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Regions demand more say in national transport policy

REGIONAL BUSINESS leaders are set to meet transport minister John Spellar early next month to demand changes to government transport priorities.

The meeting is set to highlight fears expressed by the Regional Development Agencies (RDAs) that transport projects which are key to the economic growth across the regions are being ignored.

It is understood that the RDAs will demand that Spellar gives them more say.

RDAs were set up three years ago by government to co-ordinate economic strategies across the UK's regions. But despite having annual budgets of up to £200M to boost economic development, many fear that results are being held back.

The eight regional RDAs have now put together an overall transport policy to bring together regional transport priorities. The strategy, which in many ways rivals the government's own transport plans, was set out in a recent document passed to the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions.

Transport connections for Regional Development Agencies was put together by consultant WS Atkins and sets out the case for investing in transport corridors to improve access to ports, regional airports and areas of high unemployment.

The plan is expected to form the basis of discussions next month between Alex Stephenson, chairman of the RDA Advantage West Midlands which has co-ordinated the strategy, and Spellar.

'What has come out of our transport work is the different priorities that the RDAs have in terms of national transport links in England, ' said Advantage West Midlands head of strategy Trevor Cornfoot.

'We want recommendations from government on how we can get more involved in the development of transport policy in our regions, ' he added.

Top of the list of the RDA's concerns is expected to be the lack of rail projects to regenerate the regions. They have already written to Strategic Rail Authority chairman Richard Bowker to express disappointment at the SRA's 10 year strategic plan. Bowker is set to meet with the RDAs in May.

But the RDAs' transport document also sets out a complete 'national overview of inter regional strategic transport priorities and a framework for the RDAs' role in transport matters.'

It identifies nine transport corridors (see diagram) that must be developed to aid economic regeneration. Against each corridor is a list of schemes which the RDAs demand must go forward as quickly as possible.

Priorities in the strategy include work to upgrade the A1 north of Newcastle to help boost employment in Tyneside and Teesside. Improvements on TransPennine rail routes are also highlighted to exploit the development potential of the Humber ports.

Also singled out are new transport links to regional airports in the Newcastle, Leeds and the East Midlands, plus better road and rail access to ports such as Harwich, Felixstowe and Great Yarmouth.

The Airtrack scheme to improve access to Heathrow Airport from the South, West and the Midlands, it says, is desperately needed as are better road and rail links to currently inaccessible rural areas such as Lincolnshire, Norfolk and Suffolk.

Other rail projects that the RDAs want to see put firmly back on the agenda include better links to Stansted Airport;

improved links between East Anglia and Oxford;

capacity enhancements on the South West Mainline into London Waterloo and upgrade of the Waterloo to Exeter line west of Salisbury.

'We want to add balance to the transport strategies put together by local authorities and add a few more dimensions, ' East of England Development Agency chairman Vince Watts told NCE.

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