All transport capital and revenue funding should be brought into a single pot that could eventually be devolved to sub-regions and groupings of boroughs, a new report argues.
All bus subsidies including the bus service operators’ grant should also be transferred to groupings of councils, according to the Independent Commission on Economic Growth and the Future of Public Services in Non-Metropolitan England.
The commission’ was established by the Local Government Association last year, under the chair of Sir John Peace, and has called for widespread devolution of powers and funds in its final report out today.
Councils should have greater local influence over rail franchising and the option to instigate bus franchising, the report suggests. Currently, transport authorities can establish London-style bus franchising systems which allows them to set routes and control the network however they must go through a lengthy tribunal process under the traffic commissioner.
The Commission argues that spatial and transport planning needs to be more closely linked and that a review of the decision-making process and funding behind central and local infrastructure capital projects, including housing and transport, is urgently needed.
This would help identify a better balance between central and local responsibilities on such projects, the report states.
It adds that local authorities should co-produce plans for the Strategic Road Network with Highways England, the successor to the Highways Agency, following the Infrastructure Act reforms from this April.
‘Under the current system, it is difficult for councils to take a joined-up view about how housing in one area might fit with developments in another, or to join up decisions about housing with plans for the roads, railways, or reservoirs that will be needed,’ the report states.
This can often be the result of responsibilities being split between top-tier highways authorities and district planning authorities, Transport Network sources suggest.
Members of the District Councils’ Network told the commission that ‘limited and overloaded transport infrastructure, traffic congestion on major roads and in town centres and poor connections for commuters’ were main barriers to growth.
Devolving transport funding would need to be accompanied by ‘investment appraisal rules that properly consider the impact of global connectivity and developments at the urban periphery’ the report states.
‘A better understanding and valuing of the role of regional airports, ports and roads in global trade and tourism that can underpin greater local influence,’ is also needed.
From 1 April 2014, the Government devolved 75% of the national BSOG rate to eligible services in the five designated Better Bus Areas (BBA) outside London - within parts of the cities of York, Nottingham and Sheffield, Merseyside and the greater Bristol area.