§ The Minister of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Lord Rooker)
My right honourable friend the Minister for Housing and Planning has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
My right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister is today publishing for public consultation proposed changes to the draft regional transport strategy (RTS) for the south-east. They follow the public examination into the draft RTS in July 2003 and the panel report in October 2003.
RTSs are an integral part of regional planning guidance (RPG) and the draft RTS for the south-east represents a revision to RPG9, as published in March 2001. On commencement of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill the RTS will be part of a statutory regional spatial strategy (RSS).
Other partial reviews of RPG9 are at various stages in the process. In particular, a public examination into the Milton Keynes and South Midlands sub-regional strategy is imminent, and the Secretary of State's proposed changes for the Ashford growth area will shortly be published.
The RTS aims to achieve a transport system which progressively reaches the standards of the best in north-west Europe by promoting management of and investment in the system; rebalancing the structure and use of the transport system in favour of more sustainable modes; and supporting the regional spatial strategy, particularly managing and investing in interregional corridors and delivering urban renaissance and sub-regional objectives. This approach should also inform local authorities and other agencies in preparing relevant regional and local strategies.
Overall the panel considered the draft RTS to be broadly compatible with RPG9, with commendably focussed policies. The panel did, however, recommend many changes. Aspects of the strategy which the panel proposed changes to include the selection of strategic corridors (the regional frame), the ranking of priority projects in the investment frameworks, car parking standards, community and demand-based transport, and walking and cycling.
The panel supported the identification and development of regional transport hubs and connecting spokes as a core plank in the strategy. In place of the regional frame the panel identified the region's more important international gateways and interregional movement corridors. Alongside measures to facilitate urban renewal these elements were viewed as priorities for investment to deliver the spatial strategy.30WS
The Government support these aims and are grateful for the recommendations of the panel. However, one change to the panel's recommendations is necessary to ensure the strategy and its components are more coherently focussed and provide transparent direction for the future development of the regional strategy.
A key issue for the region is the treatment of priorities. The panel proposed a priority list of 15 schemes, made up of nine heavy rail, one light rail, two bus and three road schemes. While we view establishing regional priorities as a key element in a future RTS, we were unconvinced that the panel identified the most important regional priorities.
More specifically, the criteria used to identify priorities and the way in which the criteria were applied did not fully reflect the draft government guidance, which was published after the examination concluded. Furthermore, the application of the criteria was not transparent and resulted in a priority list that was largely focussed on a single mode and failed to identify affordability issues.
The process of comprehensively reviewing R PG9 has already begun. As part of this work the regional assembly (RA) is intent on improving the evidence base by developing a robust approach to prioritisation, an activity that I am particularly keen to see progress on.
I have today written to the RA with the proposed changes indicating areas where views are particularly sought from interested parties. There will now be a public consultation period on the proposed changes, which will end on 21 May.
Copies of the relevant documents are available in the Libraries of the House and have been provided for all of the region's MPs, MEPs and local authorities.