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Friday, 14 September 2007

Yorkshire Post: Indifference loses valuable asset

An opinion piece from today's Yorkshire Post about National Grid's plans for the Woodhead Tunnel:

When actions speak louder than words, the Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly has no need of a megaphone to broadcast her indifference to Yorkshire's transport needs.

Since the closure in 1981 of the five-mile Woodhead rail tunnel, three separate schemes have have been suggested for its reopening so as to improve the shockingly-bad transport links between South Yorkshire and Manchester.

Two have envisaged restoring it for use by trains – either for a high-speed rail link or for a "roll-on, roll-off" service to take lorries off the appallingly congested roads – and one as a road tunnel.

Any of these would have a hugely-beneficial impact on the region's economy, and the roll-on-roll off scheme or road tunnel would transform the travelling experience across the Pennines which, at present, consists of tortuous routes carrying far more traffic than they can adequately cope with.

There is then, good reason for the old tunnel to be regarded as a valuable asset, but thanks to Ms Kelly's and the Government's inertia, there is now every prospect of the National Grid putting an end to any possibility of it being part of the region's transport infrastructure by laying 400KV cables through it.

Disgracefully, considering what is at stake, Ms Kelly has shown no inclination to intervene. More than that, she has not even had the courtesy to reply to an appeal addressed to her by Chris Glen, until recently chairman of the Yorkshire Assembly's regional transport board and now deputy chairman.

In June he wrote to her, asking that she help preserve the option of re-opening the tunnel for rail or road.

Her refusal to become involved confirms the cavalier attitude of this Government towards the region's transport needs, already reflected in its refusal to back the extension of Sheffield's Supertram to Rotherham, and prior to that, the Leeds Supertram.

Apparently its preferred solution is to tax road users via congestion charges, an entirely negative approach with little likelihood of solving the core problems.