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Who should the Transport Secretary call to speak to the West Midlands?

Who should the Transport Secretary call to speak to the West Midlands?

🕔22.Apr 2013

trainsA little over a week ago West Midlands councillors met and approved in principle plans to provide the region with a world class transportation network.

Wide-ranging proposals included some very old chestnuts indeed – huge expansion for the Midland Metro tram system, new freight rail links, improved passenger rail services, better buses with smartcard ticketing linking to rail, and enhancement of the motorway managed traffic system to name but a few.

The entire package, were it ever to be adopted in full, would cost well over £1 billion.

Similar schemes, invariably tagged ‘world class’, were talked about with great enthusiasm for many years by the West Midlands Passenger Transport Authority, Centro, although Government funding did not usually extend to fulfilling more than a tiny part of the wish list.

WMPTA’s successor, the Integrated Transport Authority, consisting of 27 councillors, met on April 15 to approve several weighty documents setting out a shopping list for Department of Transport cash. There has been remarkably little publicity given to this venture, possibly because the investment plans have more than an air of familiarity about them.

Two documents in particular deserve greater consideration: Strategic Public Transport Schemes 2013 to 2019 and beyond, and Towards a World Class Integrated Transport Network.

These papers clearly set out in great detail what needs to be done to improve the region’s reputation for woeful public transport, but in doing so the ITA inevitably opens a debate about who, actually, is in charge of transportation in Birmingham and the West Midlands?

Is it the ITA, could it be Birmingham City Council, or is it in reality the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership (GBSLEP), the Black Country LEP and the Coventry and Warwickshire LEP?

The LEPs, with their enterprise zones and Single Pot funding, would appear to be flavour of the month at Whitehall. GBSLEP, for example, is leading on Lord Heseltine’s No Stone Unturned initiative and has published a white paper setting out plans for a Transport City Deal to enhance connectivity, ensuring alignment with the M42 Corridor.

In its City Deal submission to Government, GBSLEP sets out its transport vision:

Our aim is to achieve first-class international, national, regional and local connectivity and to:

  • Improve access to markets, enabling businesses to better access their customers
  • Reduce transport costs for businesses by lowering journey times and increasing reliability
  • Support business growth by improving access between jobs and workers
  • Increase competitiveness by reducing journey time uncertainty
  • Support growth by addressing constraints on network performance.

The submission continues: “So far, we have established a Strategic Transport Group for the LEP area. Crucially, arrangements have also been made for cross-LEP working, particularly with the Black Country and Coventry & Warwickshire LEPs.”

Meanwhile, there’s much talk of the vision-thing in ITA reports: “Towards a World Class Integrated Transport Network sets out how investing in our public transport infrastructure and freight networks can help attract business, generate economic activity, create jobs, cut carbon and congestion and support new housing.

“The Vision also proposes key targets for the next two decades including half of all journeys in the West Midlands being made by public transport, cycling or walking, bringing the region in line with the way people move around Europe’s most prosperous cities.

“The Vision therefore reflects the emerging key political and transport priorities in the region following extensive consultation and input from the business community, local councils and the wider transport industry.”

Among the ITA’s priorities are the following:

  • Extending Midland Metro tram from Birmingham New Street to Five Ways.
  • Redeveloping Wolverhampton Railway Station with addition of a Metro interchange.
  • Improving Coventry railway station.
  • A new Metro route from Wednesbury to Dudley.
  • Opening a new platform at Snow Hill to improve Birmingham-Black Country rail links.
  • Birmingham city centre rapid bus transit system.

It’s all well and good that councils and businesses should be focussing on transportation, but as the ITA points out an effective lobbying exercise will be required in order to convince Government of the case for the West Midlands:

The allocation of resources to deliver these will be challenging and will require the combination of a number of funding streams such as:

 

  • Devolved powers and funding secured as part of the on-going dialogue with the Department for Transport and other government departments.
  • Public-private partnership delivery models (Enterprise Zones, Growing Places Fund, Tax Incrementing Finance and Community Infrastructure Levy)
  • Partnership working with delivery agencies such as the Highways Agency and Network Rail.
  • Strong lobbying/action from West Midlands leaders and MEPs and MPs.

Clearly, with the ITA and the LEPs taking an interest in strategic transport schemes, there is the danger of a confused and diluted message reaching Whitehall, as has happened in the past. Birmingham City Council leader Sir Albert Bore, who has enthusiastically backed GBSLEP, is understood to be concerned about the emerging spider’s web of bureaucracy.

As Henry Kissenger once said when Britain appeared to be favouring the EU over America, who do I call if I want to speak to Europe? A similar question can be asked today: “Who does the Transport Secretary call if he wants to talk to the West Midlands?”

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