A fight to save Regional Transport Boards (RTBs) was brewing this week after the government set out plans to scrap regional administrations.
RTBs currently are responsible for setting transport strategies across England and for the past six years have provided the Department for Transport with funding priorities as part of its regional funding allocation settlement.
RTBs are generally formed of regional assembly members along with other transport experts.
However, the Decentralisation and Localism Bill would abolish regional assemblies and regional development agencies and replace them with Local Enterprise Partnerships formed by local authorities with businesses.
Transport experts said this would be a bad move. South East England Partnership Board director of regional investment Martin Tugwell argued that RTBs are too important and productive to be disbanded.
“It may carry on in its current form, it may be reshaped,” he added. “We need to focus on national transport infrastructure to get the best use of local investment elsewhere.”
Tugwell said the South East England Partnership Board is currently in the process of winding up, evidence gathering and preparing to hand over to local councils.
A meeting will be held on 11 June to determine the future of the South East RTB and Tugwell feared projects would be at risk if it is axed. It is currently planning funding for a new rail platform at Gatwick airport and £5M of improvements at Oxford rail station.
Legal firm Norton Rose partner and head of planning Nigel Hewitson said the decentralisation plans would scupper projects because of conflicting perspectives within local communities.
“There’s always going to be conflicting interests - usually between the larger community and the people who will have a proposed project ‘in their back yard’ so to speak,” he said.
“I suspect that once [the government] get into the legislation they’ll discover issues, like allowing third parties to appeal decisions,” he said.
“I suspect that once [the government] get into the legislation they’ll discover issues, like allowing third parties to appeal decisions”
“One of the advantages of regional government is that it can make decisions that are for the benefit of the larger community as a whole and not just a few people.”
However, the Local Government Association (LGA) welcomed the devolution of power to local councils and warned against national planning strategies impeding local priorities.
LGA chairman Dame Margaret Eaton said: “Local councils have long been calling for a bonfire of the bureaucracy that all too often suffocates local innovation, and a radical scaling back of the quango state.”