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FEATURES - GET CONNECTED

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>> Transport infrastructure is vital for economic and social well-being...
>> Transport infrastructure is vital for economic and social well-being

>> Many parts of Britain remain poorly connected

>> There is no integrated approach to transport strategy nationally

'Good transport is essential for a successful economy and society. It provides access to jobs, services and schools, gets goods to the shops and allows us to make the most of our free time.' These are the words of a Department for Transport paper, The future of transport: a network for 2030, from July 2004. Access to transport has long been cited as a vital part of the economic fabric of an area. Areas with strong public transport and good connectivity are able to attract and retain businesses, provide access to labour markets and ensure products and services can be delivered efficiently. However, transport provides a lot more than just the economic infrastructure - it also supports a whole range of social interactions.

Local Futures has developed a proxy indicator that measures an area's transport connectivity based on access to airports, motorway junctions, ports and railway stations (including the tube). The most and least connected areas are shown in the map and table, with London - with its major airports and one of the world's most extensive public transport systems - having some of the best connected districts in the country. Conversely, and perhaps unsurprisingly, the bottom 25 districts are rural and in some of the most peripheral parts of Britain.

Outside the capital the main conurbations also do well, with the West Midlands, north-west and West/South Yorkshire scoring highly. Yet it is also clear from the map that poor connectivity is not just a feature of peripheral parts of the south-west, Wales and Scotland - with low scores for districts in all regions, in areas around and between our main cities and towns.

The economic benefits of good transport are clear to see, with strong correlations between accessibility and economic performance. One illustration is Sheffield's tram system, which increased interest in the city as an inward investment location. However, while transport is undoubtedly important for competitiveness, it alone is not enough to foster economic growth - indeed this series of articles has illustrated the importance of skills and other factors for the long-term health of a local economy. For example, North Warwickshire BC in the West Midlands has experienced strong business growth over recent years with below average levels of connectivity, while Reading - with its excellent connectivity - has experienced much lower business growth.

There is also a price to pay for a good transport system. Better connectivity means more cars, planes and trains, with an impact on the environment. The case study of Lewisham LBC and Suffolk Coastal DC (above) looks at the environmental impacts and trade-offs of connectivity.

Better roads do not always lead to less congestion. An interesting finding, and one that is noted by the Department for Transport's Future of transport document, is that people are increasingly willing to

accept longer commutes in exchange for a better quality of life. As a result, much of London and the south-east, as well as rural areas across Britain, have become unaffordable, as commuters seek quality of life away from their urban working environments. This phenomenon was discussed in our recent State of the nation 2006 report, which showed that Britain's modern knowledge economy has created a nation of commuters - knowledge workers who are prepared to commute ever-longer distances in search of quality of life. The case study of Watford (above) looks at the relationship between connectivity and commuting levels.

Many commentators argue that Britain's transport infrastructure has developed in a piecemeal and reactive fashion, responding to problems only when they become overwhelming. In response to this the Town & Country Planning Association's recent report, Connecting England, champions, among other things, a more integrated approach to transport policy. It cites the lack of a national ports strategy and the lack of consideration given to the potential of northern airports, Manchester in particular, in the white paper, the Future of air transport.

Case studies

Lewisham v Suffolk coastal

Lewisham is an inner-London borough, and as such has access to major airports and the recently developed Docklands Light Railway system and therefore scores exceptionally well. Suffolk Coastal DC, on the other hand, has far less in the way of transport links, being a largely rural area. However, Lewisham has over 30 times the number of inbound journeys per km2 than Suffolk Coastal, which in turn has far higher natural beauty and better air quality.

Watford

Watford is one of the best-connected areas in the country and comes fifth in the table of top performers. However, Watford has exceptionally high numbers of people commuting into the area with over 2,300 journeys per sq km and over 58% of jobs taken by non-residents. This is excellent news for employers who want as wide a choice as possible when choosing staff, but for councils seeking to tackle worklessness among their residents, this may present a problem.

Connectivity score

Top 25 (Great Britain average = 100)

London City5832.81

Westminster1316.17

Camden1220.19

Kensington & Chelsea977.66

Watford748.04

Islington742.36

Newham651.77

Lambeth633.36

Hammersmith & Fulham621.39

Hackney575.61

Tower Hamlets507.06

Stevenage 504.76

Luton480.93

Wandsworth467.87

Southwark418.26

Crawley410.95

Slough379.61

Haringey357.92

Reading338.04

Hastings331.41

Portsmouth328.10

Harlow320.72

Lewisham318.15

Manchester305.13

Epsom & Ewell304.12

Bottom 25 (Great Britain average = 100)

East Ayrshire1.58

North Norfolk1.44

Highland1.40

Ceredigion1.33

Argyll & Bute1.18

Tynedale1.17

Moray1.16

Alnwick1.10

Shetland Islands1.09

Teesdale0.95

South Norfolk0.88

Kerrier0.84

Breckland0.76

Wyre0.70

West Lindsey0.69

Scottish Borders0.67

Powys0.65

Western Isles0.58

East Lindsey0.45

South Hams0.45

West Devon0.34

South Holland0.27

Torridge0.20

North Cornwall0.17

Aberdeenshire0.16

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