Last Saturday, I went to Leeds station to talk to the guards who are in dispute with Northern Rail over their future role. They are opposing driver-only operation and campaigning in support of keeping guards on the trains. I think they are right to be doing so for many reasons, including safety – what if there is an accident? – and disability access – what if someone in a wheelchair wants to get on a train at an unstaffed station and there is no guard?
It’s why disability campaign groups say that the expansion of driver-only operation impairs their ability to travel. Indeed, a spokesperson for the train company Southern in an extraordinary statement admitted that “…there is no cast-iron guarantee that passengers with accessibility requirements can spontaneously board a train in the assumption there would be a second member of staff on board every train.”
This isn’t good enough. Access to public transport should be a right not a privilege. I think it’s common sense to have a second person on a train in addition to the driver and I hope a negotiated solution to this dispute can be reached quickly. After all, Northern passengers have suffered quite enough from the disastrous introduction of the new timetable. I also think we should bring the railways back into public ownership, but that’s another story for another day.
South Leeds knows all about flooding. None of those affected can forget the impact on the 2015 Boxing Day floods on homes and businesses. Phase one of the flood defence scheme has now been completed including raising walls in the city centre and building the remarkable moveable weir by Crown Point bridge, but there is much more to be done to offer decent protection, especially to the west of the city centre.
I am very disappointed therefore that the Government has announced that it will not provide full funding for the next phase of the Leeds flood prevention scheme. Leeds City Council had asked for £112 million, but instead the Government has offered only half this amount for a scheme that will not give the city what it needs. This is completely unacceptable, and along with other MPs we have written to Michael Gove to demand a meeting.
The Leeds Civic Trust blue plaques are one of the jewels in the crown of our city. The places and people they have commemorated include the founding of Marks and Spencer, the Middleton Railway, and The Who Live at Leeds. One of my favourites is on the southern end of Leeds Bridge in honour of Louis Le Prince who filmed the world’s first moving pictures from that spot. Now that really is living history.
I was delighted to hear therefore that one of the next plaques will be to Albert Johanneson, the Leeds United footballer. He was an important member of the squad that gained promotion to the First Division in the 1963-64 season and he graced Elland Road with his speed and skill on the wing. He made 172 appearances for the club and scored 48 goals. He also appeared in the 1965 FA Cup Final – the first player of African heritage to achieve this distinction. His career was marred by the racism that was all too prevalent in that era but he left an indelible legacy in the memory of those who saw him play.
And the next time you come across one of these blue plaques, why not stop and have a look because I am sure that, like me, you will walk away marvelling at another example of the wonderful heritage of our great city.