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Why we should welcome the West Midlands ITA… almost as much as today’s HS2 news

Why we should welcome the West Midlands ITA… almost as much as today’s HS2 news

🕔21.Jul 2014

As Birmingham and the West Midlands celebrates today’s news about HS2, Paul Dale highlights a less exciting sounding development but one which has been a long time coming and will be critical to making the most of HS2 for the entire city region.

Most people, with the exception of train spotters and bus enthusiasts, will probably have missed a small moment of history last week as leaders of the seven West Midlands councils gathered for the first meeting of the Integrated Transport Authority (ITA).

The ITA has been around in draft form for a few months, but the organisation is now up and running and should bring a welcome new strategic direction to planning major transport projects.

Unlike the West Midlands Passenger Transport Authority, the ITA’s slimmed down membership consists of the region’s top local politicians. It is essentially a cabinet of the council leaders.

WMPTA’s members were chiefly backbench councillors with an interest in transport, which meant that any major decisions taken had to be rubber-stamped by the region’s seven cabinets in a time-consuming and unpredictable process.

Given its make-up, WMPTA was fond of eking out transport schemes on a pro-rata basis for each of the councils, rather than setting its sights on a smaller number of strategically important schemes.

The idea of an ITA, much pushed by Birmingham council leader Sir Albert Bore, is that decisions can be taken more quickly and priorities drawn more appropriately by the region’s council leaders working together.

The ITA essentially lays down policy to Centro, the West Midlands Passenger Executive.

Some might see the ITA as a precursor to a Combined Authority, which the West Midlands will almost certainly have to move towards in order to cash in to the fullest extent on the Government’s growth funds and localisation agenda.

Last week’s meeting saw the election of Wolverhampton city council leader Roger Lawrence as chair.

Lawrence, one of the West Midlands’ longest serving councillors, said the ITA “has been a long time coming”.

He talked about the urgent need to agree on a 10-year transport investment plan for the region.

But Cllr Lawrence stressed the plan had to be realistic, unlike the infamous multi-modal study a decade ago that promised everything for everyone but at a cost of £40 billion was never likely to be deliverable.

Sir Albert Bore suggested the ITA might campaign for the right to copy European city regions, where local transport taxes care levied to pay for infrastructure.

And on an austerity note, the ITA members granted themselves allowances at the princely sum of £1 a month. Cllr Lawrence explained that legislation meant that integrated transport authorities had to have an allowances scheme, but he advised members not to bother claiming their £12 a year.

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