There are still questions to be answered about sustainable transport including rail infrastructure, buses, and support for cycling and walking
It was expected that the chancellor would use his Budget speech this week to promote the government’s record over the last five years and offer voters some positive ideas about what the Conservatives would do if they win the General Election. What we didn’t know was what this would mean for transport. While we do know about his party’s commitment to road building, there are still questions to be answered about sustainable transport including rail infrastructure, buses, and support for cycling and walking.
With the north of England a key election battleground, it is no surprise that the chancellor focused attention on local transport control in the region, continuing his rhetoric on creating a ‘Northern Powerhouse’ to rival London. Mr Osborne referred to Transport for the North, a body made up of the main northern city regions which was set up to come up with an integrated strategy for transport across the North of England, saying that it will imminently publish an interim report on its activities.
As this region has suffered a historic lack of investment in public transport, urgent action is needed to create a modern and sustainable network and rebalance the economic inequality we see between north and south, so Transport for the North’s work must go some way toward redressing this.
The chancellor focused new announcements on the devolution of powers to particular cities and regions. This included a proposal for Greater Manchester and East Cheshire to retain revenue from additional business rate growth from April as opposed to giving half back to Whitehall, building on the plan to have an elected mayor in Manchester from 2017, like in London, with powers over transport, housing, planning and policing.
Pilots were announced for the same business rate growth retention for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, and a new deal granting powers over skills, business support and transport to West Yorkshire Combined Authority.
What is now clear is that, whatever the colour of the next government, there is potential for other cities and regions to be granted more powers over transport in the future. The prize is there for the taking if local authorities make efforts to seize it, and if national government gets behind a roll out of devolution, supporting local authorities to deliver the changes that people need.
For transport planning, moves towards devolution are welcome. As cities gain more local control over how they manage their services they will be in a better position to make the right decisions for the local population. They will be better able to plan their local road and rail needs, and be better able to identify local problems and find new ideas to solve them. Local control of transport planning and spending in places like London and Merseyside has been shown to be good for people and good for business.
It will be interesting to see where this all leads, but we will be looking out for signs that this move towards devolution in transport will bring real benefits to users of the transport systems in the north.
Richard Watkins works for the Campaign for Better Transport
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