Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by Transport 2000 (South West) (TYP 15)


  In the South West, Local Transport Plans are full of laudable objectives and policies on paper. However, delivery on the ground of actual improvements in public transport, cycling and walking is extremely sparse.

  Around the end of 1999 more progressive policies, engendered by "A New Deal for Transport" and the guidance to local authorities on developing local transport plans, when into reverse. Indication from central government was that a large number of bypasses would, after all, receive funding. In consequence many County Councils dropped everything to revive every road scheme in the book during 2000-01, these schemes previously thought to have been "lost" for ever to the new priorities of modal shift, traffic reduction, social integration and environmental protection.

  In the South West, Government Office for the South West (GOSW), the Highways Agency, and the transport officers of the Regional Assembly, worked with the County Councils to achieve their aims.

  Meanwhile public transport and walking and cycling initiatives were left by many authorities in the hands of junior staff to pursue, which they did without success. The idea of "sustainable development" remained on paper but was by mid-2001 compromised to the extent that the construction of environmentally damaging roads across chalk grassland in the Wylye Valley, and around Salisbury and Weymouth and also in the Cranborne Chase in Dorset, were considered completely environmentally justifiable.

  None of this reflects the actual priorities expressed by the travelling public. When consulted as part of the LTP process, stakeholder groups give top priority to public transport investment and lowest priority to the construction of new roads. Local businesses are often also willing to support these priorities but green travel plans cannot be put into effect until public transport becomes more than a theory.

  It is worth noting that guidelines in PPG 13, which aim to link new development with public transport provision, are only being taken seriously by a few District Councils. Even these are hampered by lack of real consideration of other transport modes than the car by their parent County Councils. Development associated with bypasses remains on the cards.


  We recommend changes in the way that transport matters are dealt with in the South West as follows:

  1.  The process of establishing a public transport infrastructure should be done regionally rather than county by county. There is a lack of expertise and political will within many County Councils when it comes to delivery of a public transport infrastructure. This is particularly the case in Wiltshire and Dorset, and true to a lesser but still significant degree in Somerset and Cornwall.

  Whereas many local authorities are familiar with the work involved in land acquisition and other necessary negotiations for road schemes, the negotiations involved in public transport/rail freight initiatives are unfamiliar and complex and defeat already short-staffed council departments.

  2.  Bristol is hampered by having four unitary authorities involved. The city would be better off with a single passenger transport authority covering the whole Bristol Travel to Work Area where it reaches out into BANES, South Gloucestershire, North Somerset, North and West Wiltshire, Somerset and Gloucestershire.

  3.  The Highways Agency only focuses on roads and is still driving the agenda. In the South West officers are seconded from the Highways Agency to work on road projects; however there is no similar arrangement with the SRA and rail transport. The Highways Agency as a body needs to be abolished regionally and instead a Regional Transport Authority put into place (see below).

  4.  There is a strong imbalance in GOSW, with too may staff seconded from Highways Agency working on regional road schemes rather than transport schemes. This would be remedied by (5) below.

  5.  As there is no elected regional government, decisions are being made by civil servants with little expertise in transport and without any strong regional or political steer. We would suggest that transport powers should be taken away from County Council and put into a strong Regional Transport Authority consisting of elected regional MPs and transport specialists.

  6.  Regional delivery targets should be set for the SRA.

  7.  Multi-modal studies invariably end up pointing to new road schemes because the road lobby is well organised and because road building always remains a "tempting possibility". We need to be clearer with these studies that we are looking to implement government policy and change transport habits. This has to be made explicit from the start.

  8.  Sustainable development is a key theme in the South West Regional Planning Guidance. This cannot be carried beyond policy on paper unless the Region is much firmer about sustainable transport.

  9.  The lack of bus regulation and consumer protection causes problems at every level at maintaining quality bus services.

  10.  We welcome the setting up of the new South West Regional Public Transport Forum with partnerships with the SW Regional Assembly, RDA, Rail Passenger Committee, T2000, the National Federation of Bus Users, and Rail Futures.

  11.  With regard to financing public transport improvements:

    (a)  Money spent on bypasses should be diverted to public transport. For example, the £92 million being asked by Wiltshire for its seven road schemes could, for example, finance all the necessary track, signalling and station improvements and re-openings as well as the leasing of trains and purchasing of buses to run a European-style bus/train commuter service for the greater Bath conurbation including the growing urban populations in Western Wiltshire and NE Somerset. This would help solve many of the congestion problems on roads into Bath.

    (b)  Bidding for rural bus challenge money should be made much simpler: The process is currently too bureaucratic, in that money needs to be found to maintain and enhance existing services. £14 million of revenue support is welcomed but the region needs further revenue support for bus services and capital to replace existing vehicles with modern low-floor buses.


  These are few but they deserve a mention:


    —  Rural bus grant if well targeted as in Somerset.

