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Mayoral hopeful Bedser pledges transport revolution for ‘all of West Midlands’

Mayoral hopeful Bedser pledges transport revolution for ‘all of West Midlands’

🕔27.Jul 2016

A Labour politician hoping to become elected mayor of the West Midlands says he will make sure economic growth and prosperity is spread across the entire region and not concentrated in Birmingham and Solihull.

Steve Bedser wants to “rebalance public transport” and has warned that “people in the Black Country and Coventry are concerned about there being a focus on Birmingham to the detriment of other parts of the seven metropolitan council areas”.

Mr Bedser is up against MEP Siôn Simon to become the Labour party candidate for mayor, who will chair the West Midlands Combined Authority cabinet consisting of the region’s council leaders and assume limited powers over transportation, economic development and skills.

The result of a selection ballot will be announced next month and the mayoral election is set for May 2017.

The former Birmingham cabinet member who now runs his own business is pitching his bid firmly at improving public transport across the West Midlands, which he says is not in a good place. He said:

I can’t be excited about public transport in the West Midlands based on where we are today. It is a consequence of the inability of the seven Metropolitan council leaders to work together as a team, although they are stepping up their act now.

A former motorist who sold his car and can be routinely spotted cycling through Birmingham on a fold-away bike, Mr Bedser says if he becomes mayor he will “see public transport through the lens of someone who actually uses it”.

He wants to concentrate on delivering new Midland Metro tram lines across the region and not simply in and around Birmingham, where he says he is not content with “a glorified extension of a single line” in the city centre.

Mr Bedser added:

I accept HS2 as being a fixed point but I want to be certain that we are not just talking about getting to and from London in a hurry and we are talking about being able to move across the whole of the West Midlands.

He promises to be “robust” about improving the experience most people have of public transport and aims to improve the Swift bus and tram travel card which he said was a “pale imitation” of London Transport’s Oyster card.

Mr Bedser admits to being “sceptical” about plans to introduce Sprint bus services and doubts whether the necessary infrastructure and bus lanes required to make the journeys fast will be delivered.

He is also promising to build 10,000 new council houses in five years, which would be 2,000 more homes than were built in the past five years. The powers of the Homes and Communities Agency will pass to the mayor and Mr Bedser says he will use this to deliver “what people want” which is “affordable rent, a decent landlord, and security of tenure”.

He added:

I will set a very clear mayoral priority for building council housing and give leadership. Whether or not I win the Labour nomination it is the case that my council house pledge has prompted the most positive response from Labour members across the West Midlands.

In common with Siôn Simon, Mr Bedser says he isn’t concerned that the powers proposed for the mayor are at the bottom end of the scale. In fact, he rather welcomes this and adds that the mayor’s “soft powers” to persuade and cajole councils and other organisations are just as important.

He sees the mayor as being a focal point to address the poor decision making “that has dogged the West Midlands” and points out that it is always best to obtain cross-party consensus when putting together large infrastructure projects likely to take years to deliver.

Some of the best things that happened in Birmingham happened because we achieved proper political consensus.

The mayor is unable to make many decisions without getting the support of most of the council leaders and the council leaders are unable to make many decisions without getting the support of the mayor.

This means the mayor will need to be as much a diplomat as a decision maker and the job will be to act as a catalyst and stimulus and to face the electorate and be judged by an ability to deliver.

He describes the £8 billion West Midlands devolution deal signed with the Government as “a cause for celebration” but warns that the mayor will have to concentrate on delivering two further enhanced devolution deals “to ensure the prosperity is shared widely and evenly across the West Midlands”.

He added:

The mayoral post is the icing on the cake and it must go to someone who gives determined and consistent leadership. Devolution will only work if the prosperity it creates is shared by us all.

Decisions by Labour and Tory shire district councils and county councils to join the West Midlands Combined Authority as non-constituent members are to be applauded, Mr Bedser insists.

I very much welcome the partnership approach and the non-constituent members. There is some really grown up behaviour going on and the story of the West Midlands is not just confined to the seven metropolitan councils.

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