in Wetherby. This has highlighted that our only transport connections here in the Outer North East are by road.
The Beeching closures of our railway lines happened a very long time ago now and the old track bed has since been utilised in many different ways, be it walkways or new housing developments. But it is my personal ambition to see a new generation of rail links to our town and this came to the top of the agenda once again this week when representatives of all political parties on Leeds City Council took part in a BBC radio hustings to announce, collectively, that they did not support the Trolley Bus system that is currently working its way through the planning process.
It is hugely frustrating that Leeds City Council, having previously decided on this scheme many years ago and subsequently bidding for government funds to build it, are now talking themselves out of it. In the last Parliament the Government wasn’t too keen to fund the £170 million project, but I was able to successfully lobby for the funding because Leeds had long been neglected in transport infrastructure spending compared to neighbouring cities.
Let us be clear: dropping this scheme will not see the £170 million redistributed to another project, it will be yet another missed opportunity by the Leeds City Council.
It’s time leaders in Leeds broadened their horizons when it comes to transport investment. For many years I have pushed the idea of a tram/train system, as used in many European countries, which would be of direct benefit to our area. Recognising that we have to start from a blank sheet of paper, a light rail system gives us an opportunity to bring a direct rail link into Leeds and also through our main industrial estates such as Thorp Arch, while also linking up Leeds and Bradford airport. Leeds City Council is currently undergoing a review of its Core Strategy for house building in the city and it seems to me that now is a perfect time to review that strategy, reduce the overall number of homes the Council plans to build across local green fields, and instead commit to developments in single, stand-alone sites with a new light rail system integrated into the plans.
In the same way that I lobbied for the initial funding of Leeds City Council’s Trolley Bus scheme, and in the same way I lobbied for repair funds for Linton Bridge, I would enthusiastically go in to bat for a Government-backed light rail system in Leeds.
Council leaders must not forget that the Wetherby district is also part of the Leeds City Council area and we want transport schemes that benefit the many, not just the few. It’s time to look for new, radical solutions.