Friday, 25 May 2012

What's Behind The £5 Million Local Sustainable Transport Fund (Guest Post)

Cllr Susan van de Ven
(LD, Melbourn)

The Local Sustainable Transport Fund (LSTF) is one of Norman Baker’s helpful local transport scheme funds, and it’s an example of a Lib Dem government minister doing something good and practical.

The fund is worth £5 million, though the media is calling it £9 million due to various other funds unlocked. We expected that the bid would be successful, because the county council has worked so closely with the Department for Transport to ensure that all the necessary criteria were met.  This follows on from last year’s disaster, when the LSTF bid was lost as a direct result of the council’s legally challenged 100% bus subsidy cuts decision. The council tried to plug the resulting public transport gap via the LSTF, hoping the fund would cover new community transport schemes.  The government wasn’t having it and instructed the council to go back to the drawing board.

Money is obviously a good thing and this fund will make a difference.  The idea now is to improve the infrastructure of access to public transport along two main growth corridors: the Guided Bus-dominated stretch from Cambridge-St Ives-Huntingdon, extending to the planned Alconbury Enterprise Zone; and the rail link from Cambridge-Waterbeach-Ely. There will be lots of cycle parking and some new cycle paths, station improvements, Travel for Work discount schemes, etc.  It will help people get to employment centres and it will contribute to modal shift, hopefully mitigating the inevitable increase in traffic congestion that will come as the county’s population multiplies.  If you want to see the detail it’s a very readable document:

The downside is that this LSTF package is entirely focused on two areas and leaves out everywhere else.  For the rest of the county there is nothing in this fund, and it’s important that this fact is constructively and repeatedly brought to attention and the council asked to find other ways of supporting those areas which lack a transport funding strategy.

If you were to ask the question, ‘What’s the transport strategy for South Cambs?’ you might be directed to the Local Transport Plan.  But there, the ‘Integrated Transport Budget’s largest single annual expenditure is ‘Busway: £1 million.’  That’s not a grant to improve the Guided Bus.  It is taxpayers’ money to pay into the Guided Bus Legal Contingency Fund, in anticipation of the court battle yet to be had to settle a £58 million overspend.  Meanwhile the same taxpayers are losing a total of £1.5 million on subsidized buses – or should that be, ‘other’ subsidized buses. The Guided Bus would seem the most supremely subsidized bus of them all.
Had the 100% bus subsidies cuts decision not been forced through last year, we might have had a different version of the Local Sustainable Transport Fund, which could have approached the county’s transport needs on a more equitable and comprehensive basis.  Nevertheless, £5 million to support public transport is very welcome indeed, and hopefully there will be some knock-on effect  to the county’s public transport-starved rural areas.