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This section summarises some of the most recent information relating to transport across the South West, exploring some of key policy annoucements in the sector since the election of the Coalition government in 2010.
The South West’s main airports are at Bristol, Exeter, Bournemouth, and Newquay (Plymouth airport closed in December 2011); the region is served by three mainline train operators, Cross Country, First Great Western and South West Trains; while the main motorway and trunk road access to the South West are provided by the M4, M5, A303 and A31.

Outside the South West’s main cities and towns, the region has a dispersed pattern of settlement and a relatively low population density. With rail serving specific routes, and with limited access to rural bus services, the region has a high level of car ownership.

Generally rural areas have higher levels of car ownership - and dependency - than urban areas, while urban areas that have good public transport provision have lower than average car ownership. Illustrative of this is that nationally only 9% of rural households do not have cars or vans, while in the London Boroughs this number is 43%. The national average is 25%. Only 18% of South West households have no car or van (National Travel Survey, Dft Table NTS9902). Of those over the age of 17 in the South West, 80% have full driving licences. This represents 87% of males and 74% of females, though the gender gap is narrowing year on year (NTS9901). Over 70% of trips in the South West are made as either a driver or a passenger of a private vehicle (NTS9903).

Walks of over 50 yards make up 23% of the trips in the South West according to the National Travel Survey, however they account for only 2% of the distance travelled. Public transport, on the other hand, accounts for 5% of all trips in the South West, but nearly 10% of the distance travelled. And while buses account for over 70% of the public transport trips, the ‘other’ forms of public transport (including rail) account for over 70% of the distance travelled on public transport in the South West (NTS9903, NTS9904).

Figure 5.1: Transport by Mode

[ Zoom ]
Transport by Mode
Source: DfT
Buses account for most of the public transport use nationally owing to the limited coverage of rail and other forms of public transport, the shorter distances buses are used for, and perceived cost benefits. However where there is equal access to other transport modes for the same journey, other modes compete well with buses. The South West has a comparatively low level of bus journeys. However bus passengers in the South West travel an average of 0.57 miles per bus journey; this is higher than the Great Britain average which is 0.31 mile per bus journey. Only Wales and the East of England travel (a little) further per bus journey (Bus statistics, Dft Tables BUS0206a and BUS01082).

Rail travel in the region has increased by over 70% since 1995/6. Nearly two-thirds of South West rail travel is within the region, with London and the South East being the most important destinations outside the region.

Sub regional variations

Bristol, as the most populous city in the region, unsurprisingly has the highest volumes of transport use in the South West, across a number of transport modes.
Bristol airport, the region’s busiest, is the tenth biggest national airport, carrying 5.76m passengers in 2011/12 the next busiest South West airport is Exeter carrying 0.7m passengers in the same period (UK Airport statistics 2011-12 Table 1).

Bristol Temple Meads railway station had 7.87m passengers entering or exiting the station in 2010, with nearly a million passenger journeys using the station for interchange. The next busiest South West station was Bath Spa with 4.78m passenger journeys starting or ending there. Coombe in Cornwall, Chapelton in Devon, and Pilning in Gloucestershire have some of the lowest station - or “halt” - usage in the country (Station usage 2009-10 Office of the Rail Regulator).

City of Bristol has consistently had a far lower average road speed than the South West regional average. For the quarter ending November 2011, City of Bristol average road speed was 15.4mph, compared to a South West average of 28.7mph (Congestion and reliability statistics, DfT, table CGN0206a).

While physical differences and speed limits on different roads will skew comparison between Local Authorities, with an average 3.9 minutes to drive one mile compared to a South West average of 2.09 minutes, the statistics suggest Bristol has some of the most congested roads outside London (table CGN0206b).

Meanwhile, for an urban area, Bristol has comparatively low bus usage with 21.1m passenger journeys in 2010/11. Devon has the highest number of bus passenger journeys for a local authority in South West England, with 27.1m (Bus statistics Dft Table BUS0109a).
The Local Growth White Paper set the current policy context for transport with two of its stated aims being to:

  • shift power to local communities and business, enabling places to tailor their approach to local circumstances; and
  • support investment in places and people to tackle the barriers to growth.

