By Cllr Jane Urquhart portfolio holder for planning and transport at Nottingham City Council
Cllr Jane Urquhart
Nottingham faces the same issue as other cities - congestion is a costly barrier to good business and a successful city.
It’s an issue that Nottingham takes really seriously and has been more successful than most in tackling effectively.
The council’s transport policies, which led to Nottingham being named Transport City of the Year and the council as Transport Local Authority of the Year at the 2012 National Transport Awards, have helped to hold congestion levels steady for a number of years. A comprehensive, easy-to-use, reliable and affordable public transport network is encouraging the highest levels of public transport use outside London and helps to keep the city moving.
But the question Nottingham wanted to address was how to stay ahead of the game - ensuring the city will continue to be a good place to invest in well into the future. As well as weathering economic storms – in which the public finances previously available for major transport investments are dwindling - how could Nottingham remain competitive as our economies start to find ways of shifting away from a reliance on oil?
Ongoing investment in decent public transport must be part of the answer. Major transport schemes like the city’s successful tram system do much more than move people around – they say something about the sort of city we are, increasing our appeal and lifting the city above others. So it makes sense for investment to start there and at Nottingham Station, whose development is one of local businesses’ transport priorities. Better bus services to workplaces are also vital.
The £570m NET Phase Two expansion, due for completion by the end of 2014, will create two new routes to the south and south west, doubling the size of the system, increasing passenger journeys to over 20 million a year, providing 2,400 extra Park and Ride spaces, relieving key routes into the city and providing access for 55,000 commuters to over 1,270 workplaces.
The £67m Hub development will see Nottingham Station modernised and refurbished, with improved connections between trains, cycles, car parking, taxis, pedestrians and trams. These projects will themselves attract jobs and inward investment.
Improvements to Nottingham’s Link buses, which provide 6.7 million passenger journeys a year to key employment locations, include a new fleet of eight zero-emission buses.
Through Government legislation, the workplace parking levy (WPL) provides us with a means to help fund these important projects. The fact is that without it, the extension to the tram network, redevelopment of the station and expansion of Link bus services would not be happening.
The WPL is levied on all employers in the city with workplace parking but charged only to those providing 11 or more spaces – exempting a large number of smaller businesses from the charge.
We realise it’s unlikely to be popular among those businesses eligible to pay, but hope that the rationale is clear: congestion is worst at rush hours when people are going to and from their workplaces and when the best alternative options are available. It’s therefore reasonable for businesses to pay towards improving those alternative options from which they will benefit most. WPL can also prompt businesses to manage their workplace parking and promote alternative modes of transport.
We’re pleased that all 2,596 eligible employers have complied with the Levy since it came into effect last April – contributing just under £8m towards local transport investment in the first year. The WPL also helps to lever in £3 of government funding for every £1 from the levy and once the schemes it funds are complete, it will deliver £10 of economic benefits to the city for every £1.
It’s predicted that together with tram, train and bus improvements, the WPL will help reduce traffic growth from 15% to 8% and reduce annual car journeys by 2.5 million by 2015.
Some are concerned that WPL will put businesses off from investing in Nottingham or drive existing businesses away. Our view is that the transport improvements it funds will help Nottingham to stand out as an excellent prospect for investors and existing businesses. Certainly, there’s little to suggest it’s having a detrimental effect – 2012 saw the highest number of companies the council has supported moving to the city for over five years and some 2,300 new local jobs were created over the last four years.
We’ve yet to identify a business which is leaving the city, or rule out coming here, because of the WPL. Perhaps this is because on important factors such as cost of property, location, staffing costs – and transport - Nottingham is a cut above.
WPL will help us to keep it that way.