Leeds hoping to find the right track to keep the pace

A map was created to show what a Leeds underground system would look like. Credit: Quinn Daley

Leeds could finally be set for a state of the art transport system

“We will take forward our plans to rejuvenate and in many cases revolutionise the infrastructure of Britain, including Northern Powerhouse Rail.

“We will remedy the scandal that Leeds is the largest city in Western Europe without light rail or a metro.”

Those were the words from Prime Minister Boris Johnson when speaking ambitiously about a transport programme during the Queen’s Speech debate last December.

You only have to look at the cities across the M62 or up the A1 to see that Leeds has been left behind in terms of a mass transport system.

Manchester has a tram system and Newcastle has an even more ambitious underground network. 

As it stands, Leeds has nothing of notice to shout about. HS2 is a long way off and the current system is less than desirable.

Leeds City councillor Matthew Robinson has been an advocate for a mass transport system for a long time and is encouraged by what the PM had to say.

Leeds City Councillor Matthew Robinson
Cllr Robinson is optimistic that a mass transport system will come to Leeds.

“Firsty it’s great to see the government is listening and noticed the problem that we need a system,” Cllr Robinson says. 

“People can’t rely on buses, trains are unreliable and people can’t trust transport.

“Not having a mass transport system to connect communities is holding back the city economically and holds communities back. If you can’t get to work or see family, it’s a real problem. “

A few years ago, £173m was ring fenced by Leeds City Council for a nine mile long trolleybus scheme. However, when that was rejected, ambition in the city dwindled. 

Cllr Robinson believes ambition is going to be needed to push Leeds into the top bracket.

“I’ve spoken about monorails to link up the city or more optimistically, an underground system like in London.

“If you look at surface level there aren’t many routes to take within the current system so we need to either look up or down which are monorails and undergrounds.”

Manchester’s tram system has been a success and although the model isn’t one that Cllr Robinson wants to replicate, elements of the process could help Leeds start in the right direction.

“One lesson we can learn is that they set out with a plan and didn’t try to do everything all at once,” Cllr Robinson explains.

“They split it into different business schemes and looked at which lines and routes would be most profitable and which transport connections would work best for the population.

“If you look at the North East of Leeds and imagine the city as a clock face, between 12 and 3, there’s no train system which goes to Wetherby or Alwoodley,” he adds.

“A monorail is something I would be really excited about and it’s not just because of that Simpsons episode. It captures the imagination of people and is deliverable. 

“I think we could start with easy lines to connect the station to the airport and the outer areas of the city. What I don’t want to see is people blowing away the dust on an old tram plan and claim it’s something new. It wont excite people, we need an alternative, which I think could be the monorail.”

Plans for a more than ambitious underground system have never taken off but an artist did create a graphic, highlighting potential routes which Cllr Robinson was excited about. 

The graphic suggested the city centre would be the hub for the underground with tube trains heading to the airport and outskirts of Leeds. 

“It was a really good idea as it allows the public to see how things could potentially link up. I appreciate it is just a map and there’s practicalities to overcome but allows the public to picture what could be.

“The costs are huge to dig underground and problems arise with utilities and the ground is hard to make inroads but it does capture the imagination. 

“I’m not saying an underground system could stretch as far as Wetherby or Otley but why couldn’t it connect Headingley and Moortown and Morley?”

Research conducted by property agent CBRE found that houses within 500m of a tube station saw their prices increase by nearly 10% year on year.

It’s an attractive figure and one which adds business potential to Leeds as Cllr Robinson explains. 

“People want to be connected and they know investment is coming to their community. A more reliable service to get to work is better for businesses in two ways. 

“There’s investment that comes with a system; the construction and engineering and then impact afterwards.

“Businesses want to know that where they’re investing is a connected city and that they’re in the right areas to attract business.”

Plans are currently being implemented to improve business prospects in Leeds Southbank with the council encouraging both large and smaller companies to set up in the area. 

With an advanced transport system in place, Cllr Robinson believes attracting business could be an easier task. 

“If we could tell them that there’s a new underground system being built on their doorstep or that a monorail is round the corner, you’re far more likely to get businesses to say actually it’s worth our investment.

“The real challenge for commuters is the final mile. How do you get the bus back home or to a meeting?

“We know changing this will make a positive difference to communities and the economy. Businesses further away from the city have just as much of a say as the companies on Leeds’ doorstep. 

“There’s reason to be optimistic and it’s an exciting time to be in Leeds. Transport will have a vital part to play in connecting the city in the future.” 

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