Headlines: May 31st, 2006

The most effective way to improve urban transport would be to devolve power from Whitehall and put it into the hands of local Transport Authorities. Council leaders would head up the Authorities and be able to take decisions about services which reflect the needs of local people. This is the conclusion of a report commissioned by the Local Government Association. The reform proposals, which include governance and financial arrangements, are designed to put pressure on the Government ahead of the white paper on double devolution from Whitehall to Townhall and on to communities, which is due to be published in a few weeks time.The report looks at ways for metropolitan district councils to provide democratic leadership to the wider ‘city region’ or ‘metropolitan’ areas. One option is for a new style Passenger Transport Authority to be formed from a joint executive of district leaders which in turn would appoint a board in the way the Mayor of London appoints the Transport for London Board.

The Transport Authorities could be given powers to determine bus routes, service levels and quality as is the case with Transport for London. Bus franchising could be introduced, as in London. The new authorities could be given responsibilities for their local urban rail networks similar to those for the buses.

The transfer of powers downwards from central government to new, strengthened, Local Transport Authorities would reduce the risk of opposition from district councils. Such powers might include the regulation of ports, transport policing and economic development. The report argues that greater the number and extent of transfers, the greater will be the chance of local acceptance of any rationalisation of powers between districts and the new transport authorities.

The report highlights a number of actual or possible sources for new revenue to provide an income stream that could be given to the proposed new transport authorities to allow them to fund borrowing that would, in turn, provide additional infrastructure. New revenue might include: Tax Increment Finance, a levy on the non-domestic rate, a planning gain supplement; congestion charges and tourist taxes.

Link: http://www.lga.gov.uk/Documents/Publication/improvinglocaltransport.pdf