Devolving local transport - good thing or bad thing?

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Devolving local transport - good thing or bad thing?

Labour has just published a report on "empowering communities to improve transport"

I wonder what people think? It seems to me that it could offer mixed blessings - you *could* get a brilliant council who takes those powers and really integrates cycling into the transport network ... or equally you could make it even harder for a good national policy (assuming you were to get one) to make any difference on the ground - seeing as most cycling happens on local authority controlled roads. Are we more likely to see bold policy making at a national level or a local level? In the US, its the cities who are making the running on cycling policy ... somehow UK local politics doesn't seem to work like that

Katsdekker's picture

You will still require to retain a national overview on sound policy making for implementation at local level I'd have thought. It's just political wimpness that, despite all the good things that cycling brings, prevents any such bold policy to be set up nationally. So, localising powers could be a responsibility-shirking move, and as you say: patchy in its implementation.

Let's remember, more often than not it's been the implementation that's been lacking at local level. In Newcastle for example we've had lots of positive policy words - but no cycle network to show for. Twenty years wasted!

Please note: I've not read Maria Eagle's pdf thingy - I am simply too tired of talking heads.



The report seems to be heavily focussed on local government recovering control of public transport.  That would be a good thing.

It has almost nothing however to say about active travel, or about road construction or use.  I searched on the words "walk" and "cycl" (to catch cycle, cyclist or cycling), and got only one hit for walk and not many for cycl.  Almost all of the cycl hits, and the one walk hit, related to integration of these modes with public transport.  Again, a good thing, but only a small part of the story.

In a more general sense, as things currently stand I really don't see devolution of road-use decisions to local authorities as a good thing at all.  While we probably feel that national government is doing too little, too late for active travel generally, and is allowing the motor car's dominance to grow and consolidate, I am sure there is more prospect of change at national level than at local.  There really isn't that much to choose between the policies of Labour and Conservative parties at national level on walking and cycling, and there are committed individuals, and some passive supporters of cycling in both parties.  I would think that the prospects for a sea-change in attitudes to highway budgets, design and engineering to promote cycling are fairly similar in both parties - right now, not great, but showing flickers of life.

In local authorities however, politics is run by amateurs who all too frequently allow their own prejudices to dominate policy.  Promoting cycling in many Tory boroughs would be akin to awarding grants to Sinn Fein or receiving Islamic Terrorists at the town hall, in the eyes of the Tufton Buftons who populate such councils, never mind that the PM's closest political adviser, the Mayor of London, the leader of the House of Commons, the leader of the Tory group on the Greater London Assembly, the Secretary of State for Culture Media & Sport (as of today, anyway) and many other national political figures are keen utility cyclists who are more or less sympathetic to promotion of cycling.  Many market town or shire Tory councillors would sooner choke on their golf club G&Ts than do anything for cycling.

If Labour wants to devolve decisions on active travel to local authorities, they need to do it the way that roads or schools are devolved, that is the local authority has a statutory obligation to ensure certain standards of provision, has hypothecated national grant aid to part-fund it, and only then does it have discretion about the precise way in which it goes about it.


Isn't some of this happening already? I have a feeling the creation of TfGM wasn't just a name change, but also some further devolution of powers similar to a London model.

cc's picture

It could work well, but only if local government is actually local. Our local government is arguably not local at all, certainly not compared with neighbouring countries. Lesley Riddoch has written about this:

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