Fiddling in Rome - do consultations deliver?
Peter Doveston shares his thoughts on proposed revisions to the school bus service, and the council's plans for air quality monitoring. Peter, from Northants Streets Campaign, also writes his own blog .
More bad news I'm afraid. A consultation is currently underway that is considering West Northamptonshire's revised Home to School Transport Policy. One need not dig down too far to find evidence of the fact that public transport is suffering on this side of the county. The key areas of consideration, as set out by the council, are as follows:
1. Proposed spare seat scheme [children not legally entitled to school transport will need to wait until October to find out if they have been awarded a 'spare seat']
2. Removal of entitlement to linked schools
3. Provision of transport for rising 8’s
4. Removal of transport for children under 5 for mainstream pupils only
5. Removal of travel assistance for year 11 pupils who move home during the academic year
6. Review of suitable walking route criteria
7. Increase the cost of non-entitled bus pass [from £600 to £1000 pa]
You can read the full policy here as well as participate in the consultation, I would encourage you to do so.
What should you say? The more pertinent question is probably what 'can' you say? Council budgets are under enormous pressure, the state of the infrastructure we have is in dire need of major investment and unfortunately the vulnerable tend to feel the effects of this the most. No better example than seeing the removal of services and the increase in cost of the non-entitled bus pass. The defence has been that the Home to School policy hasn't been revised in 10 years. The fact it is now up for revision is testament to the times we are in.
On reading the documents within the consultation I was drawn to the below paragraph:
"The Councils statutory duty
There are a range of statutory obligations which the council must meet in relation to the provision of Home to School transport, anything above these obligations is discretionary and included within the Council’s Home to School Transport Policy. The statutory guidance the council must follow is the Department for Educations Home to school travel and transport guidance (2014)."
It got me thinking, what exactly are the council’s obligations when it comes to Home to School transport and to what extent are they fulfilling them? On looking through the guidance there are two statutory duties given:
Home to school travel and transport guidance
In order to comply with their home to school transport duties local authorities must:
• Promote the use of sustainable travel and transport (Part 1.1).
• Make transport arrangements for all eligible children (Part 1.2).
This corresponds to the Education Act 1996 where you can find reference to sustainable modes of transport here.
There's more - the guidance for councils also states:
3. The Act defines sustainable modes of travel as those that the local authority considers may improve the physical well-being of those who use them, the environmental well-being of all or part of the local authority’s area, or a combination of the two.
20. Creating safe walking, cycling and travel routes and encouraging more pupils to walk and cycle to school is one of the best ways to reduce the need for transport and associated costs. '
One wonders, if more investment had been put into safe cycle routes within Northampton, whether the elevated cost of running Home to School Transport may not have hit the council as hard as it did.
The problem we face is not one of legislation, as we see multiple examples of sustainable transport being embedded within legislation (Remember Bus Back Better and Gear Change?). We certainly face an economic challenge. Though I would argue, a challenge that requires a Keynesian response rather than one of Friedman. However, more than this we face a situation where central government is out of step with local councils and local councils are apathetic to certain parts of statutory guidance.
For the former point, two events have occurred recently that outrightly fly in the face of promoting sustainable transport
· Active Travel was cut in the budget (https://www.sustrans.org.uk/our-blog/news/2023/march/urgent-call-on-government-to-reverse-devastating-cuts-to-active-travel-budget)
· Air Passenger Duty has been cut https://www.independent.co.uk/travel/news-and-advice/air-passenger-duty-tax-flights-b2307530.html
For the latter point, this is the Council's section about sustainable transport within the revised Home to School Transport policy:
(I note that this section comes right at the end of the policy document.)
16. Promote Sustainable School Travel
16.1 The Council will continue to identify opportunities to support independent and sustainable travel to and from school including:
• Assessment of the travel and transport needs of children and young people in West Northamptonshire.
• Review sustainable travel and transport infrastructure within West Northamptonshire that may be used when travelling to and from schools and colleges and promote sustainable travel options.
• Consider infrastructure improvements to better cater for the travel needs of children and young people.
• In conjunction with schools and colleges, the Council will be Implementing a scheme that will support children and young people travelling independently to and from education and training facilities.
Point two reminds me that a very thorough, resident led, review of infrastructure was conducted only 3 years ago yet seems to have been kicked into the long grass. The Data is still available https://saferstreetsnorthamptonshire.commonplace.is/ Why not start here?
In Northampton alone, 334 suggestions were made as to how cycling and walking could be made safer and yet Northampton has remained largely unchanged. Reviewing and data collection seem to be a hallmark of the West Northamptonshire approach to sustainability and environmentalism; the council has received almost £300,000 for use in air quality initiatives:
Great news! Only on reading the press release you get the feeling that the heart isn't really in it:
'The new grant will provide funding to develop an evidence base for possible action to deal with particulate pollution in the West Northants. Work proposed will include air quality monitoring and modelling, along with survey work to identify patterns of fuel use in the area.'
It is not that reviews and data are bad, it is that there comes a point where you must grasp the nettle and do something. You cannot measure results into existence. Reviewing is not doing.
What can CA-WN readers do? - Whilst West Northamptonshire is not included in the local elections this May, elections are on the horizon. As voters we need to start thinking about what our expectations are of our elected representatives, this includes what we want from our infrastructure, how our urban areas should be designed, how we think our public transport should be funded and run. Start looking at your local area and ask your current council representative or MP what they think the solutions are to the problems you see. Their response (if it is forthcoming) can be a helpful gauge when you come to make your decision at the ballot box.