    —  Rural buses at Wells, Glastonbury, Street Yeovil to Bristol improved and running for 6.30 am—midnight on hourly frequency six days a week (with Sunday service) with very good ridership. Has funded 85 new bus shelters and new Wells bus station.

    —  North Somerset—new bus interchange in town centre in Weston.

    —  Taunton-Minehead bus-rail link. New high quality vehicles, new waiting lounges and rail ticket machines for buses. Somerset.


    —  Axminster-Lyme Regis-Dorchester bus service with fast increasing ridership. Also operating through to Taunton, making rail connections at Dorchester and Axminster. Rural grant funded, operated by First Group.

Devon and Cornwall

    —  Station improvements in conjunction with Devon and Cornwall Rail Partnership. New services on Tamar valley line on Sundays.

    —  Number 12 bus every 12 minutes serving Torbay-Brixham along the coast.


    —  Planned station opening in Gloucestershire—Charfield and Stonehouse, London Road (these are imminent although problems associated with land for car-parks have, in the case of Charfield, held the project up for over seven years!)

    —  Safer city schemes in Gloucester.


    —  Grass-roots community rail partnership—the Brunei Rail Link—successfully managed to get limited frequency (five trains per 24 hours each direction) between Swindon-Chippenham-Melksham-Southampton. This happened during the process of re-franchising which liberated a two-car set train which now performs the journey. Stations in West Wilts however remain primitive, especially Melksham, Trowbridge and Warminster.

    —  Improvements in Salisbury bus fleet; talk of more bus/cycling facilities but very little accomplished on the ground; real time transport info is promised.


    —  A number of showcase bus routes in Bristol between Hartcliff in the South and Thornbury and Filton to the North. Bus lanes are being established along the busy Gloucester Road.

    —  Chew Valley—successful express commuter service carrying middle classes to Bristol and back. Good use of partnership between Somerset, Bristol and Mendip working together.


East Somerset:

    —  Radstock to Frome. Track re-instatement with commuter link then from Radstock to Frome to Westbury. Would serve urban populations of Radstock and Frome plus 50 plus villages total population of 80,000 to benefit. Current situation is that commuters and shoppers travel by car to Bath/Bristol. New line/station would reduce congestion on roads into Bath and (especially) A36.

    —  Reopen stations at Sparkford, Shepton Mallet and Somerton.


    —  New station at Chard.

    —  No progress in Somerset when it come to opening stations—the last station opened successfully was Temple Combe in the 1980s.


    —  New stations at Devizes—commuters current travelling great distance to Pewsey.

    —  Three kilometres of new line at Staverton to re-instate track allowing trains to travel between Bath and Melksham, establishing new commuter link serving growing town (25,000) and surrounding large villages of Holt Broughton Gifford/Shaw. Even more effective if combined with new stations at Hold, Staverton, Lacock (for Agricultural College and National Trust Property) as per consultant recommendations.

    —  Melksham station (currently no more than a small halt) needs to be re-built as bus-train interchange to link to growing suburbs.

    —  Westbury needs full re-vamp with establishment of bus-train interchange and frequent shuttle bus into the centre of town. This major N-S/E-W rail interchange is depressing with no proper café.

    —  Trowbridge station needs improvement with café, toilets, etc, and bus interchange facilities in line with station serving town of 35,000 plus.

    —  New station at White Horse Business Park in conjunction with major employers eg Virgin.

    —  New stations at Wilton and Wooton Bassett. Both would cut down dramatically on car commuting public/into Salisbury and Swindon respectively. Salisbury area: Proper evaluation of potential for stations at Porton, Wylye and Alderbury; reinstatement, as light rail, of line to Downton; feasibility study of relocated train station and bus-train-coach-car interchange at Salisbury; examination of Salisbury FoE plans for light rail link to Amesbury and Stonehenge using Army railway lines.

Bristol Travel to Work Area

    —  Half hourly commuter/shopper rail service needed for circular route as follows:

    —  Bristol Temple Meads, Keynsham, Oldfield Park, Bath Spa, Freshford, Avoncliff, Bradford on Avon, Trowbridge, Westbury, Frome, Bruton, Castle Cary, Langport (new station) Somerton (new station), Bridgewater, Highbridge, Weston Super Mare, Milton, Worle Parkway, Yatton, Clevedon bus link, Nailsea and Backwell, Parsons Street, Bedminster, Bristol Temple Meads.

    —  Light rail absolutely essential: must go forward without delay.


    —  New station is needed at Newham (Newport to Gloucester with bus links to Cinderford).

    —  Double track between Kemble and Swindon which, although a regional priority, is not being pursued and instead the Highways Agency are pushing hard for road improvements and bypasses along the A417/419, with long-term ambitions for upgrading the entire route from Swindon, via Marlborough and the A346/338, to Salisbury.

    —  Stonehouse—new station is needed on Midland line.

