WYCA Connectivity Infrastructure Plan

 

The West Yorkshire Connectivity Infrastructure Plan (“the Plan”) builds on the 2017 West Yorkshire Transport Strategy 2040. It offers a ground-breaking vision of infrastructure improvements funded by sustainable investments over the next 20 years.

 

The Plan seeks to address three major challenges:

  • Climate change - decarbonising transport

  • Connecting Everyone - inclusive growth and the productivity gap;

  • COVID-19 - recession and recovery.

 

Three particular insights stand out as being of special significance:

 

A series of daughter documents accompanies the over-arching ‘working draft’ of the Plan:

These documents offer detailed analysis and information around each specific mode. Their conclusions are incorporated, in summary form, within the main body of the Plan. The Plan is also informed by a range of other research, plans and case-making reports, such as West Yorkshire District Local Development Plans.

 

Timescales envisaged for initial consideration of the Plan:

January 2021 - March/April 2021: public and stakeholder engagement;

May - June 2021: analysis of responses to the engagement;

Summer 2021: re-shape Plan’s interventions and priorities.

 

Public and stakeholder engagement:

WYCA asks three specific questions:

  • “Have we understood the challenges and issues faced?”;

  • “Is our approach to spatial priorities right?”;

  • “Do you agree with the interventions we are proposing?”.

 

The WYCA survey has now closed but you can visit their site here:

https://www.yourvoice.westyorks-ca.gov.uk/connectivity

 

Here is my critique of the Plan (all views expressed are strictly personal)

 

“Objectives for Connectivity” [p17]

The stated objectives do not dovetail neatly with the list of priorities set out in the Case for Change Appraisal Handbook; it would be helpful if they did.

I would suggest the following amendments:

In objective 4, “Connect people in areas of socio-economic need with economic opportunities”, I would propose addition of the words in italics: “Connect people in areas of socio-economic need with economic and social opportunities”

In objective 5, “Enable access from new developments to economic opportunities and labour markets”, I would propose addition of the words in italics: Enable access from new developments to economic and social opportunities and labour markets”

Why are people in “areas of socio-economic need” categorised as requiring access to “economic opportunities” but not to “labour markets”, whereas “people in new developments” are categorised as requiring access to both “economic opportunities” and “labour markets”? This raises a further question: what exactly is the difference between an economic opportunity and a labour market?

I would also wish to add the following objective:

“improve physical and mental public health by promoting access to inspirational activities and experiences” - this objective embraces destinations such as cultural, leisure, and heritage sites (both urban and rural). It also encompasses elective travel via scenic or heritage routes where the journey itself becomes the destination (examples would be bus routes Hebden Bridge-Keighley and Wakefield-Holmfirth, and train lines Hebden Bridge-Todmorden, Huddersfield-Penistone, and Guiseley-Ilkley). This is in accord with the Plan’s statement of belief that “every single trip matters”, since it is everyday journeys that “form the fabric of happy and productive lives”.

 

“Corridor Studies” [pp18-19]

Ten ‘Corridor Studies’ are identified.

I would propose the following amendments:

  • at 9, in place of ‘Five Towns to Leeds’, substitute ‘Five Towns to Wakefield/Leeds’;

  • for the sake of consistency, EITHER amend 8 to refer to ‘Harrogate’ specifically (rather than to ‘North Yorkshire’ in general) OR amend 10 to refer to ‘South Yorkshire’ in general (rather than to ‘Barnsley’ specifically).

Unfortunately, the ten ‘corridor studies’ do not align with the nine ‘key connectivity routes’ as envisaged for the Mass Transit System. Corridor 9 relates the ‘Five Towns’ to Leeds, whereas the Mass Transit document speaks of ‘Wakefield and Five Towns’ (yet the Mass Transit diagrams actually appear to link the ‘Five Towns’ with Leeds but not directly with Wakefield!)

 

How we travel within our region [pp22-27] - Transport Challenges

 

Leeds Bradford Area

“Rural villages such as Thorp Arch are not connected by bus.” Thorp Arch is in fact well served: route 7 passes through the village with a half hourly frequency.

“Many parts of the area are not connected to the rail network.” This reflects the fact that the rail network was designed within a late-nineteenth century pattern of land use, subsequently pared down by a mid-twentieth century culture that took for granted a major shift from public to private transport. This led to withdrawal of many stopping services and the stripping out of network resilience (such as the Spen diversionary route [“Leeds New Line”], an asset that effectively doubled the capacity of the Standedge Trans-Pennine route along its stretch between Leeds and Huddersfield). Closure of Leeds Central station and associated track rationalisation has placed increasing pressure on platform capacity at Leeds City station, a problem now in urgent need of resolution.

