Its geographic position places the West Midlands at the centre of the UK transport network. But do routes benefit the region, which the locals say is desperate for investment and regeneration, or simply run through it?
National and regional priorities for road, rail and housing do not always match, according to Birmingham City Council assistant director of development strategy David Bull.
'There's a major concern that there's a conflict between development of local and national services. We would like to see investment focused in the West Midlands, not on systems and measures to take people out.' West Midlands Regional Assembly strategic adviser for transport Danny Lamb offers as an illustration Warwick Parkway, a new commuter station privately built by Chiltern Railways in 2000. 'It is a great example of how an area can get investment, ' he says.
'But as people can move in two directions then it allows them to get to London.' Tensions also exist over rail targets. Head of transport planning for the assembly Graeme Fitton says: 'We would like to get more people on trains within the county but the problem is that rail targets are all based around passenger miles. If you get one passenger going from London to Glasgow you've got 400 miles in one go. It doesn't favour smaller commuter lines.
The West Coast Main Line has made it more difficult to attract investment in local trains.' Elsewhere in the West Midlands capacity is strained.
Birmingham New Street station is used by 36M passengers a year and desperately needs redevelopment, says ICE West Midlands regional manager Steve Feeley. 'There has to be a commitment to it. There have been closures there due to overcrowding. Redevelopment needs strong leadership, a concerted effort and serious investment.' The West Midlands transport network also faces pressures from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister's housebuilding proposals. Land to the south, around Milton Keynes, has been identified as a key growth area, with 211,000 new homes planned by 2021.
Lamb highlights potential difficulties: 'Both the West Midlands and the growth areas will need transport investment, possibly at odds with each other.
'If we have hundreds of thousands of people living on the doorstep then that will obviously put pressure on the motorway and rail network.
There's an opportunity for them to travel abroad from Birmingham International Airport. They will be using the transport network in the West Midlands to get there.' Demand is likely to favour investment in road schemes that enhance movements to and from the West Midlands, not journeys within the region. Lamb says the M6 toll exemplifies regional transport planners' concerns, delivering little benefit to the inhabitants of the West Midlands, merely speeding trips from north to south.
'We would like to see a better understanding of what the M6 toll is doing in terms of people's decision to invest and provide jobs, ' Lamb says: 'If it's having benefits other than reducing journey times then let's hear about them.' Widening the M6 between junctions 11A and 19, north of Walsall to Knutsford in Cheshire, features in the region's transport delivery plan. But this has been thrown into doubt by Alistair Darling's apparent preference for the M6 expressway.
The M6 toll does have its fans however: 'In Warwickshire there has been a 30% reduction in HGV traffic and 9% in total. The benefits have been particularly substantial in the north of the county, ' says Fitton. And he is encouraged by the appearance of business parks along the route.
But Bull says a far more defined strategy is needed to stimulate regeneration in the region. 'We don't want a lack of investment in the future to impair regeneration and therefore we need strong forward planning to safeguard the development of the hightech A38 corridor, Longbridge and the airport. We need the infrastructure investment to go with that.' Lamb is keen to see the government's planned national spatial strategy set the regions a clear framework within which to work.
Feeley proposes the establishment of a regional transport tsar. 'We would like to see someone in a position of authority who would be accountable for ensuring delivery of transport in the West Midlands. We've got a regional energy spokesman so why can't the role be extended- There's merit in examining whether this is a role that's needed.'