Can a mayor make transport better?
Yesterday we attended the launch of the new IPPR North report, Connecting Lines – How Devolving Transport Policy can Transform our Cities. The event itself focused on the issue of what metro mayors can do to tackle the challenges cities face, and some interesting issues were raised.
Tony Lloyd and Sean Anstee, the interim Mayor of Greater Manchester and Leader of Trafford Council respectively, offered their reflections on the report, before a panel discussion with leading transport figures. Both Mr Lloyd and Mr Anstee understandably put forward the point that transport improvements in the region are important, and that investment is needed. Where the funding would come from appears to be a more contentious issue, with Cllr Anstee saying that ‘we need to change the mind-set that the Government needs to give us money.’
During the panel discussion, the complications regarding how improvements to the region would be funded became clearer. The Deputy Mayor for Transport on the Greater London Authority, Isabel Dedring, used an example of London Underground’s Bakerloo line extension. She said that when it was first proposed, there was no funding whatsoever, but by getting the right people together in one room they could pull together a strategy, and work out exactly how it would be funded. The plans could then be taken to the different London Boroughs to engage with communities and politicians about the wider benefits. She said that having a mayor who is able to appoint a highly competent team to work in the executive was important in enabling this to happen. For the North, having regional mayors across the region with significant devolved powers for transport should enable this kind of system to work, but will it be enough?
Given London’s transport system is already up to date, it is a lot simpler to consult on individual improvements. The scale of improvements needed across the North is staggering by comparison, and there is also the issue of attracting the right people, the number of them needed, and, perhaps most importantly, being able to pay enough for the best individuals to come.
The report itself is a useful piece of research with some constructive suggestions, and contains a lot of information which was welcomed by Mr Lloyd and Cllr Anstee, but it again highlighted the scale of the task facing elected mayors, when areas such as Manchester, which is seen as at the forefront of the devolution agenda, are so far behind where they should be already.