Select Committee on Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Written Evidence


Memorandum by Transport 2000 South West Network (RG 50)

1.  SUMMARY

  We feel that, although we recognize the importance of regional government, that the present South West Regional Assembly does not function effectively as a united body. Members appear to be more interested in Local and Parish Council viewpoints than the good of the region as a whole. The SW Regional Assembly is aptly-named by the media as "Wessex County Council", although those who have seen it in action often talk about Wessex Parish Council. The size—170 members—is far too large.

  There are huge tensions between the deep rural areas and the city regions. Government Office (GOSW) is not set up to regulate or represent such a diverse view, and tends to end up siding with the rural authorities, under pressure their forthright lobbying, despite clear government polices on city regions and sustainable communities.

2.  PUBLIC PARTICIPATION IN REGIONAL GOVERNMENT—NEEDS IMPROVEMENT

  Public participation is very poor, and there is no democratic services department within the South West Regional Assembly for which community participation is supposed to directed. This is in no way a reflection on the staff, but rather on the numbers of staff present in order to carry out effective management of statements, and questions to committees and so on. In practice these are not recorded and filed, and community groups are expected to do their own photocopying because of lack of secretarial support. The Assembly has failed completely to reach hard-to-reach communities or in fact working class areas in discussion of the Regional Spatial Strategy. The latest consultation of the RSS was held in the Cheltenham Race Course complete with three course lunches, had a gentlemanly atmosphere which suited the British establishment flavour of retired generals and Commanders from the County Councils with very few ordinary tax-payers and voters.

  This issue has now been picked up by David Miliband, Minister for the Regions and Sustainable Communities, in his recent letter to the chief executive of the South West Regional Assembly. The issue is acknowledged by the Assembly, but they lack resources to outreach to working class communities, such as Hartcliff, Cambourne-Pool Redruth, Trowbridge, Swindon, parts of Gloucester or even the south side of Bath.

  Often a county will be pushing an agenda favored by a minority of active parochial elderly retired councilors where the general community and taxpayers and voters are unaware even of the discussions taking place. This is made worse by the county councils fighting the Assembly because they do not believe in it, with Wiltshire, Gloucestershire and Devon particularly problematic.

  Whilst the Assembly has done some very good things such as supporting the Public Transport Users Forum, and working with Sustainability South West, with some laudable polices emerging, their ability to get the county authorities to sign up to delivery is very difficult. These county councils oppose the unitary authorities and wish to keep the money away from PUAs at all times.

3.  NEED FOR CITY REGIONS

  We believe that the regional assembly should be broken up into City Regions based on the current sub-regions of:

    —  Torbay and South Devon.

    —  Greater Bristol including Bath and NE Somerset, North Somerset, South Gloucestershire, and the City of Bristol.

    —  Swindon incorporating North Wilts and Kennet but not the area south of Calne.

    —  Bournemouth and Poole.

    —  Gloucester and Cheltenham.

    —  Exeter.

    —  Taunton incorporating Wellington.

    —  Bath and West Wilts, Mendip, North Wilts.

  Bath is the most dysfunctional of the city regions that the Assembly has set up for the RSS process.

3.  SUB-REGIONAL PARTNERSHIPS—PARTIALLY SUCCESSFUL

  Sub-regional partnerships work, up to a fashion, and have been a success except for Bath which needs serious government office intervention. The city of Bath functions almost like Vatican City, and fails to work with its hinterland in any meaningful way with Wiltshire, Mendip and Somerset, where housing allocation in being allocated in large numbers to satellite towns to Radstock, Chilcomton, Midsomer Norton, Trowbridge, Shepton Mallet and Frome, and even Wells and Glastonbury, rather than provide an urban extension.

  Sub-regional partnerships and city regions need to be created in the south west, set round the city regions of Greater Bristol, Bath, Swindon, Gloucester-Cheltenham, Plymouth, Torbay, South Devon, Bournemouth and Poole and the Cornish Five Towns. Cornwall could be a unitary authority in its own right, but would need a special arrangement within Plymouth and Tamarside for joint working. A second option would involve breaking up Devon and Cornwall to create city regions. Somerset could be split into Yeovil, Taunton and West Somerset, and South Somerset would be one council. Sedgemore would go to North Somerset and Greater Bristol, and Mendip in with West wilts and North Wilts as far as Calne and with Bath itself, to create the Bath City Region. Greater Bristol needs to be one authority with a London Assembly model and the four unitary authorities underneath, plus the Bath City Region.

  A new South Dorset Unitary authority needs to be created, covering from Swanage to Lyme Regis, including Dorchester and Weymouth. The rest of Dorset needs to go into a south Coast Metropole authority covering Bournemouth and Poole, Hampshire and South Wiltshire. The county names can be kept in the titles eg Bath, Somerset and Wiltshire Unitary Council.

4.  TRANSPORT

  Transport, like police, fire-fighting and health should be planned on regional basis, with strong sub-regional units for delivery. A regional transport board, formed out of a new regional assembly partnership, would create a more equal footing between rural and urban areas. The present model is a shire model. The regional transport board would have sub-regional partnerships similar to the Welsh and Scottish transport partnerships, but with powers to franchise and regulate bus services, and ferry services and inter-regional air services. The present 1985 bus deregulation Act is a worse piece of legislation than the railways act and is causing major problems at local government level, with bus fares rising, and powers of council intervention limited. The industry is not properly regulated to protect the passenger interest. The model needs to change to a franchise model with private sector delivery, similar to the railways, with democratic accountability to elected transport partnerships in the city regions, similar to the London model.

  The industry would then be properly funded, and fares protected by linking with government social polices and modal shift with public transport. Local rail needs also to be devolved to these partnerships with boards made up operators, users and business community representation— to control fares, service levels, new stations. These within larger franchises set by the department for transport. he case for City Regions in England is very strong, and the regional assembly should be made into partnerships of City Regions but with boundaries which are meaningful to modern day people. The Bournemouth and Poole sees itself as not really part of the South West Region.

  With the railways, the local and regional trains nee sot devolved to the passenger Transport Authorities on a regional basis only, the funding of services included in the RFA as soon possible, to balance up the present road and bus funding.

  The public transport forums need to be rolled out across the eight English regions as soon as possible, the South west and West Midlands, North west and East Midlands are in existence, but the government needs to work with the RDAs and regional Assemblies to set up Regional Public Transport User Forums in the Thames Valley, Eastern England, Yorkshire and Humber, the North East, Sussex and Kent, and the Solent Area including Dorset and Southern Wiltshire. This model is much better than the now defunct Rail Passenger Committees, as they are more inclusive and reaching to grass routes communities and deal with issues such as social inclusion, crime and disorder issues, ethnic minorities and the gay community.

  Other regions that need attention are the west Midlands where for instance, whilst we would welcome a West-Midlands wide Assembly based on the whole of the area and not just the urban conurbations. The PTE needs to cover the whole area, and be accountable like the Assembly in London. This should have an operational arm to run bus and rail services with a user Forum with more resources, as is the case in the West Midlands PTF.





 
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