West Yorkshire mayor hopeful Matt Robinson says county needs broadband network 'far more like South Korea and less like North Korea'
One of West Yorkshire's mayoral hopefuls has called for the county to develop a broadband network "far more like South Korea and less like North Korea" as he and his rivals were challenged on how they would help meet ambitious net zero targets.
Leeds city councillor Matt Robinson, the Conservative candidate to be West Yorkshire's first ever directly elected metro mayor next month, was asked at a hustings how he would help make sure the local economy generated net zero carbon emissions.
And Liberal Democrat Stewart Golton, a fellow Leeds councillor, described a "consensus breaking out" among the candidates about the measures needed as he and fellow candidates Bob Buxton of the Yorkshire Party and Green councillor Andrew Cooper were quizzed on the issue.
Labour candidate Tracy Brabin, the current MP for Batley & Spen, did not attend the economic hustings organised by the Centre for Cities think tank, along with Reform UK candidate Wajid Ali. Mr Buxton attacked Labour's approach to housing, saying local Labour councils were building on the green belt instead of on previously used industrial sites.
And Mr Cooper, the leader of the Green group on Kirklees council, accused the Labour-run authority of putting barriers in the way of public sector and social housing projects being built to the so-called Passivhaus Standard, the highest international energy performance standard in the UK.
Whoever is elected mayor on May 6 will take on new powers and resources as part of the devolution deal agreed with West Yorkshire leaders a year ago, putting them alongside South Yorkshire mayor Dan Jarvis and Greater Manchester's Andy Burnham.
One of the questions during the 90-minute session was from Penny Marshall, Regional Director for Yorkshire and Humber at the Institution of Civil Engineers, who said infrastructure was one of the key factors in delivering economic prosperity.
She said: "But it's imperative that we meet and preferably exceed government targets for delivering net zero if we're going to avert the worst impacts of climate change, and I'd love to hear a bit more from the candidates about how they intend to deliver zero carbon."
Mr Cooper wants to introduce a Green Building Fund to ensure all public sector and social housing projects are built to the highest energy efficiency standards, which he said would help fund the extra costs of retrofitting properties to make them more environmentally friendly. He said pilot projects would help establish the skills needed to achieve that.
He added: "We need to be doing a lot more on the transport side of things, cycling should be increased by 8,000 per cent and we simply don't have the infrastructure to be able to deal with that at the moment.
"So getting that in place, getting dedicated safer routes, which means that more people using ebikes are able to use that and that growth in cycling is something that can really be achieved."
Mr Buxton more subsidies were needed for the installation of wind turbines, where appropriate, and solar panels. The lecturer in adult education said: "Unfortunately a lot of these schemes are mishandled by government, downgraded, eventually they get cancelled, that's a step in the wrong direction."
On the subject of cycle ways, he said: "We need to plan those very carefully, there are some successful ones, there are some which are under used, so we should speak to cyclists, listen to those consultations get those cycleways in the right places, and try to make them as separate from roads as reasonably possible."
Mr Golton, the leader of the Leeds city council Liberal Democrats, said the fact that West Yorkshire had a more demanding net zero target of 2038 compared with the Government's 2050 means there is "going to be some kind of friction there in terms of how quickly each of those bodies wishes to take the climate change emergency seriously".
And he said: "One of the things that we're gonna have to do is challenge government effectively to make sure we've got the resources to do that."
He added: "Something very practical should be happening with local authorities and as mayor I will be having that challenge conversation with them to identify the land to enable those small niche builders to actually scale up and become far more productive, far more successful, and they're building more prosperity within our region and not depend on those great big builders like Barratt to actually deliver our housing of the future."
Mr Robinson said climate change needed to be taken seriously and couldn't just be seen as a "bolt-on". On transport, he said: "It's about looking at things to make our buses more nimble, so some people have used this Uber bus model as a pilot in the past where people can log on and log off and then can jump on and jump off, actually that's something I'm really keen to explore, let's look at what are new options."
He added: "But it's also about people who work from home, many more people now, much more than previously are considering working from home, we should be looking at getting broadband rolled out across West Yorkshire, starting with the areas that can't access the best broadband to make sure we deliver it.
"We should have a digital system across West Yorkshire, that's far more like South Korea and less like North Korea."