No News?

In these post-election months, I was looking forward to writing a blog about the new Government’s plans for transport. The problem is, there isn’t much to write about.

A few weeks ago, there was the less-than-surprising revelation that Network Rail wasn’t meeting its targets for the £38billion plan of network improvements. So new leadership has been appointed and that big programme announced before the election will be reviewed and scaled back. This is all well and good, but it’s more of an un-news story than a news story in terms of transport planning.

Then there was the announcement by the Airports’ Commission of its recommendation for a third runway at Heathrow. This didn’t receive the level of attention I expected. Knowing the likely political fall-out, Downing Street refused to make ‘a snap judgement’ and the BBC reported that a formal government response was unlikely to be forthcoming until the Autumn. Which meant even the NO campaign only bothered grumbling briefly.

(For my response to a key NO tenet:

So that is why I was looking forward to this week’s budget. The first of the new Government. And what do I get? Not much.

The Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport @ciltuk managed a mere seven bullet points.

Three of these were to do with investing in England’s northern cities. The reinforced Government commitment to a form of devolution to cities and, on closer inspection of the budget document itself, potentially to counties too is welcome. I’ve expressed my support of devolved powers before in and I admire @CentreforCities research and advocacy.

However, the new rival to Transport for London, Transport for the North includes not only the band of cities from Liverpool to Hull, and even Hull could be geographically questionable, but also Newcastle. What a challenge to create a cohesive transport system that works for central Manchester or Leeds and also bridges the wide rural expanses between city regions? And with only £30 million of additional funding over 3 years. I’m not sure what it’s in addition to, but that doesn’t compare well with the £10 billion of transport investment promised to London during this Parliament. Perhaps that’s why the key measure for TfN to deliver is apparently ‘seamless oyster style ticketing across the system’. Meanwhile, London keeps one step ahead, moving from Oyster Card to bank card, with other Southeast cities like Reading soon to follow suit.

Otherwise, investment in local transport infrastructure includes a few extra, named pinch point projects, a few more new rail stations promised, and funding for road maintenance. Walking, cycling, active transport, public realm; none of these are mentioned at all. There’s the vehicle excise duty changes, frozen fuel duty, capped rail fares. Old news at best. But nothing about addressing the imbalance between continued support for concessionary bus fares for the disabled and elderly whilst the bus services they use are slashed or shrinking.

I hope locally-run transport in mayorally-responsible authorities will be a bit more ambitious and a bit more innovative than the Budget suggests. There are plenty of examples to follow – see or for some ideas.

But that’s assuming sufficient funding, appropriate responsibility, the removal of obstructive business interests, and the mayors themselves are all in place. Which looks to be a slow process. In the meantime, again, there is little for a transport planner to get excited about.

I hear Osborne has more to say next week. Housing and planning look to be big news, but how about transport?

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