The Government's flagship Levelling Up strategy has outlined a transport 'mission' based on recreating the London model across the UK, but ministers were criticised for the lack of detail.
The long-awaited White Paper established a central ambition for UK transport: 'By 2030, local public transport connectivity across the country will be significantly closer to the standards of London, with improved services, simpler fares and integrated ticketing.'
Levelling up secretary Michael Gove
While the vast majority of the transport policy and funding pots highlighted in the paper were already established, the Government did suggest that it aims to enter into further talks with local areas about bespoke devolution.
The paper states: 'For areas in England that agree the highest level devolution deals with directly elected leaders, the UK Government will make more targeted resource support available sooner, so that they can put Local Transport Plans in place before the end of this Parliament, as well as offering multi-year integrated settlements covering core local transport funding streams for local highways maintenance and smaller upgrades.
'Once robust plans are in place in line with DfT guidance, the UK Government will facilitate delivery by exploring opportunities to further simplify funding streams and reduce the requirements to access competitive funding.'
The Government pledged to publish new guidance on Local Transport Plans, with the aim of establishing 'clear project pipelines and comprehensive strategies to improve local transport for people and reduce carbon emissions'.
'The UK Government will also explore regional centres of excellence that can provide bespoke support to LTAs. Future funding will be dependent on the delivery of these plans and wider LTA performance.'
More general devolution was also suggested for mayoral combined authorities (MCA) stating that in these areas 'the UK Government will provide new powers of direction to increase mayors’ control over Key Route Networks'.
Ministers plan to 'explore transferring control of taxi and private hire vehicle licensing to both combined authorities and upper-tier authorities'. The paper states: 'Taxis and private hire vehicles are a key part of local transport systems, so this would allow LTAs to fully integrate these modes into their Local Transport Plans'.
There was also a commitment to support transport authorities that wish to access franchising powers, with talks open to unitaries and county councils with or without a directly elected mayor.
Underpinning the wider plans, the Government aims to create 'a new regime to oversee its levelling up missions, establishing a statutory duty to publish an annual report analysing progress and a new external Levelling Up Advisory Council'.
In a muted response, both public and private sector stakeholders highlighted a lack of new policy and new funding to bring about the ambition, which was also criticised for being vague and unfocused.
Mark Kemp, first vice president of the Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning & Transport's (ADEPT) welcomed the emphasis on local leadership and the 'cross-sector cross-government approach, which, alongside strong local leadership, is something ADEPT has frequently raised with Government'.
However, he went on to say: 'We are disappointed that the missions don’t appear to include protecting and improving the natural environment, and levelling up access to it for disadvantaged groups. With much detail, funding and resource yet to be announced, we welcome the government’s ambition but wait to see the detail.'
Sir John Armitt, chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, said: 'We welcome steps to broaden devolution to empower more local leaders to develop tailored infrastructure plans as part of their growth strategies. But this needs to be matched by urgent and fundamental reform of how local transport funding is allocated, with a shift from short term funding pots over which councils bid against each other, to long term devolved funding deals.
'While the White Paper promises a plan to move towards this simplification, this needs to be turned into real change quickly, and new devolved arrangements need to be in place much sooner than 2030.
'Achieving an internationally competitive city in each region requires internationally comparable mass transit networks. Delivering this needs government to start work now on a pipeline of major transport projects for cities outside London.'
Cllr Darren Rodwell, transport spokesperson for the Local Government Association, said that 'councils will be seeking more clarity' on what the plans mean in practice and how they will be funded.
'We would urge Government to also plug the £700m annual funding gap councils faced before the pandemic in providing the concessionary fares scheme, which would help to protect local routes and reverse the decline in bus services.'
Stating clearly what others seemed to hint at, Andrew Jones, AECOM Cities Programme Leader, said the plan 'doesn’t go far enough to recognise that we need a generational strategy if we are to truly level up the country – the UK is currently the most socially and economically unbalanced nation in Europe'.
- Significant bus transformation will be funded in Mayoral Combined Authority (MCA) areas, including major rapid bus priority schemes and fares improvements in West Yorkshire and the West of England.
- Outside the MCA areas, the UK Government will fund 'ambitious' plans for bus improvement, enhancing services and reducing fares, in Stoke-on-Trent, Portsmouth, Luton, Derbyshire, Warrington and many other places.
- Further discussions will be held with other councils to ensure their commitment to the improvements set out in the National Bus Strategy.
- Over £500m is being spent this Parliament on delivering zero-emission buses, plus over £440m on bus priority and other capital schemes outside the MCA areas
- A further £360m will be spent to introduce London-style contactless ticketing across regional rail commuter networks, delivering price capping, ending queues at ticket windows and ensuring that passengers are always charged the best fare.
- In the period before Great British Railways is established - the planned 'guiding mind' for the entire rail system, which is due to take over from Network Rail in 2023 - the UK Government will commission the new GBR Transition Team to explore opportunities to improve local engagement.
- Depending on the needs and capacity of different areas, local arrangements could include the ability for local leaders to integrate ticketing and fares, control stations and buy additional services or infrastructure to achieve local transport and housing priorities more effectively than at present, using funds raised locally.
- The UK Government is also supporting the development of 13 early stage proposals to restore lost rail connections with up to £50,000 for each project – including in Greater Manchester, East Yorkshire, Wales and Devon
- This year, the UK Government will publish a HS2 Local Growth Action Plan, setting out how it will work with places hosting Phase One and 2a stations to realise their local growth ambitions.
- The UK Government will accelerate delivery of the A66, ensuring that it is open for traffic five years sooner than the original plan.
- The UK Government will also progress work on the A428, A417 and A12.
- Funding has also been confirmed for major maintenance starting this year on the Tame Valley Viaduct, an important link between the M6 and Birmingham city centre.
Union Connectivity Review
- The UK Government will respond formally to the review this year and will also work closely with the Scottish and Welsh Governments, and the Northern Ireland Executive to deliver improvements to transport connectivity, including through improved data and information sharing, where discussion has already started through the Inter-Ministerial Group.