smart growth uk


Jon Reeds
Jon Reeds is a freelance journalist and author of Smart Growth, From Sprawl to Sustainability


Nigel Pearce
Nigel Pearce is a former civil servant, now grappling with local planning issues as a member of the Eynsham Planning Improvement Campaign EPIC.


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Levelling-up Or Just Levelling

The news that Transport for the North is to have its budget allocation slashed is another blow to the Government levelling-up agenda which remains suspect so long as it continues to pursue southern-based initiatives like the Oxford-Cambridge Arc.
It now looks as if the DfT is going to award less than half the funds included in the latest TfN bid. Core funding is down 40 percent and no funding has been provided for the expected contactless payment for the north of England's rail, bus and tram networks.
So the 'game-changer' that TfN was hailed as at its launch, as recently as 2017, has proved to be a mirage. Patience with the Government is now wearing thin.
'Transport for the North's Board has clearly indicated its disappointment and concern that, a time when the Government's levelling-up agenda is needed most, funding is being cut, putting northern investment and jobs at risk,' said TfN finance director Iain Craven. 'It falls substantially short of what we outlined the North would need to level-up infrastructure and accelerate benefits to the region.'
Over 600 million journeys were made on bus, train and tram networks in northern England in 2019. The 33m cut in smart travel funding will mean the roll-out for 2021-2 won't now happen and the programme will be wound down.
There has always been some exasperation with TfN among sustainability campaigners for its close ties to destructive national transport policy. In 2017 it published a Major Roads Report which fed many destructive highway building projects into the regional Strategic Transport Plan.
But even though control from Whitehall has been at least as evident as from northern town halls, the DfT has moved to tighten control.
In September it created the Northern Transport Acceleration Council. This is DfT-staffed and was set up to 'ensure northern leaders have a direct line to ministers'.
Direct lines, of course, are bidirectional. Ministers will now have a direct line to northern leaders. No doubt it was useful to tell them their funding is being cut.
No sign of cuts yet to the disastrous so-called 'Oxford-Cambridge Arc', for which a spatial strategy detailing where the destruction will strike hardest is expected soon.
If the Arc went ahead, it would of course drag further economic activity out of the north and midlands.
Sometimes you have to wonder if ministers want to level-up the north, or simply level it to the ground.

Posted by Jon Reeds on 16 January 2021