What do a small town in Cambridgeshire, an estate on the outskirts of Manchester, and two neighbouring villages in Somerset have in common? All are Big Local areas, part of a resident-led funding programme aiming to create lasting change in their neighbourhoods. And all three identified transport as an issue they wanted to address.
Like many areas around the country, these places did not have the transport connections they needed. Non-drivers - including many older and disabled people, families on low incomes and young people - really struggled to access work, get to shops and doctors' surgeries or visit family.
Local Trust manage the Big Local programme and we have been supporting Big Local areas to tackle transport issues in their area. Since we started working with Local Trust in 2018, we've worked with six Big Local areas to do bespoke research, helping to identify underlying issues and how to solve them. We talked with areas to understand, investigated their transport problems in detail and gave them in-depth advice on how to make change happen. Taking stock, we've noticed that, although the areas are quite different, they have many issues in common:
- Few or no bus services within walking distance
- Infrequent bus services, especially in the evening and weekends
- Complicated journeys – people need to change buses to reach common destinations
- Buses run by a hotchpotch of different operators – and tickets for one operator can't be used with another
- No train station nearby and no safe cycling infrastructure
Unfortunately, these issues are common for many communities up and down the country. That so many areas lack decent transport connections is simply not good enough. But there are solutions available.
Some of these problems can be solved by local councils: for instance, they could help integrate different modes of transport and different types of provision – private, publicly-supported or community-run.
Other barriers need to be tackled by central government: for example, they have promised a national bus strategy and it needs to fundamentally reform the way local buses are funded. A single, ring-fenced, multi-year funding framework would be essential, as would building local authority capacity and capability to better plan and coordinate local bus services. But of course, the concern is that the health crisis, which has kept many people off buses and trains and left councils collectively with an estimated £6 billion shortfall in their budgets, will make matters worse.
You can read more about the solutions needed in our interim report on our work with Big Local areas.
The support we have given the Big Locals is already starting to help make the case for change and making a difference on the ground. The first group that we helped, based in Ramsey in Cambridgeshire, spoke about how they've put our advice into action:
"We were really concerned when we learned our bus route to Huntington was facing the axe...
"We commissioned Campaign for Better Transport to carry out some desk research on behalf of Ramsey Million. We needed facts, statistical evidence about the bus infrastructure in Ramsey and the surrounding areas.
"I can't underestimate the value of Campaign for Better Transport's research. The council are now subsidising our main bus route."
We are keen to support more Big Local areas that have poor transport connections. If you are a Big Local area and would like to access our support, please see the dedicated page on the Local Trust website for how to find out more and get involved.