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The widening gulf between local and national

Mark Frost offers his reflections from last month's Local Transport Summit

02 November 2023
Mark Frost: To have such a gulf between local and national is at best uncomfortable, and at worst dooms us to failure
Mark Frost: To have such a gulf between local and national is at best uncomfortable, and at worst dooms us to failure

 

“I don’t think I’ve ever been this depressed about the future,” was the opening gambit from one colleague transport planner at Summit  ‘23.

Whilst it’s been great to be back with old friends and new in Sheffield, there’s no doubt there is a mood of despondency amongst delegates around the national direction of travel for the sector that’s suddenly emerged in the last few weeks.

Even if the real impact of the (pretty lightweight really) Plan for Drivers, and the more regressive zombie road scheme elements of the network north plan, turn out to be relatively limited, the overall change in language from the centre compared with where we were this time last year in Cardiff is pretty stark.

No new LTP or Quantified carbon reduction guidance likely, amended network management duties removing instructions around supporting active travel, possible rolling back on part 6 of the Traffic Management Act, anti-bus priority rhetoric etc. etc.

Contributions from the opening panel make clear really that we’re now drifting so far off course on where the sector needs to be on net zero, that the scale of the change now needed to get us back on track is truly terrifying.

Whilst there may be some good news about more devolved funding for local transport in future years via enhancements to City Region Sustainable Transport Settlements (CRSTS) and future local transport allocations, how local authorities are going to be allowed to use that resource is clearly still being debated, and sounds like it will be highly politically steered.

As transport professionals we’re used to picking ourselves up, dealing with a new normal and making the best of it - and I’m sure this time will be no different.

However, given the scale of challenge in front of us this decade, to have such a gulf between local and national is at best uncomfortable, and at worst dooms us to failure. Here’s hoping we can start to develop the tools and techniques to collectively get through that challenge and still move forward.

Mark Frost is Director of Fern Consulting and a Board Member of the Transport Planning Society

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