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Roads to Nowhere

LEP Watch: our work to change local transport spending priorities

Local transport funding is going through a big shake up, with business-led 'Local Enterprise Partnerships' taking control of huge chunks of the local transport budget. We're concerned these bodies are prioritising roads over public transport, walking and cycling. 

Our LEP watch project monitors spend on transport projects by Local Economic Partnerships, bodies set up to spend public money on economic development in their areas. In 2013, we published a report jointly with CPRE looking at the first round of LEP transport plans, and in 2014, we published an update to include the new City Growth Deals.

In 2015 we made Freedom of Information (FoI) requests to the LEPs, seeking updated information on funding allocated in bids to transport projects and the type of projects funded. We have received the figures requested from 36 LEPs, giving us a picture of local transport spending across most of the country. The full FoI responses received are available on request and can also be seen on the WhatDoTheyKnow website.

Metro tram in BirminghamAll sustainable modes of transport add up to around 33% of spend. Metro and tram investment is concentrated in the West Midlands.

In total, the LEPs proposed £3,424.74M of funding for 444 schemes. We analysed these by mode. About half the funding and projects were for new roads, with the other half for mixed schemes, public transport and sustainable modes. Taking out mixed schemes that include new roads, we find that sustainable modes (public transport and active travel) add up to around 30% of schemes and 33% of spend so while we would like to see more than a third, that is encouraging.

Only two LEPs (Dorset and Northamptonshire, both relatively small) had no funds allocated for non-road schemes, and among these, Northamptonshire's plans include a smart bus corridor. Some of the LEPs that we criticised in earlier reports, for example Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire, have this time proposed a range of sustainable schemes including station improvements, cycle routes and a new coach station.

2015 LEP spending

Key findings

LEP spending continues to prioritise road at the expense of sustainable modes

  • Just over 50% of the projects and project spend is allocated for new road capacity
  • When mixed schemes with some new roads are included, that rises to 67%
  • Within road schemes, maintenance of existing roads is the poor relation, with just 3% of schemes and 2% of spend

All sustainable modes (public transport and active travel) add up to around 30% of schemes and 33% of spend

  • Cycling gets the smallest slice of spend, attracting just 1% of the allocated funds

Priorities vary significantly between LEPs

  • Dorset and Northamptonshire are spending all their money on road schemes
  • North Yorkshire is top of the list for spend on road maintenance
  • Cornwall, Greater Birmingham and West Yorkshire are leading on railway projects including station improvements.
  • Metro/tram investment is concentrated in the West Midlands.
  • Birmingham, Humberside and Peterborough are the biggest spenders on walking & public realm schemes

Future LEP funding

The Government is inviting Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) to bid for a share of a further £1.8bn Local Growth funding but there is no specific allocation within this for transport. With the advent of devolution deals, including some transport powers, it remains to be seen how much of a role LEPs will play in future years. 

There also remain concerns over their transparency. As the National Audit Office reported recently:

"LEPs' role has expanded rapidly and significantly but they are not as transparent to the public as we would expect, especially given they are now responsible for significant amounts of taxpayers' money. While the Department has adopted a 'light touch' approach to overseeing Growth Deals, it is important that this doesn't become 'no touch'. The Department needs to do more to assure itself that the mechanisms it is relying on ensure value for money are, in fact, effective."
Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, 23 March 2016

See our earlier LEP Watch findings from 2013 and 2014.

Explore further

Our interactive map shows all the LEPs, with links to each area's Growth Deal and future plans. Find out what schemes are planned near you: