Transport for the South East (TfSE) is preparing to launch as the overarching transport body representing those in the south-east but outside London.
The new body, which will cover Berkshire, Hampshire, Sussex, Surrey and Kent, will work with local authorities including the unitary councils Brighton & Hove, Portsmouth, and Southampton city councils, and Isle of Wight and Medway councils, other stakeholders and businesses to develop an integrated transport strategy for the area.
Speaking to LGC’s sister title New Civil Engineer TfSE chair Geoff French said the new body would “deal with the gap between national infrastructure and very local infrastructure”, as there was very little funding available for the “middle ground”.
“What we want to be doing is making a solid case based on economic development for intermediate schemes,” said Mr French. “Not High Speed 4 or massive new motorways, but addressing and tying together transport projects which go across more than one authority.”
Mr French said having bodies co-ordinating that kind of work would help big funding agencies prioritise investment in the regions.
“The advantage to agencies like Network Rail, Highways England and the Department for Transport (DfT) is the ability to look at the different areas as a whole and identify which schemes would have the most beneficial impact, and then back those.”
The south-east region is home to a number significant economic hubs including Southampton and Newhaven ports and Gatwick and Southampton airports. Heathrow Airport is a “stones throw” away from its border too, noted Mr French.
He said the body had already set up a transport forum where the operators and the users of trains, buses, roads, airports and seaports can come together with local enterprise partnerships to express views. It has also started an economic study of the area to find projects to bring forward which were related to economic growth in the area, added Mr French who is also chair of the Enterprise M3 LEP.
As an example of the current level of disconnect, and what Mr French hoped the body would solve, the only signposted railway station on the M25 is Ebbsfleet International.
Mr French said one of the things he is keen to rebut is the widely held view that London and the south-east already received the lions’ share of funding.
“One of the things we feel quite strongly about is that London and the south-east is getting all the money,” he said. “Yes London is getting a lot of money, but if you look at the expenditure per head, then there’s almost the same amount of money going to the north as there is in the south-east.
“It’s actually really just London that is getting the lion’s share.”
The body is hoping to get statutory status – giving it the ability to formally speak as one voice for the area and work with the DfT to dole out funding – by 2020. Transport for the North is due to become a statutory body in April this year.
Mr French said although the timescale might seem far off, transport secretary Chris Grayling had already given positive indications that he was willing to listen to the views of the body before a formal status was awarded.
TfSE will be formally launching in Farnborough on 8 May.