Birmingham’s failing transport system is to be tackled head on with a ten-year vision for roads, rail, bus, cycle and tram development in the city.
Council leader Sir Albert Bore said that in transport terms the city is going nowhere, crippled with congestion, piecemeal services and communities left isolated.
A decade of failure with transport projects withering on the vine has led to the radical new approach.
Schemes including tram routes along the Walsall Road, Hagley Road and Coventry Road, the opening of the Camp Hill rail line and Sutton Park line and even better pedestrian links between the City Centre and Jewellery Quarter have been proposed – but nothing has come through.
It also took years to secure funding to redevelop New Street Station, to get a few hundred yards of tram line through the city centre and it will be 13 years before High Speed rail arrives – if it ever does.
Meanwhile, the major roads into and around the city are routinely gridlocked – a small breakdown can cause chaos – while buses and prohibitively expensive public transport has been found to contribute to social exclusion.
Now as a key policy pledge for the second year of his second term as Labour council leader Sir Albert is proposing a ten-year transport vision, to tackle transport in a coherent way so that tram and bus routes, rail station development and even cycle lanes or pedestrian zones can be lined up.
In an exclusive interview with the Birmingham Post he said that the draft ‘urban mobility plan’ will be published in the autumn, leading to a full consultation about the future shape of transport.
He said: “In Britain the way in which we have planned transport infrastructure, particularly in cities, has got us nowhere. In Birmingham it’s not even up to the mark you want in Manchester where you’ve got a Metro system.
“Go to Lyon, our twin city, they have a three dimensional view of what the transport infra should be like ten years out. The two dimensions is the geography of the city, but they put in the third dimension, layers for pedestrians, cycles, cars, trams.
“It’s about how you move around the city and in and out of the city and connect between the different modes.
“This is about setting the vision for Birmingham ten or 20 years out as to what the transport infrastructure is needed to make Birmingham a hospitable and accessible city.
“This is about looking at transport from a different perspective, much more of a European city perspective, whereby they set a long-term strategy and use long-term funding opportunities to incrementally add to the system.”
He said that the aim is that in a decade Birmingham will have a transport system to rival the best continental cities.
In the short term he is also looking to reduce the cost of travel for young jobseekers. The Bishop of Birmingham’s recent social inclusion report highlighted the cost of travel – a £3.90 bus ticket to attend a job interview – as a barrier to employment.
But whichever plans come forward will need funding and Sir Albert argues that with a long term plan, long term funding can be found.
He compared it to the Highways PFI where the private sector partner Amey puts a massive amount of investment in roads and pavements over a 25-year contract. Sir Albert believes this is preferable to a system where the council, or transport authority Centro, submit a bid, lobby hard and then wait years for Department for Transport funding.
He is also hopeful that the Government will deliver on some of the ‘single pot’ principles outlined by Lord Heseltine, and if not this Government the next, to release Whitehall funding to the city.
“We have got to devise a different way and different funding model. If I get there, then in ten years time Birmingham will be a very different place with different prospects.
“What I intend by autumn or thereabouts is to publish the urban mobility plan, engaging with the people of Birmingham on discussion and debate the levels of infrastructure they would wish to see.”
Sir Albert was due to outline his plans for the next year at the full council meeting on June 11, but this is now likely to be put back until July following the postponement of the council’s mayor making ceremony due to the illness of Lord Mayor elect Mike Leddy.
Sir Albert has spent much of the last year highlighting budget shortfalls and warning of the ‘end of local government as we know it’, and has launched a wholesale review of council services to prepare for the next round of budget cuts.
There has also been a mixture of overtures to government for greater powers, a city deal or funding, coupled with an ongoing feud with Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles on the council’s budget settlement.
“I make no apology for talking of the ‘jaws of doom’, I needed to create an understanding of where we are in financial terms, try to shake up Government a little bit as did many others in local government.
“I’ve now turned the agenda again. Looking at the flip side – talking about the new role of local government, I’m accepting financial constraints and saying let’s redefine what we expect from Birmingham City Council.” He said that service reviews are beginning to come through and details will be released in the weeks ahead.
As well as the budget cuts, the children’s services department remains rated as ‘inadequate’ and there has been the huge distraction of wheelie bins and charges for refuse collection and cuts to neighbourhood funding.
But Sir Albert claims he has delivered on his 2012 manifesto, including the youth employment commission which tied a deal with partners to deliver a funding pot to get many of the city’s 3,000 long term youth unemployed into work or apprenticeships as well as the Victims Charter and a living wage.
Further action on the Green Commission, Smart City Commission and the Birmingham Baccalaureate are due this year.