Putting local decision-making in its proper place

With local elections about to take place, it would be nice to think that relevant transport issues affecting particular places and council areas would be suitably under the spotlight; and forming at least a part of citizens’ considerations for whom they should cast their vote.

But, sadly, such local polls are invariably seen as an opportunity to pass judgement on the performance of the political parties at a national level, on issues that particular authorities are actually in no real position to do much about.

Even if local transport - buses, potholes, pavements, pollution or parking et al - is an issue of concern to the voters, will they know enough about the detailed policy and practice of the responsible authorities - incumbents and challengers - to make a truly informed choice amongst the available alternatives?

And if looking from a National perspective, are the different party political approaches to local transport matters even clearly nailed down and stated to see? And how can such general policies, even if they exist, indicate what that means ‘on the ground’ for any particular community and the challenges it faces?

Here lies the conundrum of local transport - and indeed of other ‘local’ topics from town centre futures to housing provision.

The fact is that national policy approaches work well on some matters - the Economy, NHS, Social Care, Education and the war in Ukraine - but not really on things that need to be related to the individual character of Places, the cultural and social attitudes about where people live, and the very different historical and geographical landscapes that local authorities must relate to and look after. Be they remote villages, declining industrial areas, towns on main roads troubled by thorough traffic, coastal resorts at the end of the line, or fast growing areas with pressures of new residents or commercial developments.

One size does not certainly fit all when it comes to transport needs and priorities, and the right access and mobility provision to suit particular situations and circumstances.

Is there maybe, then, a case to tease out some transport and place-related discussions and decisions from the overall judgement on those we choose to be ‘in charge’ of an area?

In this LTT Lucy Marstrand-Taussig takes another look at the vexed issue of local traffic schemes, and how local people can best express their wishes for improving their neighbourhoods and collectively working to get the kind of environments they want by managing the mobility equation against other considerations.

In thinking she will air at the forthcoming LTT/Landor Links Loveable Neighbourhoods event, she suggests that it could be an opportunity to hand more power to the people to both initiate and agree plans and see them through to implementation, maybe using approaches that go beyond the administrative and professional toolkits of local authorities and transport planning and engineering experts. It could surely be worth a try; to do better than the trench warfare that often goes with ‘officially developed’ LTN schemes.

And on a slightly bigger scale, we report the ideas of Leicester City Council to leverage revenue from its proposed Workplace Parking Levy to underpin the imaginative locally-developed Bus Service Improvement Plan that was passed over in the DfT’s recent allocation of its slimmed-down budget for the funding initiative that disappointed many applicant areas.

Local creativity, new approaches to old problems, ‘try it and see’ experiments, and carefully structured steps along new paths are surely the essence of getting local transport to suit different situations.

Textbook and template-driven thinking is not the only way - even if professionals and politicians would love to see their carefully-considered all-purpose best practice wisdom suitably applied across the nation.

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