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


Memorandum by Network Rail (RG 61)

  1.  Further to your letter inviting comment on the Committee's inquiry exploring the question "Is there a future for local government?" I would like to take this opportunity, on behalf of Network Rail, to briefly address the terms of reference outlined in your request.

  2.  It is worth stressing from the outset, that the planning of railway provision has, to date, proceeded along lines of routes and across the physical and social geography that reflect the users of the network and its operation, rather than any artificial political or governmental boundaries. As a result the comments in this response will not necessarily fit closely with the areas and regions that the committee is reviewing.

  3.  In some cases—such as city regions and inter-regional planning—the provision of rail services, as will be discussed, has pre-empted a number of the considerations that the committee are now making.

  4.  Conversely, there is little that can be contributed in relation to local authority specific planning of rail services, as the scale of services are such that provision will always be a matter that concerns a number of local authorities in addition to other stakeholders in their areas. This interdependency of needs and aspirations by stakeholders is something that is already reflected, and being developed, in the planning and provision of rail services—and is a fact that I believe we demonstrate we are conscious of when conducting consultations for future delivery.

  5.  As the committee will be aware, following the outcome of the Government's rail review, the 2004 White Paper and the Railways Act 2005, Network Rail has taken on significant additional responsibilities in the areas of accounting for performance and industry planning.

  6.  These additional responsibilities include the production of Route Utilisation Strategies, which local and regional government feed into. RUSs seek to identify opportunities for improved utilisation of the existing network, small opportunities for enhancement and changes in customer and stakeholder demand and aspirations. We are publishing a Consultation Guide explaining the RUS process, how people can contribute and the programme of work to be undertaken. In a number of areas we have inherited programmes where work was already underway and have already begun the consultation processes.

  7.  Once established, RUSs have to be taken into account by Network Rail in carrying out our activities and by the ORR in considering access and licence issues. They will also link with the government's High Level Output Specifications, franchise specifications, and rolling stock specifications. Network Rail's approach has been to invite input from local authorities and other regional stakeholders—offering briefing sessions in advance of the consultation in order for transport officers to be fully able to participate.

  8.  Due to the size and shape of the railway it can be expected that any transport consultation will not be contiguous with regional, or indeed local, political boundaries. While the RUSs do need to be informed by regional planning assessments and local development plans (and submissions on both counts are sought), long-term, strategic, transport requirements will continue to be set by central government through the Department for Transport's High Level Output Specifications.

  9.  Network Rail has recently held the first of what we intend to become biannual local authority conferences reflecting the fact that as well as local transport planning, there are a wide range of other interactions we have at regional and local levels including: environmental management, town planning, antisocial behaviour, redevelopment, and future planning up to regional planning assessments. In many of these cases we work at an operational level with the relevant authority.

  10.  In many environmental and social areas, new regulations and initiatives continue to be led by central government: Network Rail regularly interfaces through working groups, pilot programmes and consultations.

  11.  We note that the committee's interest in studying the desirability of inter-regional co-operation (such as the Northern Way). Network Rail are working with the Northern Way through our work with Yorkshire Forward, which is funding development work for enhancing rail freight capacity and capability on two important routes out of Hull and Immingham, both of which are aimed at delivering wider economic benefits.

  12.  With regards the committee's proposal to consider the establishment of city regions, we would point to the existence of the seven Passenger Transport Executives and Passenger Transport Authorities already in existence. These cover the West Midlands, Greater Manchester, Merseyside, West Yorkshire, South Yorkshire, Tyne and Wear and Strathclyde (the latter of which is to be absorbed by the new Scottish Transport Agency).

  13.  PTEs specify and manage local rail franchise operations in their area. Following the rail review, the government is moving to give these bodies greater ability and responsibility to bear the direct financial implications of their decisions on services and fares—and thereby flexibility to make trade-offs between rail and other modes.

  14.  In summary therefore, we would suggest that transport planning has already moved beyond the simple boundaries of both local and regional government in many areas. In other matters it is continuing to develop, across these boundaries, tailored approaches to fit the needs of customers, the structure and operation of the services, and wider stakeholder groups affected by industry decision making.





 
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