Yesterday transport secretary Philip Hammond made his case for localism within transport policy. He stated:
Well, what I have inherited at the Department for Transport is a system which is truly a monument to Gordon Brown's tenure at the Treasury. Something the Soviets would have been proud of.
A top-down system with "The man in Whitehall" deciding what's right for Bradford, for Bristol or for Birmingham.
The form-filling, the box-ticking, and the monitoring.
The "we know best" approach that underlies it all.
And I can tell you this today: we will sweep it all away.
We will scrap the multiple streams of transport resource funding for local government and replace them with just two – a formula grant which will go to all authorities to allow them to set their own priorities………. and a Local Sustainable Transport Fund which will consolidate the remaining money in a single pot for which local authorities can bid to support their plans for their areas.
And I do mean their plans for their areas.
And I want to go further still. Once the Local Enterprise Partnerships are formed, I want to see how far my Department's local capital funding can be devolved.
Improving local accountability.
This is a truly localist agenda. And, yes, sometimes it will mean local authorities making decisions that Whitehall may not agree with.
But what is the point of localism if not to give local people the right to decide what's right for them?
Well that all sounds great, local populations know their transport needs better than a minister or a bureaucrat in Whitehall. So why are the government steam rolling ahead with the HS2 project before the consultation has taken place, which will ask local residents who will be affected by the project their views?
In the same speech Philip Hammond also stated:
We have committed to a high speed rail network that will change the social and economic geography of Britain; connecting our great population centres and our international gateways; transforming the way Britain works as profoundly as the coming of the original railways did in the mid-19th century.
So we will consult in the New Year on the strategic roll-out of a High Speed Rail network and on our preferred route for the first leg between London and Birmingham.
But I can announce today that the Government’s preferred option for High Speed Rail north of Birmingham will be for two separate corridors. One direct to Manchester, and then connecting on to the West Coast Mainline, and the other via the East Midlands and South Yorkshire – with stations in both areas – before connecting to the East Coast Mainline north of Leeds. The so-called “Y” option.
The government preferred Y option is based on advice from HS2 Ltd – a company set up by government to push the case for HS2. I have blogged many times that their research about the benefits of the HS2 project is less than sound. Steam rolling ahead on this project on the sole advice of an organisation you have put together yourself certainly doesn’t sound like localism. Of course high speed rail would be a national project so would require more coordination at the national level but it is crucial to get the input of local people who will be most affected by high speed rail.
There will be a consultation about high speed rail but with ministers already wedded to the HS2 project it is likely that people’s objections will fall on deaf ears. The transport secretary already stated on the Daily Politics Show that he is less inclined to engage with those people “who just don’t want it [high speed rail] through their backyard”. If the transport secretary is serious about localism and stopping Whitehall dictating what is right for Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester he might want to apply some of it to his pet project HS2.