    —  Progress on bus-rail interchange at Stroud has stalled and no progress being made.

    —  Opening of Charfield station has taken over seven years mainly because of disputes about land for the car park.

Salisbury-Exeter Line

    —  No progress on dualling the Exeter-Salisbury line despite this being top regional priority. 80 mile track costing approximately £120 million. Badly needed to implement faster service between Salisbury to Exeter with slow and fast trains stopping only at Yeovil, Axminster, Honiton and Exeter. Needs to remain with the SW Trains Rail franchise and not transferred to Wessex Rail franchise.

Southampton-Bristol line

  Urgent need for improvement of track, signalling, rolling stock, stations and service. This line has become a byword for unreliability. Unsafe at night, etc. Gauge needs widening for freight modal shift along A36/A350 road corridor, especially for carrying largest size of shipping containers from Southampton and the ports of the Severn and South Wales. This route needs to be part of a stronger SW-based greater western franchise, or SW Trains, but not transferred to Wessex Rail.


  On the subject of inter-regional buses and bus priority measure, there is very little progress despite these featuring in LTPs No bus lanes at all have been implemented in:

    —  Western Wiltshire urban conurbation (Chippenham, Trowbridge, Westbury, Melksham.  .  .  ).

    —  Bridgewater.

    —  Taunton.

  In other areas progress is very slow:

    —  In Bath, residents are putting pressure on for the removal of bus lanes even though their development is absolutely critical to achieving modal shift. This applies in particular to the highly congested A367 Wells Road which serves a huge commuter catchment. Also see section X.

    —  In Weymouth there is only one lane on sea-front despite government requesting series of measures and works. With a plethora of measures needed implementation to achieve modal shift, instead efforts are directed to the Weymouth Relief Road and Chickwell Link. Much more effort is needed to actually implement bus priority measures to improve bus routes, interchange facilities at railways station, etc. Progress on public transport infrastructure is in general very slow.

    —  In Exeter and Bristol there is some degree of success, however this is only limited to the city centre area in the latter case. The establishment of bus lanes into Bristol is very slow due to the break-up of the former county of Avon (section X X).

    —  In Cornwall, money was given for Bodmin Parkway—Padstow link for bus-rail integration, but at present time buses missing train.

    —  In Western Wiltshire, Friends of the Earth and local transport action group initiated the Wigglybus which is now run jointly by local groups and the Country Council, which makes much of this isolated achievement. However the bureaucracy involved in setting up similar schemes is so fraught that few communities would be able to put in the sustained effort needed.

    —  In Western Wiltshire there are still no quality partnerships even though the population is growing fast with a number of towns with populations over 35,000.

    —  On county services, especially as Stagecoach have closed depots in Gloucestershire at Cinderford, Cirencester and parts of Stroud resulting in small operators maintaining essential public services with small elderly buses which only the lame, and the poor and the sick will use.

    —  In Wiltshire, low quality services provide for the main core networks.

    —  Gloucestershire County Council should be commended in raising their highways maintenance budget to maintain services but there is a need for revenue support tied to a progressive regulation of quality, service reliability and consumer protection.

    —  Urban bus services need to be maintained in large housing estates and improved in quality and performance. Operators must not be able to cherry-pick main profitable corridors whilst neglecting housing estates, especially in areas of high social exclusion, as has been the case of the greater Bristol area with First Group. There is also a need to develop guided bus schemes and hybrid schemes of bus-tram quality, which would attract a middle class ridership with modal shift from cars.


  A Regional Network of termini are needed to link with London and the South East, and also with Scotland, Wales and the Midlands. Rail freight must be planned and specified by the SRA as a priority for the whole SW Region. The new terimi need to be evolved in conjunction with marketing of new employment sites situated for transport of goods by rail. It is important to explain to companies that these termini are often "mini terminals" Swedish style, which mean that they serve a large number of small companies with single containers being loaded and of-loaded very swiftly. This is quite a different model from the traditional freight terminal which is designed around the needs of a particular industry.

    —  Mini-rail freight terminals at Thingly Junction, Luggeshall, Salisbury, Trowbridge, Westbury as suggested in Parkman Report on rail freight for Wiltshire.

    —  Larger terminals required, for example, in Gloucester, Westbury, Bristol Cabot Park, Taunton, Yeovil, Exeter, Shepton Mallet (Tor Head), Plymouth.  .  .  .


  Government policy on modal shift, traffic reduction, social inclusion and environmental protection will be achieved only if a very clear message is give to all that road building is no longer on the agenda, and that instead, the aim is to build a European-style system of public transport for the South West. The process of specifying and building this public transport system must be done on a Regional Basis. The Region has the basis for an excellent railway and offers many opportunities.

  The same principle needs to be applied to rail freight: we need a clear directive that new businesses will be evolved with rail freight in mind, and need to design a rail freight network on a regional basis.

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