Considering that traffic congestion is such an issue over most of the UK, very few people know who to speak to about it. Most would assume that it is their local MP, since the reason for the First Past The Post electoral system is that each constituency has a local leader, a single voice who can speak up for their electorate. However, this does not appear to be the case in Eastleigh, nor in the wider Solent area.
In 2017, the following it would be expected, have the authority to improve the transport infrastructure in the Eastleigh area;-
- Chris Grayling – Secretary of State for Transport
- Solent area MPs
- National Infrastructure Commission
- PUSH Joint Committee
- Solent LEP
- Solent Transport
- Hampshire County Council
- Highways England
- Network Rail
- South East England Councils
- South Hampshire Bus Operators Association
Apart from the MPs, many of these bodies are not directly accountable to the local electorate, even though some bodies contain elected members from other areas.
Who exactly is planning our Transport Infrastructure?
It is not immediately obvious, but who exactly is planning our Transport Infrastructure?
Is it the National Infrastructure Commission?
In October 2016 a new Government Body was formed, the National Infrastructure Commission. Apart from a study on the Cambridge, Milton Keynes, Growth Corridor, it takes quite some research to find what work is being undertaken to resolve traffic congestion, especially in the South where it is probably the worst in the country. A standalone National Infrastructure Commission website has been developed, but nothing here about the Solent area for example.
Is it the Solent LEP?
The Solent Local Enterprise Partnership has authored a 56 page Transport Investment Plan, but suggests that another public body be created to deal with the delivery and governance of the plan (See page 47).
Is it Solent Transport, which has at least carried out some studies, but what action is due?
Is it Highways England?
Is it South East England Councils (SEEC)?
SEEC authored a Missing Links report that includes the A27/M27/A259 corridor as one of the South East’s top five strategic transport investment priorities. SEEC agree that investment in the M27 section is necessary, but since their scope is not restricted to the Solent region, want to see better links between major south coast ports to improve the economy.
Or is it from funds made specifically available for which local authorities have to bid? Source: Councils asked to bid for funding to target congested local roads.
Solent Area Needs
The Joint Committee of the Partnership of Urban South Hampshire (PUSH), which comprises council leaders and CEOs of the 12 member local authorities decide the Solent area needs. The following report to the Joint Committee in June 2016 Report to the Partnership for Urban South Hampshire Joint Committee summarizes their position. The report to the Joint Committee was derived from the very detailed PUSH Spatial Position Statement, which sets out the employment and housing development needed to promote economic growth and jobs through to 2034. An area of interest in the Solent region is transport. Paragraph 6.12 says the following; Delivery of improvements to the transport networks is clearly of paramount importance, and Solent Transport have been closely involved in the development of the Position Statement, and discussions are underway with the highway authorities, Highways England, Network Rail, and the South Hampshire Bus Operators Association.
It has been estimated by the Conservative Chairman of PUSH that there is a £2bn transport infrastructure deficit in the Solent area, highlighted by the train journey times from Portsmouth to Southampton shown in the chart below;
Connectivity within the Solent and to London compared to other parts of the Country
|Cities||Distance||Road time||Rail time|
|Portsmouth/Southampton||24 miles||39 mins||41-67 mins|
|Nottingham/Derby||17 miles||29 mins||23 mins|
|Newcastle/Sunderland||17 miles||32 mins||26 mins|
|Portsmouth/London||75 miles||106 mins||93-111 mins|
|Bristol/London||119 miles (Bristol Parkway = 116 miles)||133 mins (Bristol Parkway = 127 mins)||101-112 mins (Bristol Parkway = 89 mins)|
|Nottingham/London||126 miles||154 mins||102 mins|
|Portsmouth/Southampton Airport||21 miles||27 mins||65-75 mins (requires a change)|
The following links relate to a letter sent to Chris Grayling, the Transport Minister from the Wider South East Group (WSE) in July 2017. I had not previously heard of this group, but a Dover to Southampton rail corridor is one of the discussion topics they would like to raise at a proposed meeting with the minister.
It would be expected that by now, a Green Paper on Transport Infrastructure would have been published, but no such document ever seems to have been produced. As referenced earlier, it appears that locally it is down to the Partnership for South Hampshire (PUSH) and the Solent Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), to lobby Government to make improvements and that the volume of funding needed is substantial, in the region of billions of pounds.
Considering that our infrastructure is so important, it can be seen from the preceding text that lobbying for improvements is not simple. In terms of transport infrastructure, the highest authority is the Government’s transport Secretary, but even he/she will be beholding the Chancellor. In the Solent area, the Chairman of PUSH has estimated that there is a £2bn transport infrastructure deficit. This figure seems valid once the cost of Eastleigh’s Chickenhall Lane link road, an M27 upgrade, the Portsmouth to Southampton rail link improved to get journey times down to around 15 minutes and the Solent Metro are taken into account. These are just a few of the transport projects. If we are to be less reliant on the car, then bus travel must be close to free. The price of rail tickets is dictated by Government where annual rises are linked to RPI rather than the lower CPI rate. Government’s strategy of removing rail cost from the public purse is flawed. Currently, private money accounts for 65% of rail costs. This is absurd. If people are to be enticed away from their cars, rail travel must be frequent, low cost and most importantly connect to destinations where people want to travel. Adopting the model that those who use a service pay for it is laudable, but the cost of infrastructure must be borne by all.
So who is it that the public can hold responsible for ensuring an area’s transport needs are met? It might be expected that we would have a democratic mandate, but as you have seen from my research, any power the public has to achieve congestion free travel is tenuous. Just as we cannot vote to put a Prime Minister in power, we cannot vote for a Transport Minister. Under our current electoral system, the best we can do is vote for a Prospective Parliamentary Candidate that understands the issues and promises to do their best for their constituency’s transport infrastructure needs. In the Solent area, it is PUSH and the Solent LEP that has the ability to lobby Government, but although PUSH has an element of democracy in that the 12 council leaders form the Joint Committee, the Solent LEP is largely made up of unelected business people.
High Speed Rail Projects (HS2)
Britain is one of the few major economic powers without a motorway of the rail network. Considering its engineering heritage, this may come as quite a surprise. A large factor in this oversight is how successive governments have decided to spend our budget. For example the government estimates that the cost of the “Cold War” Trident renewal programme to be in the order of £40bn. The Liberal Democrats have long held the view that this programme is no longer necessary, since potential hostile threats have changed their form, so why not spend the money improving our infrastructure, which will bring with it an improved economy and much-needed jobs. Much is spoken of the north/south divide, well if there was a high-speed rail link that greatly improved transport capacity, the UK’s economy could be more evenly spread.
UK Airport Hub – Heathrow
Heathrow is the UK’s only airport hub and it is running at 98% capacity. It is in desperate need of expansion, but while the debate rolls on, our economy is losing an opportunity for growth.