Transport logjams are hurting the West Midlands economy, the Government was warned today.
In its response to Advantage West Midlands' regional economic strategy, the West Midlands Business Council says there is a "fundamental need to ensure real improvements and co-ordinated action for air, road, rail, bus and tram".
Crying out was improved access to the North Staffordshire conurbation, extra capacity for the M42 box and the M6 between Birmingham and Manchester, the runway extention at Birmingham International Airport and rail services including the redevelopment of Birmingham New Street Station.
The report warns: "Transport logjams – in road or rail – have led to serious problems for the West Midlands economy."
According to the British Chambers of Commerce, problems with the UK's transport infrastructure are costing each business, on average #27,000 per year.
And a Federation of Small Businesses survey found eight per cent of West Midlands members had missed out on more than #5,000 through traffic congestion while 15 per cent reported losing over 100 man hours in a year.
WMBC states: "For West Midlands firms the transport congestion and poor infrastructure is being felt every day. This is despite the fact being in the Midlands should provide geographical advantages – from just-in-time deliveries to developing logistics and professional sectors."
All partners – AWM, the West Midlands Regional Assembly, the Highways Agency, Network Rail and others – needed to come together "to tackle an issue that should be a key strategic commercial advantage".
Progress, it agrees, is being made.
* A master plan for the development of Birmingham International Airport has been produced.
* Active traffic management is being piloted on the M42 and the Government has decided to unblock M6 congestion.
* Local authorities have responded to "quick win" suggestions for local road improvements – but not in the shire counties and Wolverhampton.
* A business case for the physical development of Birmingham New Street Station has been presented to the Government, albeit the problem of lack of access for more trains remains.
* Options for a restored Walsall to Wolverhampton rail service and an increase in trains between Birmingham International and Milton Keynes Central were on the table.
The report goes on: "The key determinate for an effective transport infrastructure is integration between all transport modes – road, air, rail, tram and bus."
But WMBC says its research shows transport integration is "ineffective" in the West Midlands. It claims bus services are not linked to other transport modes. And they rarely operate across urban areas.
"For example, there is no bus service across Worcester. Services operate in a similar pattern to rail in providing transport in and out of urban centres – but not linking into
rail to enable passengers to leave the train and travel to different parts of an urban area by bus.
"Bus services in some parts of the region start late and end early. In Shropshire, the bus services start at such a late time, workers have to find alternative transport to work in Shrewsbury city centre.
"Bus services across the region are failing to be an effective and reliable transport mode."
And Park and Ride, which should provide a valuable contribution to alleviating road congestion, was "not fulfilling its potential".
The report states: "This is often down to fundamental reasons. For example in many of the shire counties Park and Ride sites are not considered secure after 6pm. This is a peak period for travel and the fact they close then negates their purpose.
"This leads to cars being vandalised. Without adequate security, people cannot feel confident in using these sites and, again, their establishment has a negligible effect." The problems with rail services remained wide-ranging.
The report states: "Routes from Herefordshire via Worcester to London are hampered by the lack of dual tracking via Worcester and Evesham – as well as at Oxford. This restricts the ability to expand rail services.
"Journeys from and to Herefordshire and Worcestershire are hampered by the lack of investment in signalling between Worcester and Droitwich.
"There is a need to improve capacity on the Dorridge-Birmingham line, strategically important in the region as well as for cross national rail journeys. There is also a need to improve the transport of freight by upgrading routes between Birmingham and Nuneaton to Felixstowe and Southampton to Birmingham. If regional integrated transport is to be taken seriously, this must mean there needs to be a reinstatement of rail services between Nuneaton and Coventry with through services into the East Midlands.
"Rail services in Staffordshire have been severely curtailed – with cuts in local services such as the loss of the Stoke to Manchester Airport and Stoke to Nottingham services."
And the report adds: "Links to regional centres are critical in driving forward regeneration. While such services may have led to limited custom in the recent past this was often related to unreliability. This is a matter that can be addressed with the potential of an increase in rail passengers needing to be planned for if the Government proceeds with a road charging programme regionally or nationally."
The report points to a lack of car parking at key rail stations such as Stoke and Stafford causing so much concern "we are aware of anecdotal reports of potential passengers being so frustrated at not finding a space they drive to their destination". Road congestion remained a major issue.
"The need to address congestion on the A5 in Staffordshire does not just relate to this county – but to ensuring freight gets onto the M1 and to east coast ports. Congestion on the A438 in Shropshire is not just a county problem but the key link between Swansea and Manchester.
"Now the Government has backed the option of M6 widening through Staffordshire this needs to be progressed. There is a vital need to improve capacity on the road network at key junctions and along link roads such as with the M40 Junction 15 (Longbridge), M1 Junction 19 (the junction of the M1, M6 and A14), A46/A45 Junction (Tollbar) and M6 Junction 1 to Junction 4. Road capacity issues are particularly acute in the Black Country and this is having a direct impact on business."
WMBC suggests a string of approaches including a review of bus deregulation for services to be linked to other modes of transport; for investment to be channelled into road bottlenecks such as the M6 and the M42 box; for councils to look for more "quick win" solutions to improve traffic flows; and for public agencies and the Government to engage in effective integrated transport planning.