Recent conversation with Louise Ellman MP

On Thursday night I had the pleasure of attending the Transport Planning Society Annual Dinner down in London.  Given that the last time I was surrounded by transport planners was the Steer Davies Gleave conference (where I spoke about transport planning being boxed in and ignoring its surroundings and political context) where I perhaps may not have ingratiated myself as much as I could have done, it was somewhat heroic to jump up and ask the first question to the keynote speaker…

But the keynote speaker was Louise Ellman MP, the Chair of the Transport Select Committee.  Now the glaringly obvious question was on High Speed Rail given the recent TSC report.  But she had touched on a number of interesting areas during an excellent speech, two areas being particularly pertinent – buses and metal theft.

Buses – the social value of buses is pretty much ignored. 50% of commuters into Birmingham use buses in peak times. And this is replicated throughout the country. We can all recall Thatcher’s contempt for bus users.  Well, buses are the lifeblood of the economy and the country because they are the key transport mode for providing accessibility for works, education, health and leisure. We ignore the crucial value of buses at our peril. I do see a real sense of belief in the value of buses through recent conversations I have had with a number of Labour politicians (Sion Simon, Sir Albert Bore, Angela Smith MP and now also Louise Ellman) and this should not only be welcomed – now is the time to really look hard at the success of bus patronage in London and properly quantifying the social and economic value of buses.

Metal theft – i think most people are aware that there really are a number of plonkers stealing live cables form the rail network that have a lot of dangerous electricity running through them! Well, it totally b*ggers up the rail network and more and more of us are directly feeling the effects of this. We are now seeing moves to ban cash transactions for scrap metal dealers in order to start the process of catching/discouraging these thieves/idiots. I welcome the news of the TSC’s awareness of this real issue and hope Ms Ellman will be looking for the TSC to promote this issue higher up the agenda.

Well, finally, high speed rail. The direct answer from Ms Ellman was that the Transport Select Committee does support high speed rail. The arguments of the Antis was a false portrayal of what the TSC was saying. The TSC want to see further thinking and evidence to strengthen and improve the scheme, which is very different from the Antis’ claims that the scheme is “in tatters”. Although to be fair I think we all could see that their words and logic should be treated with the contempt it deserves.

The high speed rail announcement is now approaching and there is a strong consensus in support of high speed rail and a real recognition that this vital project needs to be part of a bigger vision linking transport and infrastructure investment with a long term strategy for supporting economic growth. HS2 is a key plank in spreading economic growth and competitiveness across Britain. It is incumbent on many of us to explain and make the case for this. This is work in progress… but it appears to be developing in earnest…

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