The report, called ‘Connecting communities: improving transport to get ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods back on track’ produced by Campaign for Better Transport with data from the Oxford Consultants for Social Inclusion (OCSI) for the All-Party Parliamentary Group for ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods, highlights how people living in these areas, are reliant on public transport but have less access to it, compared to other places across England:
- 84% of ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods have worse overall connectivity than the England average
- 40% of households in ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods have no car, compared to 26% – 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
The report found ‘left behind’ areas with the poorest connectivity are predominantly located in coastal areas and on the outskirts of post-industrial towns and cities in the North and the Midlands. As a result of continuing bus and rail service decline, people living in ‘left behind’ communities face greater difficulties in accessing essential services. The report found people these areas must travel two kilometres further to A&E hospitals than those living in other deprived areas.
In addition, the report examines the impact of the Beeching cuts in the 1960’s and shows that 50% of all rail stations in ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods were closed following the landmark report. 74% have no railway station at all now, compared to 60% pre-1960s.
Despite lower levels of car ownership overall, people living in ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods in employment are more likely to travel to work by private car or van, with 67% doing so, compared to 59% in other deprived areas and 63% across England. By contrast, a lower proportion of people travel to work by public transport in ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods (16%) than across other deprived areas (19%) and England (17%), suggesting the lack of public transport connectivity is affecting the employment prospects of people with no access to a car.
Prepared for the APPG for ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods, the report includes analysis of transport provision in 225 places in England, each of which ranks in the top 10% on the Index of Multiple Deprivation. They also suffer from a lack of social infrastructure, including places to meet and digital connectivity, and are therefore classed as ‘left behind’ by the Group.
To reconnect these places to opportunities and services, the report recommends that government prioritises investment in ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods. It also recommends funds should be directed to the hyper-local level to support communities to and advocate for their needs. Coming on the back of the National Bus Strategy, the government must boost local authorities’ capacity and to plan local transport services and provide long-term funding to deliver those.
Silviya Barrett, Head of Policy, Research and Projects at Campaign for Better Transport, said:
“As this report shows, it’s hard to overstate the importance of good public transport. Communities that struggle to access jobs, training and essential services have no chance of thriving. The Government must invest in public transport to ensure that no communities are left behind and that we build back better in a way that is fair and sustainable.
“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 the areas featured in this report and, crucially, ensuring these communities don’t get further left behind.”
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.
Conservative co-chair for the APPG for ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods Paul Howell MP for Sedgefield said: “This report demonstrates how public transport in ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods can mean the difference between being able to access employment opportunities or unemployment. In some cases, it really can be the difference between life and death with a lack of access to life saving services.”
“I’m grateful to say that mine is one of a handful of constituencies which will hopefully benefit from the reopening of a station closed by the Beeching cuts, but many communities aren’t as fortunate. There is an urgent need for better rail and bus links to connect them to essential services, and the government’s new bus strategy will hopefully provide a good foundation for the recommendations in this report to build on and start to achieve this.”
Labour co-chair for the APPG for ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods Dame Diana Johnson DBE MP said: “The government must do more to provide equality of opportunity for ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods, so they don’t end up falling even further behind, and providing good quality public transport is an essential part of this.
“Whilst investment in town and city centres can provide opportunities, that’s little help if people living several miles away aren’t able to get to them. To really support residents living in ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods, we need to invest in local people and their capabilities as well as the essential infrastructure like public transport, that they so heavily rely upon.”