A South West Conservative MP has called on the Government to produce a genuine transport strategy for the region after Department for Transport (DfT) officials admitted that they had no plans to honour a promise by Chris Grayling to do so.
The transport secretary had pledged to local MPs to deliver a south west strategy. However, at a hearing of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, officials said that the DfT would leave the task to the region’s two newly formed sub-national transport bodies (STBs).
In February the DfT published a glossy brochure that included the unfunded Stonehenge tunnel as part of £2bn of spending in the region.
Anne Marie Morris, MP for Newton Abbott in Devon, pointed out that this was merely a list of existing commitments. She asked DfT permanent secretary Bernadette Kelly whether Mr Grayling had ever asked officials to produce a strategy of the kind he had promised.
Ms Kelly defended the published document as 'really useful' but admitted that it was ‘a summary’. She declined to confirm whether Mr Grayling had asked officials to produce an actual strategy.
Patricia Hayes, the DfT’s director general for roads, places and environment, told MPs that the department was ‘very pleased’ with the brochure and was thinking about using it as a model for other regions, ‘because from our perspective, it has been quite successful’.
However, she added: ‘But on the question around a strategy, you are right; that is a different question. Our approach is to work with the region — not to have a central Government strategy about the region, but to support the region in delivering its own strategy.
‘So it is helpful now that two new sub-national transport bodies have emerged, and their role is very clear. They will look at the economic vision for the area and help us understand how transport can help support that economic vision. That is a better way of answering the strategic question than having that come from Whitehall, where we do not have the ability to connect the spatial economic plan with the transport planning.
‘So I think that will be our route to strategy for the South West: not us doing a strategy for the South West, but us helping the South-West do its own strategy.’
Asked by Ms Morris how the region’s two STB’s – Peninsula Transport and Western Gateway – would bring forward a strategy between them, Ms Hayes admitted that they are ‘very new and still forming’.
She said: ‘I would not want to suggest that there is only one journey for a sub-national transport body. It is far from clear that they will all end up with statutory status in the way Transport for the North has.
‘We are expecting them to come to us with a proposal for a funding ask and for a strategic planning process later on this year, and we will be trying to address some of that in the spending review.’
Ms Morris told Transport Network: ‘Whilst the document published back in February was welcome, it mostly covered previously announced investment by the Government.
‘What we require is a forward-facing transport strategy that truly unlocks the economic potential of the South West and delivers the infrastructure necessary to achieve this.’