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."
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,
Passengers in the North East,
Lancashire County Council,
Cumbria County Council,
and Passenger Groups such as the North East Combined Transport
Activists' Round Table
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".
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.
By comparison with the Highways Agency, witnesses felt that the
SRA was unresponsive, and ignorant of local needs and conditions.
Train Operating Companies such as GNER also felt that the SRA
failed to share its plans.
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.
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.
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".
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
Ev 54. Back
Ev 88. Back
Ev 98. Back
Ev 103. Back
Ev 52, see also Ev 55. Back
Q 365. Back
Ev 94; Ev 95, Ev 123. Back
Ev 52, Ev 91. Back
Ev 152. Back
Ev 131. Back
Q 322. Back
in the Work of the Strategic Rail Authority, HC 125-i Q 39. Back