 

Calderdale, Kirklees and South Bradford

“End-to-end bus journey times are long, e.g. Huddersfield to Leeds taking almost two hours.” True, but hardly relevant to the hierarchical multi-modal approach taken by the Plan, which indicates rail travel as the most appropriate mode for inter-urban journeys such as this. (That said, end-to-end inter-urban bus journeys will often be a natural choice for time-rich travellers such as elderly bus pass users.)

“The Penistone line has poor journey times and poor reliability and punctuality.” This line is typical of many that were subject to intense scrutiny in the 1960s during ‘The Reshaping of British Railways’. Some stations along the line are spaced no more than a mile apart and lack adequate passenger catchment areas. The route includes several structures with high maintenance liabilities (tunnels, viaducts, embankments). It is challenging for an operator to provide a robust service along what has for the most part been reduced to a single track, since a lack of passing places inevitably escalates the effects of any disruption. Dr Beeching’s report dismissed any suggestion that stopping services such as this “could somehow be preserved as a viable alternative to buses and/or private transport, if only some ingenuity were shown by railway operators”.

The Penistone line enjoys a high level of community support, but two major hurdles must be faced: (a) Although some new housing developments are within comfortable pedestrian or cycling reach of stations within the Huddersfield urban area, the majority of new developments are more scattered and would require a massive uplift in rail service quality to attract park & ride patronage; and (b) the scope for a heritage offer is limited; despite the nearby Kirklees Light Railway, and the favourable opportunities for walking and cycling, the major tourism attractor (Holmfirth) is far more conveniently reached by bus from central Huddersfield, rather than via any of the stations on the Penistone line.

 

Wakefield and the Five Towns Area

“High levels of peak-time traffic congestion on M621, M62, A655 and A645 and through Wakefield City Centre.” Yes, but many of these journeys relate to the movement of goods rather than people.

“Several rail stations remotely located from centres of population and jobs.” Agreed: the rail network was established in an age when the spatial distribution of people and jobs was significantly different from today.

“Limited bus services - with existing jobs adjacent the M62 particularly poorly served by bus with shift patterns falling outside public transport operating hours.” Yet there are some notable exceptions, witness the services to and from TkMax at Pontefract (does TkMax make a funding contribution?).

“End-to-end bus journey times are long - Huddersfield to Leeds takes almost two hours.” This is NOT ‘Wakefield and the Five Towns’! See comment under ‘Calderdale, Kirklees and South Bradford’ (above).

“Poor public transport connectivity within the Five Towns.” But do people really want to travel within the Five Towns or is their main aim to reach external destinations such as Wakefield or Leeds?

 

“How we developed the Plan” [pp 26-27] - Cross-Boundary Links

The Plan covers not only the whole of West Yorkshire, it also seeks to improve connectivity with neighbouring authorities.

At present there is considerable disparity between the various cross-boundary opportunities between West Yorkshire and surrounding administrations within the Leeds Economic Area. Northwards, the link with Harrogate (North Yorkshire) is good and incorporates flexible smartcard options for zonal travel by rail. Eastwards, the links to Goole (East Riding; shortly to be designated a Freeport) are abysmal: the rail Service Level Agreement provides for just one weekday journey eastbound through Knottingley, running at the close of the working day.

Bus links between West Yorkshire and South Yorkshire are generally poor, with limited service from South Elmsall towards Doncaster, and no direct evening services between Barnsley and Wakefield. This suggests a reluctance on the part of transport authorities to subsidise certain bus routes that became ‘cross-boundary’ journeys as a result of the 1974 reorganisation of local government.

It is difficult to make a seamless journey using a West Yorkshire residents’ roaming product or travel concession in tandem with a similar product/concession that is offered to non-residents by a neighbouring authority. Validity tends to cease at the last bus stop within each jurisdiction, leaving a gap that can only be bridged by purchasing yet another ticket. (Or, perhaps, by alighting at the last stop in West Yorkshire and then walking across the boundary to re-board at the first stop beyond.)

 

“Funding” [pp50-51]

A Funding Framework is promised, within which WYCA will explore a range of financial strategies. A range of works and schemes will be required to deliver results. Various funding streams will need to be tapped in ways that aim to maximise synergy and eschew conflicts arising from mis-matched timescales, unequal partnerships, abortive consultancy briefs, and the like. From the outset, it would be helpful to reach a broad consensus on what might constitute a politically workable range and mix of public and private investment.

