What can be done about Traffic Congestion?

M27 Too Noisy!

Many people are asking me what can be done about traffic congestion as there does not seem to be any progress on something we are all aware desperately requires attention.  They hear about projects such as the so-called “Smart” motorway upgrade coming to the M27 by 2020 and various motorway upgrades, but not an overall costed plan.  Who is responsible and therefore whom can they lobby?  I have been looking into this and the following is what I have found;-

Housing

Housebuilding and traffic congestion are directly linked.  In the same way that not providing jobs close to home is directly linked to traffic congestion.  While there does not appear to be a direct process to deal with infrastructure, there is a process to drive housebuilding and it comes in the form of a local plan.  The local plan is a document drawn up within the guidelines of the National Planning Policy Framework and public consultation and directs where residential dwellings, Industrial sites, schools, open spaces, etc., should be placed.  When a landowner submits a planning application, the planning authority must use the local plan as a template in order to decide the validity of the application.  If for example, the application is found to be in an area deemed a strategic gap, then the application is likely to fail without going any further into the process.  Therefore, all local authorities must have an adopted local plan, otherwise there would be planning chaos.

Each local authority in the Solent area establishes its local plan from a report developed by the Joint Committee of the Partnership of Urban South Hampshire (PUSH), a partnership that comprises council leaders and CEOs of the 12 member local authorities.  It is the PUSH Spatial Position Statement, which sets out the employment and housing development needed to promote economic growth and jobs through to 2034.  The term Objectively Assessed Need (OAN) is used within the Position Statement, which refers to the evidence of the need for development and it is the Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA), which ties in the OAN to national guidance.  The national guidance states that the starting point for defining needs should be the Government’s latest demographic projections.  The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) states that where possible, development should be located to facilitate sustainable modes of travel and that development should only be refused on transport grounds where the cumulative impacts are severe.  An initial run of the sub regional transport model has also been undertaken, which incorporates the proposed development, the consequential increase in trips, and is aligned to the Solent LEP’s Transport Investment Plan.

Transport Infrastructure

It is from this process that the 12 member local authorities develop their local plans and it is from this that the number of dwellings is calculated.  However, from my experience as a County and Borough councillor, I am not seeing evidence that anything other than small amounts being spent on infrastructure, essentially, funds raised from the developers.  PUSH and the Solent LEP have clearly commissioned reports on Transport infrastructure needs.  Indeed, the Chairman of PUSH has said that the costs are £2bn.  Then why has nothing been announced and we have not even started on the subject of GP waiting times and teacher recruitment?

If it were not bad enough that we are reliant almost solely on developers’ contributions to fund infrastructure, I have found that these contributions can only be used for capital expenditure and therefore cannot be used to recruit more GPs and teachers.

I may be missing something, but none of this comes with a democratic mandate.  There is a distinct lack of governance.  The housebuilding happens because of the National Policy Planning Framework, which is driven by landowners wanting to build houses, whereas Transport infrastructure spending seems to occur only when the situation becomes so severe that it is blindingly obvious that something must be done.  Very little forward planning involved.  If the people decide that enough is enough and they no longer wish to be stuck in endless traffic jams, unable to find a seat on long train journeys and have lengthy commute times, what are their options? 

I have made a list of all the bodies that have influence in these matters within the Solent region;-

  • 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 (SEEC)
  • South Hampshire Bus Operators Association

Apart from the Solent area MPs, none of these can be held to account by the ballot box.  How can the public interact with them to achieve the £2bn transport infrastructure funding stated by the Chairman of PUSH as necessary for our local transport infrastructure?  If you want improved transport infrastructure and an end to traffic congestion, the options seem to be, lobby your MP, create a Number 10 on-line petition, form a protest group or a combination of the three.

In the meantime

What questions must we ask if we want the infrastructure to cope with homes built to house our community, jobs and leisure opportunities?  Here is some food for thought;-

  1. The NPPF states that where possible, development should be located to facilitate sustainable modes of travel and that development should only be refused on transport grounds where the cumulative impacts are severe, but what is meant by severe? How is the transport impact measured?  Would stationary rush-hour traffic on the M27 and M3 be considered severe?
  2. District Councils are responsible for Air Quality Management Plans, but who is responsible for the Solent region as a whole? Where can air and noise pollution figures for the airport, rail, motorways and other roads be found and how often are measurements taken?  What are the standards set to which air and noise pollution figures are measured against?
  3. SEEC authored a Missing Links report that includes the A27/M27/A259 corridor (Southampton to Dover) as one of the South East’s top five strategic transport investment priorities. How is this priority being dealt with locally?

Conclusion

Solent LEP’s 56 page Transport Investment Plan is probably the most informative document regarding the Solent region’s traffic congestion woes and makes sorry reading in that comparing with other major areas around the country the Solent fares particularly badly.  It is not until you reach the appendices on page 47 on the section entitled Governance/Delivery do you find the recommendation that a new single policy and delivery body should be created based on the context for a devolution agreement for the area.  This new Solent-wide single policy and delivery body would determine, manage and deliver transport plans and the delivery of public transport networks.

It makes depressing reading, because the UK is one of the most centralized countries in the world and seemingly recognizes that this is not good democracy, yet we still have over 30 multi-tier authorities in 2017, despite the first Unitary authority being rolled out as long ago as 1969.  With council leaders currently squabbling over the form of devolution acceptable to them, we are not likely to see a Solent-wide single policy and delivery body established anytime soon.  The cynics amongst you might think that it suits Government to tie transport infrastructure spending into to the devolution process, because it puts off having to spend the money.

I have based the above on ideas gathered from my text on National Infrastructure.

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