Cycling OxfordFrom the end of November, you will be able to have your say on the shape of local transport in the West Midlands for the next 15 years, as the public consultation on the new West Midlands Local Transport Plan opens.

Local Transport Plans (LTPs) are statutory documents which all transport authorities must submit to the Department for Transport. LTPs generally cover a five year period and set the transport policies, strategy and objectives.

Transport authorities in England range from large rural county councils to the Integrated Transport Authorities (ITAs), which cover the major urban conurbations outside London. The West Midlands ITA covers Birmingham along with the rest of the West Midlands conurbation, consisting of Sandwell, Dudley, Walsall, Wolverhampton, Solihull and Coventry. The LTP must be approved by all seven constituent authorities before it can be issued by the ITA for consultation. At the time of writing, LTP3 is only available in draft form, but is likely to be approved and put out to public consultation towards the end of November.

Comments and responses need to be received by January 31st 2011 at the latest. However, given the tight timetable to which the ITA is working, the earlier you submit your comments, the greater the chance there is of these being taken into account.

The current LTP (LTP2), which was approved in 2006 will expire in 2011 and will be superseded by LTP3. The LTP3 strategy will extend over a 15 year period from 2011 to 2026 and will be delivered in a rolling series of Implementation Plans. The first of these, (Implementation Plan One) will run from 2011 to 2015. Given the timing of the Coalition’s Comprehensive Spending Review and uncertainty over possible changes to national transport policy, the implementation plan may need to be completely revised within the first year of its life to reflect the funding available and any policy changes.

The Comprehensive Spending Review will result in cuts of about one third to capital funding for local transport schemes. But the good news is that the Local Sustainable Transport Fund will receive significant funding to the tune of £560 million over the next four years. This means that there will be enough money to roll out schemes such as Smarter Travel Choices which focus on behavioural changes, encouraging people to walk, cycle and use public transport. In a landscape of financial austerity, the relatively low cost of such schemes and their effectiveness in reducing carbon emissions means that there is every reason why they should be at the heart of every LTP.

What’s in LTP3?
As only the draft version of LTP3 is currently available, I cannot be too specific about what it contains. The approved version should not be too different from the draft version, but you never know!

LTP3 sets out five key objectives and as one would expect, that of facilitating economic growth is at the top of the list. Encouragingly, immediately beneath this is the need to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, and the role which the LTP has in helping to achieve this in the West Midlands. Health, the quality of life and the local environment also feature. LTP3 also recognises that there should be an emphasis on moving away from new road construction and making better use of existing infrastructure. Extra emphasis will also be placed on walking and cycling and promoting behavioural changes. So far so good.

On the other hand, the ITA seeks to influence and support large transport schemes over which it has little or no control but which it believes will strengthen the local economy. Thus, it sees the planned runway extension at Birmingham International Airport (BIA) as a magic bullet for all of the conurbation’s economic ills and is quite strong in its support for this scheme. The runway extension figures prominently in the LTP3 and its role in ‘improving international connectivity’ is regarded as vital for the West Midlands. But just a minute, isn’t LTP3 a LOCAL Transport Plan?

The proposed high speed rail link to London (HS2) is similarly welcomed by the ITA. LTP3 states that the scheme will attract inward investment and create jobs. Of course, the opposite could happen and HS2 could drain the economic blood from Birmingham and turn it into a dormitory city, as commuting to London becomes a more attractive option. Despite the economic and environmental doubts surrounding HS2, LTP3 has been written on the assumption that HS2 will be operational by around 2026, and makes provision to accommodate the scheme. In fact, a significant part of the 15 year strategy is geared towards preparing for HS2, aiming to put transport measures in place to enhance the business case for the project.

As we take a close look at the finalised LTP3 consultation document, it is more than likely that a number of other policies and individual schemes will become evident which run counter to some of the key objectives of helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improving the quality of the local environment.

Have your say!
Birmingham Friends of the Earth will be submitting a response focusing on the Birmingham components of the plan, but everybody can make a response as an individual.

The final consultation document will be available on the West Midlands LTP website from late November:

Although the consultation period runs until the 31st January 2011, the earlier you can get your comments in the better!