“I have little choice but to respond”: South Yorkshire mayor addresses HS2 funding claims

The Mayor of South Yorkshire has responded to claims from an MP surrounding the use of devolved transport funds.
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Mayor Oliver Coppard wrote a statement on Facebook on Thursday in response to claims by Don Valley MP Nick Fletcher that a transport had grant misused.

It comes after the announcement that the South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority (SYMCA) would receive a £543million grant due to the cancellation of rail project HS2.

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The funds will be made available from 2027, through the second round of the City Regional Sustainable Transport Settlement (CRSTS2) for a total £1.4billion.

South Yorkshire Mayor Oliver Coppard.South Yorkshire Mayor Oliver Coppard.
South Yorkshire Mayor Oliver Coppard.

During a meeting of the SYMCA board last week, South Yorkshire Mayor Oliver Coppard presented a case to renew operation of Sheffield’s Supertram Network.

If approved by the Department for Transport, the renewal will cost an estimated £596million.

Mayor Coppard proposed that £100million of the funding is taken from the first CRSTS, while the remainder “will be sought from government grant such as CRSTS2”.

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The plan was approved by the SYMCA board, which includes representatives from all areas of the region including Doncaster Mayor Ros Jones.

On Tuesday, Nick Fletcher MP criticised the plan, connecting the cost of the renewal to the HS2 cancellation grant.

As Doncaster Council continues to seek funding to reopen the region’s airport which shut down last year, he called upon the SYMCA to use the grant for this.

He wrote:

“On 14th November our Mayor went to a meeting held by the Mayor of South Yorkshire to approve how the HS2 money was to be spent. You will recall the additional sum of £543million granted to him due to HS2.

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“We all know of the Mayor of Doncaster Council’s determination to ‘throw the kitchen sink’ at getting the airport reopened. Would she be asking for the £1.45billion to be used to securing our airport’s future? She did no such thing. In fact it’s worse than that.

“The proposal she went to vote on had nothing to do with the airport at all. Instead it was to spend £596million on trams for Sheffield. £100million had of course already been taken as a top slice from the first fund. £496million is of course 91.3 per cent of the £543 million.

“The Mayor of Doncaster said nothing. Nobody objected to the proposal. It was put to the vote and all agreed that £596million should be spent on Sheffield’s Supertrams. That additional £496million is nearly all of the HS2 windfall.

“Surely the first priority is to focus on the airport, which will be by their own calculations over 13 times better for the economy than trams in Sheffield.”

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Mayor Oliver Coppard responded to the claims in a statement on Thursday:

“I do not like divisive, confrontational politics but at this point – alongside Ros Jones – I feel like I have little choice but to respond to Nick Fletcher MP, who has been doing his best to distract from the total lack of government support we’ve had in South Yorkshire, for our continued efforts to reopen DSA.

“I’m deeply sorry that Nick continues to choose to mislead people, rather than helping us to get some real support from the government for our efforts.

To correct the record: The money referred to in his recent post has been *notionally* allocated to South Yorkshire for the period 2027 to 2032. Not a single penny of the money Nick is talking about is available to us today. We may never even get it.

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“Even if/when we do get to access that funding, the final say over how we spend that money is made by Nick’s Conservative colleagues in the government. That is the same process as was used for the last round of money, CRSTS1.

“For example, in 2022 the Combined Authority allocated £30 million from the first round of CRSTS for the rail project to the airport in Doncaster; money which we have not been allowed to spend.

“Doncaster Council asked the government – Nick’s colleagues and friends – to let us spend that money on reopening the airport. They said no.

“The government has said that the so called ‘Network North’ proposals are their plans for how to spend the £36 billion they have supposedly saved by cancelling another project in the North – the HS2 leg to Manchester. They did not include DSA in those plans, nor did they ask us what our priorities would be before they announced those plans.

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“However, anyone who has been paying attention over the last year knows that the problem from day one has never just been the money; it has been that Peel are a private company who did not want to sell the airport.

“The only people who could maybe have changed the law – or used existing laws like the Civil Contingencies Act – to force Peel to change their minds, to keep the airport open, are the government.

“We have so far had no help from the government at all. They have made no money available to us in response to our repeated requests for help, and made no efforts to use the tools they do have to help us, despite saying they would ‘do everything they could to save DSA’.

“Despite the lack of help from the government, we will use the money we have available to us locally to try and reopen DSA, if Peel do agree to a lease. We will pursue a CPO if not.”