North East to share in £7bn transport grants – but by how much?

The North East is to share in a £7bn package to support public transport outside London announced by the government today, though exactly how much the region will receive in total from the various elements of the hand-out is unclear.

The North East and North of Tyne combined authorities, jointly, are on a list of 31 areas chosen for funding to level up their local bus services.

The Department for Transport said the new funding would enable counties, city regions and unitary authorities to make new investments to make their buses more frequent, more reliable, easier to understand and use, cheaper, or greener. Improvements would also include integrated ticketing and more bus lanes to speed up journeys.

The North East wants £804m for its bus service improvement plan, but how much its share of today’s package will be is not known at this stage. Also, as only 12 areas are named in the DfT statement it is not known whether Tees Valley will also benefit.

The DfT said that the successful areas had been chosen because of their ambition to repeat the success achieved in London, which drove up bus usage and made the bus a natural choice for everyone, not just those without cars. Areas not showing sufficient ambition, including for improvements to bus priority, were not being funded.  

Meanwhile, a further £150m is being provided across England to maintain service levels as patronage continues to recover after the pandemic. Once again, it is not known what the North East’s share of this will be.

Nor is it clear whether this is the same £150m announced at the beginning of March to extend the support provided for public transport during the Covid-19 pandemic until October. In any event, it has come too late to save some bus services in Newcastle and North Tyneside, which were cut on March 27.

In a third element of today’s package it was ‘confirmed’ that the North East will receive £7.3m for the Tyne & Wear Metro as part of a £37m pandemic recovery package for tram and light rail operators across the North and Midlands. However, this sum is part of the wider £150m package already referred to.

According to the DfT: ‘This money will be used to ensure light rail services continue to run and millions of passengers can continue to get around as the country emerges from the pandemic.’

Also confirmed today is that the North East will not be sharing in a further £5.7bn to level up local bus, tram, rail, walking and cycling networks in England’s 8 city regions, because it does not have a region-wide devolution deal.

Letters were sent today to the mayors of seven other city regions confirming their allocations from the City Region Sustainable Transport Settlement (CRSTS), ranging from £310m for Tees Valley to £1.070bn for Greater Manchester. But for the North East, the DfT simply re-iterated that the region ‘will be eligible to work with government to agree a funding settlement from the SCSTS programme once appropriate governance arrangements [i.e. a devolution deal] are in place].

COMMENT

Today’s announcement looks like good news, but from a DfT statement lacking in some important details and even seeming designed to confuse, it is impossible to tell how good. In particular, we need to know how much the North East will receive of the £804m it wants for its bus service improvement plan.

It is good to know that, whatever the amount, at least the region has not been completely excluded because it does not have a devolution deal. But also confirmed is that the region remains outside the CRSTS programme, from which it could, it is believed, receive around £600m, because it does not have a region-wide deal. Council leaders should fix that problem as soon as possible.  

Today’s announcement fits the pattern identified here on Saturday of levelling-up announcements coming from the government at frequent intervals in an attempt to maximise the PR impact rather than funding having been made in one ‘big bang statement on the day the Levelling Up White Paper was published on February 2,