TfL style system for Essex a ‘major prize of devolution’

Essex having its own transport authority like Transport for London would be a major prize of devolution, a leading councillor has said.

Councillor Graham Butland, cabinet member for devolution at Essex County Council and leader of Braintree District Council, said lower-tier authorities such as his would have to concede a degree of autonomy over restructuring of local government

But he said to run a devolved transport authority similar to TfL would facilitate vastly improved public transport services.

He said: “We would want to move forward the opportunity to have our own transport authority to be able to plan our own transport infrastructure.

“I don’t just mean roads. I mean all transport infrastructure. That would certainly I think be something that would be a prize.”

His comments follow those of Councillor Kevin Bentley, the leader of Essex County Council and chairman of Transport East, who has previously said that bodies like Transport East becoming transport authorities more like TfL, is which they control the routes and the fares, would help support sustainable transport.

In this scenario, control over ticket prices, routes and timetables would be given to newly-created local transport authorities with the aim of better connecting regional communities.

Although private companies are still likely to operate the services, this could also allow for issues like the lack of level access to be streamlined.

The devolution framework published by the Government last month sets out a flexible, three level approach to devolution recognising that a one-size fits all model would not be suitable.

The White Paper sets out the types of powers and functions that will be considered for each devolution level. Some powers may only be available to certain authorities or geographies, and there will be scope to negotiate further powers on a case-by-case basis. There may also be an option to change public sector administrative boundaries on a case-by-case basis to support devolution.

A Level 3 restructure would see a single institution or county council with a directly elected mayor (DEM), across a functional economic area (FEA) or whole county area.

At level 2 there would be a single institution or county council without a directly elected mayor, across a functional economic area or whole county area.

And at level 1, local authorities would work together across a FEA or whole county area.

Cllr Butland added that delivering more affordable home building would be another benefit.

He added: “Certainly also working with Homes England about how one gets more affordable housing and also a direct link with the rail network and as to how that might be improved are I think great prizes.”

The issue will be what price are we prepared to pay in terms of a devolution to have that.

Level 3 represents the Government’s preferred model of devolution, but they have been clear that this will not suit all areas at present, and that the framework will instead allow areas to deepen devolution at their own pace.

Cllr Butland added: “I think it is quite complex and I think it unlikely that Essex would be within the first tranche. It also of course does not mean that we have to form unitary authorities and that overnight councils would lose their independence and autonomy.”

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter