Transport for London is to make deep cuts to many borough funding streams as it prioritises cycling and the mayor’s flagship project to transform Oxford Street (LTT10 Nov 17).
Among borough funding streams to suffer are bus priority, road asset management, major schemes, liveable neighbourhoods, corridors, and even the flagship Healthy Streets programme.
TfL’s 2016 business plan projected borough funding of £223m in 2018/19. The new business plan published last month allocates boroughs £225m but £51m of this is for the works to transform Oxford Street, a spending area that did not feature in the previous plan. Excluding Oxford Street, the £174m allocation represents a 22% cut.
Comparing the same five years of the two business plans, overall borough spending in the 2017 plan is actually up slightly on the 2016 version – £1.082bn versus £1.050bn. Excluding Oxford Street, the spend is £1.000bn, a 4.8% fall.
Katharina Winbeck, London Councils’ head of transport, environment and infrastructure, told councillors: “The main reasons for TfL reviewing its financial position is due to the loss of its revenue grant from Government from April 2018, which effectively means that road maintenance costs will have to be cross-subsidised from other income streams, mainly fares.
“This needs to take place within the context of lower than forecast passenger numbers, due to the current economic uncertainty, lower consumer confidence and the multiple serious incidents London experienced in 2017.”
Funding for borough cycling is being increased by 28.2%, from £195m to £250m, over the five years (2017/18-2021/22). Spending is higher in each of the five years, including: 7.3% higher in 2018/19 (£44m rather than £41m); 45.7%?higher in 2019/20 (£67m rather than £46m); and 48.8% higher in 2020/21 (£64m rather than £43m).
The corridors funding stream, which is allocated to boroughs on a formula basis, is being cut by 13.7% over the five years, from £378m to £326m. Expenditure in each of the years 2018/19 to 2021/22 will be £12m lower than previously planned – £63m a year instead of £75m.
Winbeck said boroughs used the corridors funding to deliver the majority of their Local Implementation Plan (LIP) measures. Commenting on next year’s 16% reduction, she said: “This is particularly frustrating as officers have just submitted plans for spending in 2018/19. This time has been wasted, and boroughs had no notice whatsoever that the settlement would be changed.”
Funding for road and bridge maintenance is 28.8% lower over the five years, down from £191m to £136m. Funding will be cut by 71.1% in both 2018/19 and 2019/20 – from £38m to £11m. In 2020/21 it will be 28.9% lower than previously planned – £27m rather than £38m. In 2021/22 it is forecast to be 35.1% above the 2016 business plan projection – £50m rather than £37m.
Said Winbeck: “There will be an effective pause for two years on all proactive TLRN?(Transport for London Road Network) and borough principal road major maintenance works. Only safety critical works will be undertaken. Our view is that this will lead to asset deterioration that may cost significantly more in reactive repairs in the long run. The increase in the final year will not be sufficient to remedy the lack of maintenance for four years of reduced budgets. TfL’s business plan states there is no long-term funding for major structural restoration to bridges and tunnels.” TfL and London Councils are intensifying lobbying of Government to try and secure a share of Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) revenues for the capital.
The major schemes/livable neighbourhoods funding stream, which boroughs bid to, is being cut by 3.3%, from £151m to £146m, but with much bigger variations in some years. The funding will be 20.8% lower this year (£19m rather than £24m) and 23.3% lower in 2018/19 (£23m rather than £30m) before rising again in later years of the business plan period.
Spending on borough bus priority schemes over the five years will be 10.9% lower than previously planned – £82m rather than £92m. Spending in 2018/19 will be £15m rather than £24m.
The five-year budget for ‘other healthy streets’ schemes is cut by 7% – from £43m to £40m, with a £4m cut this year (down from £18m to £14m).
Boroughs voice dismay and question rationale
Mark Frost, chair of the London Technical Advisers Group’s (LoTAG) group 1, wrote to London transport commissioner Mike Brown just before Christmas to express “dismay” at the cuts. The following are edited extracts of the letter:
“Announcing very substantial cuts to borough funding in less than four months time, with no prior engagement with us and with our programmes already having been developed and locally approved is not the way that effective partnerships should work. We also note it is in direct opposition to the assurances given in recent iterations of the TfL business plan to maintain borough funding until 2021.
“We also query the premise of these cuts. Our reading of the new TfL business plan is that funding for boroughs is actually being increased to £1,082m from £1,050m in 2016. We note that this increase is partly as a consequence of funding being allocated to the Oxford Street part-pedestrianisation – a transformative scheme and a key mayoral manifesto commitment without doubt, but one that we do not think every borough in London should have to pay the price for.
“It seems reasonable to ask the question as to whether some of these larger TfL programmes such as Oxford Street, the Rotherhithe/Canary Wharf Bridge, or work on the cycle superhighways could not be safely reprofiled to reduce the impact on the main borough defined programmes – which in some cases are being reduced by a staggering 30%.
“The feeling amongst LoTAG members is that it may be considered misleading to claim that central government cuts are wholly responsible for these reductions, when the resource TfL are allocating to these sorts of investments is actually being increased in the new business plan.
“It appears instead to be a conscious choice to re-establish control by TfL over the funding that is passed through to boroughs. For many boroughs this is worryingly reminiscent of the micro-managing approach that TfL deployed in its early days. You will no doubt be aware that this way of working generated much political and officer level frustration, as well as requiring exorbitant administration costs on both sides to manage which all parties are now ill-placed to bear.”
Frost uses the letter to outline borough frustration with the competitive funding streams that TfL operates for boroughs, such as the liveable neighbourhoods programme.
“The general view expressed is that there is a place for competitive bids for very large or innovative schemes to deal with very specific transport challenges or test new approaches.
“However, we estimate nearly a quarter of a million pounds was spent collectively by boroughs on bids to the liveable neighbourhoods fund this year, (not accounting for the opportunity cost of all the officer time spent) – two-thirds of those bids receiving no funding.
“Whilst those colleagues who were successful in their bids are understandably pleased, it again seems reasonable to question whether that is the most efficient way of using now very scarce officer time – both at TfL and boroughs.
“We would welcome a genuine discussion on this before the next proposed round of liveable neighbourhoods bids in 2018.”
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