South east of England leaders submit bid for transport devolution

The south east of England has become the latest region to look to take control of its transport after a bid for transport devolution was submitted to government by a partnership of the region’s local authorities and business leaders.

The proposal from Transport for the South East is designed to power-up the region’s economic recovery from the effects of Covid-19 and accelerate investment in sustainable transport as part of a thirty-year transport strategy. If agreed by the transport secretary and approved by parliament, Transport for the South East would become a statutory sub-national transport body with direct influence over government decision-making on transport issues and the powers needed to deliver major improvements to the south east’s transport network.

The bid has the backing of the south east’s local authorities and local economic partnerships representing more than 7.5 million people and 300,000 businesses. Chambers of commerce, transport operators, ports, airports, protected landscapes and universities in the south east have also given their support, as have national organisations including the Confederation of British Industry and passenger watchdog Transport Focus.

Keith Glazier, chair of Transport for the South East, said: “The south east is a true powerhouse for the UK economy, contributing more than any other region outside London. It’s the country’s principal international gateway for people and goods and drives productivity and prosperity across the UK. Our transport strategy sets out how investment in a more sustainable transport network will help our economy recover and grow, delivering a green transport revolution that will create jobs, boost quality of life and help cut carbon emissions to net-zero.

“Transport for the South East has quickly emerged as a powerful and effective partnership for our region but delivering on our ambitions will require more than just partnership working. That’s why we want to formalise our role as the south east’s voice for strategic transport by becoming a statutory body. Statutory status will mean we can work with government to decide how and where money is spent on our region’s transport network and give us the powers we need to accelerate schemes and projects which are better for people, better for business and better for the planet.”

Transport for the South East was formed in 2017 and brings together 16 local transport authorities and five local economic partnerships along with other partners including Network Rail and Highways England to speak with one voice on the region’s transport investment priorities.

The powers and responsibilities Transport for the South East is seeking would allow the partnership to:

  • Develop and implement a Strategic Investment Plan for the region.
  • Act as ‘one voice’ for the south east in agreeing investment priorities with the secretary of state for transport.
  • Become a statutory partner in road and rail investment decisions.
  • Improve bus services for passengers and provide improved alternatives to car travel.
  • Coordinate the delivery of region-wide integrated smart ticketing.
  • Implement road charging schemes linked to clean air zones to improve quality of life for people in the south east.

The devolved powers are designed to support the delivery of Transport for the South East’s 30-year transport strategy, which sets out how investment in sustainable transport can deliver a significant shift to public transport from private vehicles, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and tackle poor air quality in the region’s towns and cities, better connect its ports and airports, improve transport links for deprived communities and make planning and paying for travel simpler and easier for everyone.

The strategy was approved by Transport for the South East’s partnership board following public consultation. It will be used to inform a series of area studies which will determine packages of investment to improve north-south and east-west travel in the south east. 

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