England’s Economic Heartland, a major alliance of local authorities with a combined economy the size of Wales', intends to push for statutory status as a regional transport authority by next April.
Following Royal Assent being given to the Cities and Local Government Devolution Act, Transport for the North is firmly on track to receive statutory status in 2017 with Midlands Connect also in the frame.
Now England’s Economic Heartland, which runs through Northamptonshire, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire, is also in the running and has received positive feedback from government.
Discussions are ‘ongoing’ with the government over the alliance’s status, Transport Network has been told by figures close to the alliance.
England's Economic Heartland pushed forward
The alliance’s Strategic Transport Forum held its inaugural meeting last week to discuss forward plans and agreed to develop an overall transport strategy for the England’s Economic Heartland area as well as work up proposals for a major road network for the region.
The meeting was attended by senior Department for Transport (DfT) official, John Dowie, who gave warm support to the partnership.
‘From the DfT perspective there is something really important happening here. There is a perception of the tremendous economic and social potential of this area, which has perhaps punched below its weight in the past,' he said.
He added: ‘The powers for statutory transport bodies are in place. So don’t worry you have not missed the bus if you don’t come forward in the immediate future.’
He also highlighted the Spending Review’s £475m fund covering the next five years for large local transport projects – dubbed ‘major majors’ - and suggested the alliance, as a collaborative group would be in a strong position to win cash.
Mr Dowie - who was appointed acting director general of roads, traffic and local group at the DfT from May 2015 – a position now taken over by Tricia Hayes - also revealed that Lord Adonis chair of the National Infrastructure Commission was also ‘excited about the alliance’s opportunities’.
Key architect of the alliance, Tony Ciaburro, director of environment development and transport at Northamptonshire CC, revealed to Transport Network that the Transport Forum’s chairman had written to Lord Adonis, inviting him to meet with representatives to discuss the alliance.
The type of government seed funding enjoyed by Transport for the North and Midlands Connect, to support the development of regional plans, was ‘definitely possible’ but was unlikely to be available before the end of the year, Mr Dowie said.
The Forum was advised by Adam Tuke, director of industry affairs at the Civil Engineering Contractors Association on its procurement strategy. He said ‘a big wishlist of schemes serves no useful purpose’ and called for a ‘firm clear programme of work’.
He added any contractual framework should be based around schemes of ‘£10m and up to attract interest from the market’.
Members of the Strategic Transport Forum include:
Oxfordshire County Council
Northamptonshire County Council
Buckinghamshire County Council
Milton Keynes Council
Bedford Borough Council
Central Bedfordshire Council
Luton Borough Council
Cambridgeshire County Council
Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership
Northamptonshire Enterprise Partnership
Buckinghamshire Thames Valley Local Enterprise Partnership
South East Midlands Local Enterprise Partnership
Oxfordshire Growth Board
Department for Transport
Civil Engineering Contractors Association