Stimulating economic growth and regeneration through better transport

Sunday 12th March 2017




Louise Ellman, Chair of the Transport Select Committee and Labour MP for Liverpool, Riverside

Good transport supports economic growth, connecting people with education, jobs, health facilities, leisure and shopping attractions, vital public services and wider society. And, as Sir Rod Eddington demonstrated 10 years ago, there is hard evidence to demonstrate that those linkages support a range of conditions necessary for productivity and growth, including business and labour market efficiency, investment and innovation.

Unfortunately, local public transport is not good enough in many UK towns and cities. That is a symptom of years of underinvestment, complex transport governance and decision-making structures and a failure by successive governments to provide strategic direction. In many cases, local authorities have been unable to direct spending and make decisions in a way that suits their local area. Funding streams have been unnecessarily complex. At present, there are at least eight different transport infrastructure funding streams that councils can bid for from the Department for Transport, alone. There are also stark differences in spending between regions, with the transport spending gap between London and the North at £1,600 per person between 2016/17 and 2020/21.

The focus in recent years has been addressing the complexity of governance and decision-making and placing control more directly in the hands of local transport authorities. It is now widely accepted that local decision-makers best understand both local circumstances and how transport can align with wider land-use and planning objectives. Current devolution schemes, fragmented as they are, should allow for more coordinated transport planning across modes, with the end goal of providing efficient and integrated local transport networks with widely available information and modern features, including “Oyster-style” smart or ticketless payment.

London has seen a transformation of transport since the Mayoralty and Transport for London were created. Areas such as Greater Manchester have also made significant progress in integrating transport systems. The extension of devolution deals to other regions, including Sheffield, West Yorkshire, Cornwall and Liverpool, is an important step toward achieving fully-integrated systems.

While devolution will be a very important step forward, it may not provide the solution for all regions. Those with more traditional governance structures may not be able to achieve as much as combined authorities with directly-elected mayors could.

The recent Bus Services Bill, which is due for its second reading in the House of Commons, is further evidence of progress in putting local transport decision-making in the hands of local transport authorities. Deregulation of bus services has clearly not worked. The Transport Select Committee’s recent report broadly welcomed the Bill but recommended improvements. We welcomed the Government’s approach of giving local authorities the option of implementing new forms of partnership or franchising, based on what is most appropriate to local needs. The Bill should facilitate the integration of transport modes and give local authorities the power to introduce simpler and more integrated ticketing systems.

Most of us have waited for a late-running and overcrowded train or sat on a crowded bus, which has been stuck in peak hour traffic. There is evidence that congestion, often a symptom of poorly planned and delivered transport systems, is getting worse in many places, despite steady or falling traffic volumes. Transport congestion has substantial economic costs (last estimated, in 2009, at £11 billion in urban economies) and wider costs in terms of health and wellbeing. Recognising and unlocking the economic benefits of tackling that problem is absolutely vital.

We have recently launched our “Urban Congestion” inquiry, which had its first oral evidence session this January. That inquiry aims to identify cost-effective and safe strategies for managing limited road space in towns and cities, minimising disruption to local communities and businesses, and keeping urban traffic flowing. It is an opportunity to recognise success and address the barriers which impede improvement.

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