Select Committee on Transport Fourth Report

5. Relationship with Stakeholders

53. The SRA clearly has a great deal to do to convince those in the North that its investment plans make the most appropriate use of the resources available to it. Given this, it is particularly unfortunate that, almost without exception, our witnesses were concerned about its failure to consult and lack of local knowledge.

54. The North West Regional Assembly told us it was "disappointing and frustrating that the SRA have not seen fit to date to work closely with or consult stakeholders on either the Strategic Plan or the refranchising process."[57] This frustration was shared by Yorkshire Forward, the Regional Development Agency for Yorkshire and Humber and the Yorkshire and Humber Assembly, the Regional Planning Body for the area,[58] Passengers in the North East,[59] Lancashire County Council,[60] Cumbria County Council,[61] and Passenger Groups such as the North East Combined Transport Activists' Round Table[62] or its equivalent for Yorkshire and the Humber. The Rail Passengers Committee told us "They listen, that is certainly true, but how much account they take of what we say is another matter".[63] Although both Cumbria and Lancashire County Councils considered that the PTEs were better consulted than they, the PTEs themselves clearly felt the SRA was unresponsive to their concerns.[64] By comparison with the Highways Agency, witnesses felt that the SRA was unresponsive, and ignorant of local needs and conditions.[65] Train Operating Companies such as GNER also felt that the SRA failed to share its plans.[66] The SRA was seen as an entirely London centred organisation whose approach to consultation was simply to try and persuade consultees of the merits of decisions the Authority had already made.[67]

55. In contrast, Mr Steer told us that the relationship with PTEs was extremely important, and that the SRA needed to draw upon their local knowledge.[68] When the Chairman of the SRA appeared before us last November he accepted there had been problems in the past:

"I fully accept that there has been production of plans at the SRA in the past that have not been as connected with regional and local plans as they should have been, and I accept that. All I can do is sort it out for the future, and that is what we are doing, and we are now making sure that our relationships with Regional Development Agencies, local authorities, Passenger Transport Executives, are taken forward in a very much more integrated way. For the future, we are sorting it, but I accept your description of where we have come from".[69]

56. However, in February 2003 the SRA introduced major timetable changes and reductions in routes without consultation with the Rail Passenger Council or PTEs. The timetable changes were intended to ensure the efficiency of the network, but appeared to take no account of such changes on the localities affected. Major timetable changes should not be announced without consultation with the local bodies affected. If the SRA will not consult willingly, it should be made compulsory for it to do so.

57. The most recent strategic plan promises better links between national and regional planning, which is intended to contribute to the Government's social inclusion objectives and which will draw on the multi-modal studies. However, it is notable that rather than working separately with particular regions, the SRA will handle these links through a single dedicated team. That may provide improvements, but there must be a danger that the regions will continue to believe the SRA does not properly understand local conditions and aspirations. It is clear that the Chairman of the SRA agrees that change is needed in the Authority's attitude to consultation, as in many other matters. It remains far from clear that this change can be delivered, despite the strategic plan aspirations. In the North of England at least, the SRA has forfeited the confidence of the very groups that should have been its partners: it will take more than warm words from the Chairman to put this right.

57   Ev 115. Back

58   Ev 54. Back

59   Ev 88. Back

60   Ev 98. Back

61   Ev 103. Back

62   Ev 52, see also Ev 55. Back

63   Q 365. Back

64   Ev 94; Ev 95, Ev 123.  Back

65   Ev 52, Ev 91. Back

66   Ev 152. Back

67   Ev 131. Back

68   Q 322. Back

69   in the Work of the Strategic Rail Authority, HC 125-i Q 39. Back

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