The funding framework envisaged by the Plan is set to “examine opportunities for private sector investment, such as market-led bus and rail proposals and a number of combined transport and energy proposals, targeting net zero carbon”. It also declares a continuing willingness “to review the case, post-COVID, for introducing bus franchising, and press the Government to give local areas the freedom and funding to pursue the options we believe are appropriate to meet local needs, including through public ownership of the bus system”. In the short term, there is a declared intention to “work towards an Enhanced Partnership with bus operators”. This is in line with the UK Government’s latest bus strategy, ‘Bus Back Better’, unveiled during the course of the initial consultation period for the Plan.

Hopefully such initiatives could produce a number of connectivity gains - for example, a revival of the Integrated and Smart Travel (IST) programme. - but not without risk to the public purse. The greater the degree of autonomy that is pursued by the combined authority, the higher the levels of risk that must inevitably be faced by local taxpayers. Yet the price for mitigation of such risks is a surrender of control to private investors. The middle ground is currently strewn with agreements such as partnerships, franchises, outsourcing, arms-length transactions, concessions/lettings, executive agencies, quangos, transfers of undertaking, teckal vehicles, and so on. These private/public ventures are at risk of being weighed down by complex regulatory burdens designed to monitor their effectiveness and regulate their operation.

Local government officers, civil servants, and transport operators are already engaged in complex periodic negotiations to determine formulae and issue guidance in respect of payments/re-imbursements to cover not only the various national/local concessions but also a broad swatch of local and regional multi-modal travel products. It is vital that such diffusion of effort and increase in financial friction is not allowed to proliferate within the funding framework envisaged within the Plan.

 

Some Remarks re Governance

At present there are too many bodies producing overlapping proposals. (e.g. Transport for the North and Northern Transport Acceleration Council; WYCA ‘Connectivity Investment Plan’ and Leeds City Council ‘Connecting Leeds’). There is widespread duplication of effort and diversity of process in the gathering, interpretation, and presentation of data.

Whilst the principal observations and key recommendations generally point in the same direction, there is an overall lack of coherency, due to:

  • the absence of an over-arching “family tree” to reference a full suite of documents and define the relationships between them;

  • a lack of consistent terminology across the various documents;

  • the lack of a common yardstick to evaluate competing schemes (priorities, benefits, timescales, funding pathways);

  • variations in geographical reach and logistical granularity of reports and proposals.

The covering Officer Report to Members (10 December 2020) lays claim (at section 2.18) to an ‘alignment with local transport strategies’, yet the strategic inputs from the five partner councils (set out in table 1 of the report) span more than a decade. The most recent (Bradford) is still “in development”, whilst the oldest (Wakefield) was published as far back as 2012 (albeit with benchmark data subsequently updated every couple of years or so).

I would suggest it is important to acknowledge that the timely delivery of better public transport across the North of England will inevitably demand:

a cohesive structure of devolved local government

with

a clearly defined hierarchy of powers

 

and

 

an established etiquette covering inter-authority relations;

plus

a memorandum of understanding, to regulate the mix of public and private participation

with particular reference to:

  • sources of funding;

  • appetite for risk;

  • share of gain.

 

Some Remarks re Additional Measures to support the Plan

The covering Officer Report to Members (10 December 2020) raises (at section 2.15) the prospect of additional measures to support the journey towards zero carbon targets.

I would suggest that consideration be given to the following measures:

  • Section 106 Travel Plans and CIL payments to be imaginatively specified and strictly enforced in order to secure appropriate transport gains in response to planning application

  • A Workplace Parking Levy (WPL) has been successfully implemented in Nottingham - a similar scheme should be devised for the cities of West Yorkshire.

 

Some Remarks re Procedure

Although the Plan is at this stage described as a ‘working draft’, its publication in html rather than pdf format raises some procedural questions.

In what form will the Plan eventually be signed off by WYCA? If this were a statutory consultation (such as a Local Plan) there would be an emerging text with an ordered structure (sections, paragraphs, sub-paragraphs, appendices, annexes, schedules, and so on). Observations from consultees would be cross-referenced to the text they sought to remove, amplify or modify. Officers would sift the comments and prepare recommendations for members to take into consideration when formally adopting the final form of the document. But in the case of this Plan, there is no indication as to what sort of draft refinement process lies ahead.

 

Strategic Bus Network Review [a daughter document]

The section headed ‘Design principles for the bus network reviews’ identifies seven operational and infrastructure attributes; these include ‘interchange and transfer’ and ‘supporting infrastructure’ such as ‘waiting environment’.

I would like to see these attributes strengthened in relation to ‘personal security’, which ought to be an essential consideration at every phase of network design. Many people feel hesitant about venturing into the public realm, hence their continuing dependence upon the car, which is perceived as offering a reassuring bubble of personal security. Customer anxiety increases significantly if more than one ride is needed to complete a journey. What passes for a bus ‘network’ is often merely a series of end-to-end routes, with the customer being left to fend for themselves at interchange points.

