5 Local and regional transport planning|
The regional level
A decade of regional planning
96. During the past decade, the previous Government
established organisations to provide a level of strategic planning,
representation and governance between central government and local
authorities. In Scotland and Wales most transport functions were
transferred to the devolved administrations; and in London many
powers to plan and coordinate transport were devolved to the Greater
London Authority. In the eight English regions outside London
no such devolution occurred but regional bodies and plans were
developed, backed with resources to promote regional economic
growth. The new Government is in the process of abolishing the
regional tier of planning and government in England. We have investigated
the broad implications of these changes for transport.
97. Regional spatial strategies were introduced in
the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, bringing together
the former regional planning guidance, regional transport strategies
and regional economic strategies. They were intended to bring
together strategic transport planning and economic growth plans
and the infrastructure that such growth required. Local development
frameworks and local transport plans, produced by local authorities,
were required to be consistent with regional spatial strategies.
98. A regional funding allocation (RFA) process was
introduced, whereby a partnership of local transport authorities,
the regional assembly and regional development agency provided
coordinated advice to government on their priorities for major
transport schemes within each region. This also included Highways
Agency non-national trunk road schemes.
99. The RDAs, established in 1998, provided resourcesfinancial,
technical and staffto assist with the regional spatial
strategies (which were being prepared by Regional Assemblies)
and regional funding allocation and other regional level strategic
transport functions. Precise arrangements varied across the English
regions. In the north of England the three northern regional development
agencies combined to form the Northern Way. Its Transport Compact
has undertaken research, planning and lobbying on transport strategy
and investment across the north of England. For example, in 2010
it submitted transport priorities for northern regions to HM Treasury
as part of the Spending Review process.
ABOLITION OF REGIONAL PLANS AND
100. On taking office, the new Government moved swiftly
to remove the regional tier of planning and governance. The Government
announced that regional spatial strategies had been revokedalthough,
following a successful legal challenge to the way that this decision
was made, regional spatial strategies have been re-instated, for
government offices are to close from the end of March 2011;
regional development agencies have largely ceased to operate and
are to be abolished by 31 March 2012;
and the local authority leaders' boards (the replacement in 2009
for the regional assemblies) are to lose their statutory functions.
101. The Government has introduced a number of mechanisms
to encourage strategic planning including a new duty to co-operate
to be placed on local authorities. Recognising that local authority
areas are too small for some strategic functions, the Government
is promoting Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs)partnerships
between local government and business, based "functional
economic areas". These are intended to:
create the right environment for business and
growth in their areas by tackling issues such as planning and
housing, local transport and infrastructure priorities, employment
and enterprise and the transition to the low carbon economy. 
LEPs, along with the Regional Growth Fund and other
proposals, are intended to underpin future regeneration activity.
The Local Growth White Paper said that LEPs would have a transport
102. These changes are part of the Government's localism
agenda which aims to decentralise powers to local authorities
and communities. The Localism Bill, under which many of these
changes will be enacted, was introduced to Parliament in December
2010. The Localism Bill provides the legal basis for the abolition
of regional spatial strategies. The Bill does not, however, contain
any reference to LEPs as these are not intended to be statutory
THE STRATEGIC GAP?
103. There was some concern amongst witnesses that
aspects of strategic transport planning needed to be undertaken
at a scale larger than LEPs and that local authorities and LEPs
would not have the capacity adequately to develop regional or
cross-regional transport proposals. Merseytravel said that the
revocation of the RSS would reduce capacity to plan for larger
infrastructure requirements and to balance competing needs within
a region. It also suggested that this might lead to neglect of
the economically weaker areas within a region.
Some aspects of strategic transport planning have evolved on a
scale larger even than the outgoing government regions. The Northern
Way's evidence suggests that its work at the cross-regional level
may have contributed to securing the Government's commitment to
the Northern Hub rail scheme
and to the relatively favourable decisions on investment in strategic
road schemes in the north of England announced in the Spending
Peter Box CBE, representing the Local Government Association,
was more optimistic, however, and told us that the nature of investment
had changed and that groups of authorities working together in
those areas that have city region LEPs would be able to handle
large scale transport schemes.
104. There were also concerns about the loss of capacity
as a result of the abolition of the RDA and government regional
offices, particularly at a time when local government was experiencing
severe cuts in funding. Professor Mackie described it as an "institutional
deficit" creating particular difficulties for transport.
He said that the English regions would be less able to compete
with the devolved administrations in Wales, Scotland and the arrangements
in London, leading to imbalances in future funding allocations.
Hull City Council raised similar concerns about the loss of regional
capacity, particularly in dealings with Network Rail and the Highways
Agency, and a reduction in understanding of local issues by the
DfT when functions are transferred to its headquarters in London.
