How important is physical connectivity in helping to create a thriving community? That's the question our latest report, produced on behalf of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for 'Left Behind' Neighbourhoods and Local Trust, attempted to answer.
Connecting communities: improving transport to get 'left behind' neighbourhoods back on track looks at transport connectivity in the 225 'left behind' neighbourhoods that the APPG was set up to advocate for.
'Left behind' neighbourhoods rank in the top ten per cent most deprived on the Index of Multiple Deprivation and are located primarily on the edge of post-industrial towns and cities across the North and Midlands and in coastal areas around England. By definition these areas are disconnected, but the report digs deeper into the issues caused by poor connectivity and what it means for residents' day-to-day lives.
What we found was that routine travel was more difficult due to poor public transport connections, preventing those without a car from accessing jobs or public services.
- 84 per cent of 'left behind' neighbourhoods have worse overall connectivity than the England average
- Local authority-supported bus services in 'left behind' areas declined by 35 per cent over the last six years, while commercial services declined by 11 per cent
- 74 per cent of 'left behind' neighbourhoods have no rail station
- 34% of 'left behind' neighbourhoods have longer travel times to a hospital via public transport than the English average. On average, residents travel 2km further to access A&E hospitals than residents in similarly deprived neighbourhoods
- Despite longer journey times, there are 13 per cent more bus journeys per head in 'left behind' neighbourhoods than other similarly deprived neighbourhoods. This could be due to the fact that 40 per cent of households do not own a car, making public transport the only option for many, no matter how limited the provision.
Northumberland has five wards within the 20 worst connected 'left behind' neighbourhoods. Many are former mining coastal communities with high levels of deprivation. More than one-in-three households lack access to a car. With few buses and no rail connectivity, residents cannot easily reach opportunities. However, moves to reinstate an 18-mile length of rail track to Newcastle – championed by the county council and a number of community groups for well over a decade – will help to boost connectivity in the area.
In order to reconnect these places to the opportunities and services they need, the Government must prioritise investment in 'left behind' neighbourhoods with funds directed to the hyper-local level to enable communities to advocate for their needs. Coming on the back of the National Bus Strategy, the Government must boost local authorities’ capacity and capability to plan local transport services and provide long-term funding to deliver them.
As well as endorsing the report’s recommendations on funding for transport infrastructure, the APPG for 'left behind' neighbourhoods is supporting the proposal for a creation of a Community Wealth Fund. The fund would provide long-term, hyper-local investment in the 225 'left behind' neighbourhoods across England to enable local people to work together to advocate for themselves and overcome the challenges their areas face.
What this report really highlights is the importance of good public transport: communities that struggle to access jobs, training and essential services have no chance of thriving. Reconnecting lost rail links, reinstating cut bus routes and ensuring local authorities have the funds and skills to provide the public transport local communities need is key to reinvigorating these areas and, crucially, ensuring these communities don’t get further left behind.
The three worst connected neighbourhoods according to our ranking are all in coastal parts of Tendring in north east Essex. The village of Jaywick ranked as the most deprived area in England in 2019, and it has the third highest proportion of people without a car and a limiting long-term illness of all 'left-behind' neighbourhoods. But a number of local community organisations campaign for rail improvements and have set up a dedicated hospital Hopper Bus service to help plug the gap.