I want to feel that wherever I travel by bus in West Yorkshire, someone is aware of my presence and is anticipating my requirements. ‘Big data’ can make a contribution here, as can artificial intelligence. Members of the Bus Alliance should be actively working towards the introduction of ‘state of the art’ management systems for the West Yorkshire bus network.

The review concludes with a section headed “Next Steps for the Bus Alliance” - yet at no other point in the report is there any reference to ‘the Bus Alliance’. Any further reviews could usefully refer to the work accomplished by that body.

 

Rail Strategy Vision [a daughter document]

This is an excellent document which generates great enthusiasm for future possibilities, whilst recognising the enormous hurdles that must be overcome. It will not be easy to secure the necessary traction to get things on the move within the required timescales - indeed, it is truly alarming to read that “unless action is taken now, Leeds Station will reach capacity in six years’ time”.

Much of the Rail Strategy Vision is equally applicable to bus travel, in particular the aspirational narrative ‘Our vision of a journey’ (pp 42-43).

I have two ‘wish lists’ to add to the process:

a) ‘quick gains’ - specific steps that could be taken within the next twelve months:

  • encourage staff to talk personally to passengers over public address systems - there is currently too much reliance on a synthetic voice with standard messages, hardly ever a real person talking to you from the control centre (if Transport for London can do this, why not our regional operators?);

  • Conductors, Guards, Restaurant/Buffet Car Stewards & Revenue Protection Officers should have power (as in days gone by) to admit standing Standard Class passengers to First Class accommodation (especially those who are clearly less able to stand);

  • regular checks should be made on the functionality of audible/visible announcement systems on trains and at stations;

  • clear and simple display panels should be installed on the approaches to stations with significant ‘park and ride’ usage, indicating whether there is a good service, or some delays, or severe disruption - so that decisions could be made in advance of entering the station estate and/or purchasing a parking ticket;

  • a more resilient data network is urgently needed, to reduce downtime on information display screens and ticket vending systems.

 

b) political pressure on national government to secure major policy changes in the following areas:

 

Mass Transit 2040 Vision [a daughter document]

Mass Transit Systems are generally designed to offer high frequency timetabling (typically a headway of 15 minutes or less, facilitating ‘turn up and go’) from the very early morning until well after midnight. A top-quality product is essential, to attract the very high level of patronage that is needed to justify the significant construction and running costs of such a system. A virtuous circle is completed through a reassuring sense of personal security thanks to ubiquitous customer-facing personnel and rapid-response maintenance staff on call to deal with damage to or failure of station equipment such as information displays, public address announcement systems, ticket validators and public waiting areas.

By this yardstick, much of the envisioned Leeds Mass Transit network is simply not viable. It is attempting to reach capillaries when it should confine itself to arteries. The polycentric nature of West Yorkshire’s economic and social topology does not readily lend itself to a mass transit solution extending much beyond the urban core of Leeds/Bradford. There is a risk of further hardening of economic and social disparity between (a) localities served by a mass transit station, and (b) interstitial communities hidden from view because they do not feature on network diagrams.

In Leeds and other northern cities, municipal housing estates were planned with the expectation that tram lines would be laid along the central reservation of new dual-carriageway spines. But it was not long before the motor bus began to triumph over trams and trolleybuses. Relatively lower levels of traffic congestion in those days helped to give the bus a distinct advantage over increasingly costly and less flexible fixed links. Bus fuel grants, introduced in the 1960s, offered a further financial advantage over the rapidly shrinking trolley bus network.

Overhead wires are vulnerable to power failures and also to damage and poor adhesion in the event of severe weather conditions. Fixed systems offer no scope for diversions in the event of road works, traffic accidents, or stationary vehicles blocking the route. They cannot provide a wide range of vehicle capacity, or offer special adaptations to suit particular circumstances (although Leeds did experiment with a couple of single-deck trams in the 1950s).

As part of the risk analysis that will presumably be called for in connection with the Mass Transit proposals, it would make good sense to re-visit local government records of the factors influencing decisions to withdraw tram and trolleybus services in localities such as Leeds, Bradford, and Huddersfield.

Additional comment re Mass Transit 2040 Vision Document

In the panel comparing candidate technologies, Sheffield is cited as an example of tram-train. This is potentially misleading. Most of the Sheffield system is light rail/tram, with just a short section of tram-train operation (which may not necessarily become a permanent addition to the network, since it forms part of a government sponsored pilot project to test the costs and operational issues of such bi-modal technology).

<END>

 

Paul Haworth
NORMANTON
West Yorkshire

March 2021

 

 

 

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