105. We are concerned that the abolition of regional
planning organisations and the lack of effective strategies at
the regional level, at a time when local authorities have reduced
resources, will lead to a loss of strategic transport planning
capacity in some of the areas where it is most needed. The risks
are that major schemes that cross LEP boundaries, important to
the economic development of a region, may not be adequately investigated
or promoted and that decisions on scheme prioritisation will have
to be made by central government rather than by local organisations
which best know the priorities of their area. This may lead to
a worsening of regional imbalances and poor decision-making.
106. Having noted the need for adequate capacity
at the regional or inter-regional level, there was wide support
for the city region or the journey to work area to be the spatial
building block for most transport planning. The LGA criticised
"the arbitrary structures of government regions" and
supported their replacement by "more meaningful areas defined
The LGA believes that the sub-region provides
the best framework for transport governance, and that such a geography
based on labour market areas is essential to move forward.
107. Some areas with strong links to particular cities,
such as the areas around Leeds and Manchester, supported the sub-region
as the appropriate scale for most strategic transport planning
and decision making. The Greater Manchester Authorities said that:
there is clear evidence [...] that the
sub-regions like Greater Manchester act as a 'functioning economic
area' in their own right. As such, they provide the optimum spatial
scale within which to take effective decisions on trading-off
across expenditure areas to maximise local and national economic
108. South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive
also endorsed a sub-regional approach:
In our experience schemes have always been planned
and promoted locally, not regionally. ITAs are well placed to
join up planning and decision making previously undertaken by
the Regional Spatial Strategies.
109. This view was also supported by local authorities
in the south of England, such as Southampton City Council.
Professor Vickerman outlined the problem in the south east region
where it was "very difficult to take transport decisions"
because the region excluded London which was the major driver
of economic and transport trends.
The Northern Way, however, emphasised that a wider perspective
may be necessary, noting that many of the strategic weaknesses
in the north's transport system crossed city region boundaries
and that the journey to work catchment areas overlapped.
110. Regarding the regional funding allocation process,
Geoff Inskip, CEO of Centro, said that
it was never really regional. It was all really
controlled by central government." The appraisal process
was "very heavy handed and very much controlled by government.
[...] you still had to jump over hurdles and hurdles and hurdles
to get release of the funding.
The Transport Planning Society said that the previous
regional planning arrangements were not satisfactory and the previous
regional funding allocation arrangements had tended to produce
lists of local schemes rather than strategic regional priorities.
The schemes that the DfT was asked to fund were "a rag-bag
of horse-traded individual schemes."
The Campaign for Better Transport made a similar point.
In response to questioning by our Chair, Louise Ellman MP, during
a meeting of the Liaison Committee, the Prime Minister said that
We are looking to develop less bureaucratic successor
arrangements to the previous Government's Regional Funding Allocations
for transport. These will give a proper voice to elected local
authorities and business interests in scheme prioritisation.
He agreed to take a personal interest in ensuring
that regional perspectives and regional prioritisation regarding
transport were not lost as a result of the changes.
Potential problems with Local
111. As noted above, the Government is encouraging
local authorities and businesses to establish LEPs to support
economic regeneration. At the end of 2010, the Department for
Communities and Local Government had approved the formation of
28 LEPs, covering 70% of the English population. It is clear from
some evidence we received that some organisations wanted and expected
LEPs to cover the journey to work area. However, the LEPs approved
to date show a wide variety of geographical bases. During our
inquiry, we heard from a number of witnesses engaged in trying
to establish LEPs. Councillor Box, in his capacity as leader of
Wakefield Council, was working with the Leeds city region and
an LEP was evolving.
Councillor Box emphasised that stability and adequate finance-raising
powers, rather than structures, were the key to success so that
planning and investment could proceed effectively.
112. Despite support for the concept of planning
transport at the journey to work level and a willingness to engage
in LEP arrangements, we found problems, uncertainty and concern
from both the public and private sectors. In Hull we heard of
the difficulties of establishing an LEP for the area. The chief
executive of the Hull Chamber of Commerce referred to conflicting
guidance from the Department for Business , Innovation and Skills
and the Department for Communities and Local Government:
[...] one or two people may have spotted that
we had a small hiccup on the LEPs issue locally, which we are
looking to resolve in a multi-tier way. We feel we've all been
put on a football pitch with no white lines or goalposts by Eric
Pickles and Vince Cable, because the two Departments have differing
views themselves. So our business perspective, looking at a pan-Humber
model [...] is different from what Eric Pickles has been talking
about, which was a, "Run barefoot through the grass and do
what you like," sort of approach.
