Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Supplementary memorandum by FirstGroup (WTC 18A)


  Thank you for your letter of 1 February 2001 requesting further information to supplement the oral evidence I provided to the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee's inquiry into walking in towns and cities. I apologise for the delay in replying.

  To answer your questions in sequence:

    —  As an operator currently running short term franchises of approximately seven years duration, it would be unusual for us to involve ourselves in strategic/long term land use planning issues such as commenting on the allocation of development land in Local Plans or Structure Plan principles. This is a function that should primarily be performed on behalf of the Industry by the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA). If we are successful in securing longer 20 year franchises, we may have a greater interest as development plan policies are likely to reach fruition within the life of the franchise and therefore potentially have a commercial benefit.

    Having said that, we do actively involve ourselves in commenting on the suitability of major developments in terms of their accessibility to rail stations and any operational benefits/limitations of locating a new station for a development on a particular stretch of line. To maximise our input in this respect we have regular liaison meetings with local authorities in our areas.

    —  We are not aware of USA "station area plans" but think we understand the principle behind them. In the franchise bids we are currently preparing and submitting, we are proposing improvements to station facilities but also to the environment around the station including the identification of walk links, connections to major locations and what improvements can be made to enhance the perceived connectivity of the station with the surrounding townscape. An example of this approach are our proposals to improve the environment around Huddersfield station in our Trans Pennine bid. This is in recognition that it does not matter how much the station environs are improved, this will not encourage usage if the surrounding area is perceived to be unwelcoming or inadequate in some way.

    —  In addition, as landlord, it would be usual for Railtrack to pursue a wider development opportunities such as utilising the airspace above stations. As operators we welcome this; office/retail developments on top or close to stations to generate extra patronage because of the high level of accessibility to rail services while at the same time enabling comprehensive modification of the station and its passenger facilities.

    —  Rail Passenger Partnership funding can play a role but our view is that development and improvements in and around stations are best financed either commercially through relationships with property developers or through the level of subsidy obtained from the SRA for franchise operation. The latter dictates how much investment in infrastructure (such as station related improvements) is possible.

    —  I mentioned in the written evidence that I previously submitted that the response of local authorities to the needs of the bus operators in terms of the development planning process can be patchy. Some are extremely sensitive and involve us as early as the master planning stage for larger developments; others still equate public transport friendly policies as being to force a reluctant developer to pump prime a bus service to a new estate which is doomed to fail because it is unable to properly serve the residents due to a poorly designed road network. Guidance issued by the DETR is helpful in encouraging good practice but may not be quite enough. Calling in planning applications which are clearly sub-standard in this respect and an uncompromising attitude from Planning Inspectors can help to reinforce the point that developers have to take proper consideration of public transport accessibility issues.

  Finally, I can give some indication of expenditure on safety and personal security related issues through reference to our North Western Trains franchise. We have a franchise commitment to spend approximately £1 million per annum in this area. This relates to items such as CCTV, passenger help points and the employment of a firm of security guards. As a franchise commitment this is fully auditable by the SRA. To put this in context, First North Western Trains has an annual turnover of approximately £60 million.

  I hope these comments are useful.

Martin Dean
Project Director (Policy)

23 March 2001

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