Autumn Statement: No new road/rail link for Leeds Bradford Airport

Although the Roads Programme announcements have brought quite a number of ‘zombie’ road schemes bursting out of the ground, to the horror of environmental campaigners – see Assault on the Pennines – all routes to be expanded?! – there was the occasional crumb of comfort. One being the failure to announce either a new road or rail link to Leeds Bradford Airport, despite the fact that, bizzarely, this had been the subject of  one of the six studies into ‘the most notorious and longstanding road hotspots’ in the country commissioned in 2013.

Maybe the problem for this project was that access to the airport never was, and isn’t, a ‘most notorious and longstanding road hotspot’? Which the study duly proceeded to demonstrate. So no actual problem in the first place; one can only speculate as to what devious lobbying processes got the project included on the ‘hotspots’ list in the first place. Or that, when pressed on this point – the present author (Anthony Rae) represented environmental consultees on the study reference group – the DfT could never settle on any other justification for a new link that stood up to scrutiny. Or that using public money for such a link was contrary to the Treasury’s own policy. Or that, when the final sift of national infrastructure projects for the Autumn Statement was undertaken, it was finally understood to be a pointless waste of money.

Of course, almost all the other local policy policy makers participating in the reference group never raised any of the above ‘little difficulties’ – instead the tactic was just to ignore them – as well as the fact that the growth forecasts for the airport were hugely overstated – so distorting the BCR calculations; the same thing happened with the previous work done by AECOM in January 2013 for the West Yorkshire Transport Fund assessment – and were incompatible with the UK carbon budget set by the Climate Change Act. So never mind that airport growth would heap additional future carbon costs on all other economic and social sectors in the Leeds City Region; the policy makers, showing that they are in blinkered thrall to airport ideology, never thought to question their starting assumption that ‘aviation growth must be a good thing’ – which it isn’t.

In October the Treasury offered the opportunity for consultees to give their views as to what infrastructure schemes should be included in the Autumn Statement. My submission was entitled Please do NOT support a new surface access link to Leeds Bradford Airport and – after acknowledging that the final study report was awaited; as is still the case – expressed the view that it was ‘by far the worst transport study I have ever been engaged with in terms of its absence of rigour and its disregard for the evidence. Should its conclusions not be properly substantiated I will write to the Public Accounts Committee to complain about what will be a scandalous waste of public money.’ I’m sure the fear of a Margaret Hodge inquisition gave them some pause!

It concluded: ‘A new rail link to LBA, as was being slavishly promoted in Wednesday 15th October’s Westminster Hall debate, would be a massive white elephant and a huge misallocation of investment resources; a road link, though cheaper, is still not required on congestion grounds. The government would be far better prioritising, intensifying and quickening the preparatory stages and studies of the ‘HS3’ project. Not only would this benefit a larger area, a larger population and a much larger number of businesses across the North it would crucially also be an investment in the low carbon transport infrastructure of the future rather than the high carbon infrastructure of the past.’

You can download the Transport North! objections – prepared for the eventuality that the scheme might gain approval – here.