113. The Institute of Directors, though critical
of RDAs, was unhappy about the Government's insistence on the
abolition of RDAs and the creation of LEPs; it favoured a reformist
rather than "abolitionist" approach. It also criticised
the lack of powersparticularly as they are not to be statutory
bodiesand resources for LEPs.
The Campaign for Better Transport and the Directors of Public
Health for the West of England were concerned that the LEPs would
not be adequate, at least in the interim, and that planning policy
risked being fragmented.
114. It would seem that the DfT is not entirely clear
about how strategic transport planning is expected to take place
or the role of LEPs. In its written evidence to the inquiry, the
Local authorities remain responsible for planning
transport priorities and interventions in their areas. [...].
The Department will also be looking to develop successor arrangements
to the Regional Funding Allocations for transport that, over time,
give a proper voice in scheme prioritisation to elected local
authorities and business interests. We hope that Local Enterprise
Partnerships will have an important role in this.
115. We questioned transport ministers on this. On
26 July 2010, the Secretary of State suggested that the DfT would
"need to create appropriate channels" to discuss sub-national
funding for transport.
In November, he said "by the end of this Parliament, we expect
to have developed arrangements for devolving local authority capital,
so that decisions about how it is spent can be made sub-nationally".
LEPs were "too small on a stand-alone basis to perform a
strategic transport function" but "groups of LEPs working
together around appropriate geographies would be the right unit
with which to engage".
In December, Mrs Villiers explained:
although it may be the end of the Parliament
by the time a formal system is set up, that doesn't mean that
in the interim we won't be engaging closely with local authorities
and LEPs. The worries the Secretary of State has about LEPs at
the moment is that they are relatively small geographic units.
We note a recent announcement from the DfT that it
now proposes to "ensure a transport presence outside London
to continue [its] work with local government and other sub-national
strategic interests", to be established before the closure
of Government Offices for the Regions.
116. It is clear that LEPs are at an early stage.
The remit, powers, resources and governance of LEPs are uncertain.
Much work remains for central government, local authorities and
the business community to define the role of LEPs and to ensure
that they succeed. The situation is made potentially more difficult
by the fact that LEPs are not to be statutory bodies, thus reducing
the ability of Government to influence their remit and the issues
in which they engage. There is also, as yet, no certainty that
the whole of England will be covered by LEPs. We are concerned
that the role of LEPs in setting priorities for investment in
transport projects is far from clear and may not be resolved until
the end of the Parliament. This risks creating a vacuum which
could impact on the development of strategic transport schemes,
including those that should go forward to the next Spending Review,
planned for 2014. We expect the DfT to engage with the Departments
for Business, Innovation and Skills and Communities and Local
Government to seek to ensure that transport is properly considered
in all LEP arrangements and to engage with LEPs in developing
the stability needed for transport planning and prioritisation
at the sub-national level. We intend to keep a close eye on how
LEPs develop and deliver transport planning functions during the
course of this Parliament. We urge the Prime Minister to take
a personal interest in these issues, as he indicated he would.
137 Ev 161 Back
Following a High Court judgement in favour of CALA Homes on 10
November 2010. Back
Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, HC Deb,
22 July 2010, col 28WS, confirmed in the 2010 Spending Review Back
As a result, the future of the Northern Way is also unclear. Back
The CLG Committee has been undertaking a parallel inquiry into
the abolition of Regional Spatial Strategies. Back
Letter from the Secretaries of State for Business, Enterprise
and Skills and Communities and Local Government to local authority
leaders and business leaders, Local Enterprise Partnerships,
29 June 2010. Back
Ev w21 Back
The Northern Hub scheme, formerly known as the Manchester Hub,
refers to the £530 million Network Rail scheme to increase
passenger capacity and relieve bottlenecks on services travelling
into and through the Manchester rail network. It is anticipated
that funding for the scheme will be include in Control Period
5 (2014-2019). Back
Ev 161 Back
Q 462 Back
Q 154 Back
Ev 231 Back
Ev 221 Back
Ev w109 Back
Ev w58 Back
Ev w39 Back
Q 482 Back
Q 176 Back
Q 394 [Keith Buchan] Back
Ev 208 Back
Letter from the Prime Minister to the Chair of Liaison Committee,
29 November 2010 Back
Q 464 Back
Q 481 Back
Q 138 Back
Institute of Directors, Big Picture, Quarter 4, 2010, No
9, pp 51-61 Back
Ev 192 Back
Ev 228 Back
Transport Committee, Secretary of State's Priorities for Transport,
Oral evidence, 26 July 2010, Q 33 Back
Transport Committee, Transport and the outcome of the Spending
Review, Oral evidence, 24 November 2010, Q 20 Back
Q 561 Back
DfT, Newsletter to Local authority Senior Officers, January
2011, http://www.dft.gov.uk Back