East London held back by political shortfall, TfL warns


One of the UK’s biggest growth areas, the east of London, is being held back by a ‘disconnect’ between officers and local politicians and a lack of sub-regional representation, Transport for London (TfL) has warned.

Speaking to Transport Network, Alex Williams, director of borough planning at TfL, warned that unlike the other four sub-regions of London (central, north, south and west) in the east and south east sub-region ‘there is no single body that covers what we consider to be the east of London’.

This has created difficulties in developing the area’s annual sub-regional plan and as a result eight boroughs recently launched a bid to reclaim more powers from Transport for London (TfL) including influence over bus routes and long-term planning.

Leaders and mayors from Barking and Dagenham, Enfield, Greenwich, Havering, Newham, Redbridge, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest recently signed up to a devolution prospectus detailing how stronger local powers could benefit the area.

While the current TfL sub-regional transport plan is shared with boroughs for approval, calls were raised for this system to be ‘reversed’ with town halls instead funded to form plans based on local needs ‘which will feed in on a formal basis to the mayor’s transport strategy’.

The boroughs requested TfL be tasked with negotiating bus service changes that had been approved by the sub-region.

East London town halls suggested London-wide transport plans were currently ‘too often done to us, not with us’, meaning they ‘do not take account of the experiences and needs of our residents and happen in isolation from the broader economic planning of our region’.

However Mr Williams complained there was no sub-regional group covering the area, pointing out that the prospectus misses out Bexley, Lewisham and Hackney - three major boroughs in the east of the capital.

He added there was ‘a disconnect between the officers and the politicians on the sign off of the plan’ in the east, highlighting that the bus network was raised as an issue by politicians but not by officers.

‘Our system of engagement with boroughs works pretty well. We meet with all the borough heads of transport in all the regions every two months. These concerns have not risen before in any other area of London. I think the east is different in that regard,' he said.

‘We would welcome a political body in the east – which we could debate with like the other regions. The difficulty in the east is there is no single body that covers the entire area of what we consider east London to have that political debate with.’

He went on to reveal that meetings would be held with the boroughs after the general election to talk about specific issues as well as issues around the sub-regions.

Mr Williams accepted there were infrastructure and transport capacity issues in the east of London, mainly as a result of its large growth in population in recent years, which is predicted to continue.

‘Our issue is we need to work with the boroughs to make sure the growth goes to where the transport investment is going to be delivered. So along the Crossrail spine we work with the boroughs to get some significant development on or around that spine,' he said.

'We are not complacent about the challenges on the infrastructure side that we need to address but we are working very closely with the borough officers in east London. They can shape the issue through our meetings.’

While accepting that TfL and the Greater London Authority play a ‘vital’ role, the prospectus outlined how the group of boroughs ‘need a greater say in strategies that affect us and control where the impact is entirely sub-regional’.

Sir Robin Wales, mayor of Newham Council, said: ‘The joint commitment demonstrated by all participating mayors and leaders show exactly why central government needs to pay close attention to conversations happening in this part of London.

‘With a population of more than 2.2 million, we cannot be ignored,’ he added.

The councils also pushed central government and the London mayor to devolve greater control over traffic lights, alongside powers over road closures, crossings and reduced speed zones on major roads.

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