Transport leaders from some of England’s biggest cities, including London, Birmingham and Sheffield, have backed calls for more devolution.
Currently major projects such as London’s Crossrail require approval from the UK Government which must authorise expenditure and sanction any new levies on developments or businesses within a scheme’s catchment area.
Despite being backed by Transport for London and the local council, an extension of the Northern Line to Battersea couldn’t proceed until UK transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin gave his approval last week.
A new report published by economic consultants Volterra says this centralised approach should be abandoned and cities and city regions instead be given the freedom to develop projects which create longer-term growth and jobs both for their local area and the wider UK economy.
It also calls for local authorities to gain greater power over existing transport services and to be allowed to develop funding plans which extend beyond across political and election cycles.
Today’s report was commissioned by TfL and Transport for Greater Manchester and adds to a growing chorus of calls for greater devolution within England.
Last year the London Finance Commission, which was set up by Mayor Boris Johnson and chaired by Professor Tony Travers of the LSE, proposed handing the capital control of property taxes raised in it.
Since then City Hall has joined forces with the biggest English cities outside London to argue for more powers.
In July their calls were backed by MPs on the Communities and Local Government committee which said freeing local bodies from the government’s “fiscal grip” could help boost regional economies and enhance democracy.
The Mayor has previously suggested giving London the freedom to develop major infrastructure projects without having to obtain government approval would secure better taxpayers value by letting TfL hire contractors and suppliers earlier rather than paying a premium when firms were already booked for other jobs.
He and TfL have also highlighted how Crossrail is helping to sustain jobs outside the capital, including at Bombardier which is constructing the service’s fleet of hi-tech trains in Derby.
Today’s report has been endorsed by London Transport Commissioner Sir Peter Hendy, Manchester City Council Chief Executive Sir Howard Bernstein, Geoff Inskip, Chief Executive of West Midlands transport co-ordinator Centro, and key figures from Leeds and Sheffield.
Sir Peter said: “The current system of transport evaluation was developed in an era of under-investment, where governments managed the decline of cities. We are now in a very different world, where cities are the drivers of the country’s future growth.
“We need a new system that enables cities to work together to realise their full economic potential. For that we need more control over the tax revenue we raise and changes in the way in which the real financial return of transport investment is evaluated.
“If we are given the freedom to do so we will create new jobs and growth that will benefit the whole country.”
Mayor Boris Johnson has also backed the report, saying: “Greater financial freedoms for our cities are absolutely central to their ability to better plan and finance the infrastructure they need to flourish.
“Transport is no exception to this argument. It is a vital key to unlock the door to wider growth in our economy, helping to spur jobs, new homes and regeneration.”