The Coalition Government published a National Infrastructure Plan in October 2010,the first time this had been done. In the plan the main goals for investment in transport infrastructure were:

  • to develop a competitive economy;
  • to contribute towards sustainable economic growth and tackling climate change; and
  • to promote greater localism.

This document signalled the Government’s intention to have a more efficient transport sector, using current assets and capacity better, but also its intention to invest in major initiatives considered to have sustainable credentials such as high speed rail, Crossrail and the decarbonisation of the car fleet. A big plank of the transport infrastructure part of the plan was an overhaul of the funding and decision making in local major transport schemes.

A number of structural changes have taken place or are underway which are intended to devolve transport funding and powers to a more local level.

The Coalition Government, while acknowledging that the Regional Funding Allocation (RFA) was intended to be a devolved system, decried the influence the RFA gave to “indirectly elected Regional Assemblies and unelected Regional Development Agencies.” While the Labour Government had already signalled the end of the Regional Assemblies, the Coalition Government’s abolition of the eight Regional Development Agencies (RDAs) and the establishment of 39 Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) across England have opened new channels for identifying and realising the transport ambitions of Local Authorities and business interests. With no RDAs, local authorities no longer need to submit the schemes they want to promote to a regional body for prioritisation as part of a regional bid for central government funds.

In the DfT 26 October 2010 statement, Investment in Local Major Transport Schemes, Phillip Hammond signalled a move from 26 local transport grant streams to four, and set out the Coalition Government’s intention to enable Local Enterprise Partnerships to play a key role in local investment priorities. LEPs would be expected to work with Local Authorities to develop locally derived, bottom-up frameworks for funding major local transport schemes. However, recognising the long lead time for transport schemes, and acknowledging that LEPs would need some time to get up and running, the statement set out the process for prioritising major local transport schemes for the four year period to 2014 - from a starting point of those schemes already submitted in the RFA.

The October 2010 statement basically announced the continuation of schemes already underway and a significant reevaluation of the rest. The first ten schemes which the Government said it supported in October 2010 were approved in a February 2011 statement update at a 14% cost saving from the figures previously approved. In the South West, Taunton’s Northern Inner Distributer Road, and East of Exeter Improved Access schemes were approved in this round.

In the 2011 Autumn Statement a further 20 schemes were approved - including the Kingkerswell bypass, Bus Rapid Transport from Ashton Vale to Temple Meads, and the South Bristol Link. In December 2011 a further 25 schemes were approved from the “Development Pool” of schemes, including the Bath Transportation Package, Bristol’s North /South Bus Rapid Transport scheme, the Elmbridge Transport package in Gloucestershire and a package of transport improvements around  Weston-super-Mare.

While the arrangements and guidance for Local Tranport Plans remain for now, Local Authorities themselves, and as partners within LEPs, are intended to have more control over their local transport plans. The Local Transport Plan (LTP) process was introduced by the previous government and used various criteria and targets to promote rigorous local transport planning.

The Coalition Government did not change the guidance for the third round of LTPs that took effect from April 2011. The LTPs therefore had to support five policy goals: support economic growth; reduce  carbon emissions; promote equality of opportunity; contribute to better security, safety and health; and improve quality of life and a healthy natural environment. LTP3 is the last that (currently) have a five year review date after which it is intended Local Authorities should decide when to review them.

One of the four transport funding streams announced in 2010,that could be linked to the policy goals of LTP3, is the Local Sustainable Transport Fund. This is intended to challenge local authorities outside London to bid for funding for transport interventions that support economic growth and reduce carbon emissions in their communities. The National Infrastructure Plan 2011 describes the £560 million fund as “helping to reduce emissions from vehicles, improve air quality and rural transport connections, by helping local transport authorities do more to encourage walking and cycling, improve public transport and make better connections between different forms of sustainable transport”.

The move towards local determinism can be seen in a European context. The Territorial Agenda of the European Union
2020 outlines a multilayered approach that encourages policy to be made and implemented at geographic levels on a “horses for courses” basis, acknowledging that different functions work at different spatial levels. This sets a framework in which, for example, Local Enterprise Partnerships might join together for particular issues in common such as transport, but work separately or in different groupings for other issues. In setting out territorial priorities for the development of the European Union, and promoting a placebased approach to policy making, the paper outlines its support of polycentric development to tackle “bottlenecks to growth”. While recognising the characteristics of cities, small towns and rural areas, the Agenda promotes an integrated approach to avoid exacerbating disparity and highlights the responsibility of major cities towards their surrounding areas.

From a transport perspective, one of the Territorial Agenda’s six main priorities is “improving territorial connectivity for individuals, communities and enterprises”. This supports overcoming barriers to access to transport and other infrastructure such as broadband and energy. It also supports the completion of the Trans European Networks (TEN-T), improved linkages between primary and secondary networks and the development of secondary networks. In the National Infrastructure Plan 2011 update, a number of priority infrastructure investments were outlined including, for transport, Highways Agency managed motorways and trunk road improvement programmes, and rail infrastructure and rolling stock improvements.

In the South West, this included the electrification of the Great Western Mainline. These could all be considered improvements to the core TEN-T network. Local major transport schemes that filled missing links, relieved bottlenecks or otherwise developed the comprehensive/ secondary network could conceivably be considered as contributing to cohesion policy.

The European move towards decisions being made at the lowest, but appropriate, level is embodied in the
Localism Act2011. This Act gave local authorities more powers to develop their areas, improve local areas and increase their competitiveness. It gave councils a general power of competence, but it also bestowed a duty of cooperation on councils to work together on planning issues in the interest of all their citizens. Transport lends itself to this duty.

Rail Franchising policy has been reviewed by the Coalition Government. Following a
consultation, in January 2011 the government set out the principles it intended to apply to new franchises. These were that each franchise would be specified on a case by case basis with input from bidders; demanding outcomes would be set but operators would have more flexibility than previously in planning how to achieve those outcomes; and longer franchises would be encouraged.

At the time of writing, the Government’s National Policy Statements on Transport Networks and Aviation have not yet been published in draft for consultation.


The major schemes that have been given approval have to be implemented and completed.

The new approach to franchising will be tested in the South West earlier than initially envisaged as First Great Western decided to relinquish its Greater Western Rail Franchise in 2013 rather than 2016. The Department for Transport issued an
OJEU notice in December 2011 inviting expressions of interest to tender for a 15 year franchise from 2013. At the same time, DfT launched a consultation inviting stakeholders to put forward their views on the specification to be provided to shortlisted bidders. This consultation runs to the end of March 2012. The detailed invitation to tender will be issued to pre-qualifying potential operators in May 2012.

On 31 January 2012, DfT issued a consultation on Devolving Local Major Transport Schemes.14 The timing of the consultation was designed to allow its conclusions to be implemented in time to facilitate scheme construction to begin immediately after the current spending review period. The consultation “brings together into one paper a discussion on the structure, sizing, configuration, governance and accountability arrangements for a new system beyond 2014-15”. It proposes setting up local transport bodies that have Local Enterprise Partnerships playing key roles as part of potentially multi-LEP area consortia, it sets out an intention of making £1.5 billion available for local major transport schemes, and has a key focus on sustainability. The consultation includes questions on how the transport boards might be configured, how schemes should be appraised, and how funding should be allocated. The outcome of this consultation and the ensuing policies will have a significant impact on transport planning and delivery.

A challenge for LEPs, Local Authorities and other stakeholders as the formation of transport consortia is considered, is how to ensure that sub-national (e.g. Local Authority and LEP) administrative boundaries do not present artificial barriers to enabling individuals, communities and businesses to better connect.

Please feel free to use the charts / maps in your own presentations and reports (you can download the ones from this page below) but remember to reference the South West Observatory and to include a hyperlink to our site.