Better connectivity could mean trams and light rail

In the summer of 2018, I got volunteered together with other local residents in helping to create a neighbourhood plan for our local area – Yateley, Darby Green and Frogmore, in Hampshire.

My specific area of interest is ‘Getting Around‘, whether that is transport in all its shapes and sizes, or provision for those of us on the pavements.

In the course of our deliberations, a number of people have looked longingly at places which have improved connectivity using light rail, trams or guided buses.  We were going to look into the subject, hoping to include something of an aspirational nature in our plan, thinking the idea would be a bit ‘Alice in Wonderland‘.

Blackwater Station, on the North Downs Line, Hampshire.

Imagine our delight when we discovered that we had been beaten to it. There have already been studies in 1991 (about bringing local railway lines and a new interchange hub station with the London Waterloo mainline, as well as additional ‘community stations’ in the Blackwater Valley of which we are a part), and reports in 2002 & 2003 (which make reference to plans for a ‘Mass Transit System‘ for the Blackwater Valley), with the possibility of light rail, trams or guided buses connecting the likes of Aldershot, Farnborough, Camberley, and Bracknell – making the possibility of much better connections with places like Yateley, Fleet, and Farnham with new interchange stations.

You can keep up-to-date with the work we are doing on our neighbourhood plan here and the post which contains full details on all of those studies can be found by clicking here.  I think it is well worth a read, although I would say that!

Tramway de Gand. Credit: Claude villetaneuse (CC BY-SA 3.0)

While these might seem like long term aspirations, hopefully considering the wider strategic context for transport planning of the ‘Blackwater Valley‘, and previous work that has been done in this area for improving connectivity should provide grounds for including aspirations, if not our own specific policies, in our own neighbourhood plan.

 

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Making connections

A recent independent inquiry – Civil Society Futures – published its report in the middle of November, called “The Story of Our Times: shifting power, bridging divides, transforming society,” which said that civil society must up its game, or risk complete irrelevance.

I usually abhor acronyms, but it came up with one – PACT – to describe the process of change it says needs to occur:

* Power: argues power needs to be shifted so that everyone is involved in decision-making;

* Accountability: organisation must be more accountable to communities they serve;

* Connection: civil society must build broader and deeper connection within and between communities;

* Trust: organisations need to put effort into building and earning trust and ensure they are behaving in line with their values.

Top (L-R): Yogesh, Sue, Charlotte; Middle (L-R): Wilf, Mel, Di; Bottom (L-R): Camilla, Luke, Paul. Members of the ‘Getting Around’ subject group, bringing a variety of experiences from across the community.

It’s for reasons very similar to this that I’ve joined other residents where I live since July to be part of the process of building the new neighbourhood plan for the town – Yateley, Darby Green and Frogmore, in the district of Hart, which is in the North-East corner of Hampshire.

I’m co-leading the subject group (members pictured above) which is looking at issues to do with ‘Getting Around‘ – that’s anything to do with being a pedestrian, with cycling, with using public and community transport, and of course, driving in its many and varied forms.

I’m on a bus… making connections.

We’ve just posted the latest update on our group’s work, entitled ‘Making connections‘ – click here for more – as well as all the previous posts here.

You can find the main website for our local neighbourhood plan here.

Neighbourhood planning will never be the answer to all the issues anyone has in their local area, but it can be a useful start – and what we’ve found as a group of residents is that, as an excuse for starting to have those conversations about issues, and engaging with the processes in the local community, some of those dynamics to do with power, accountability, connection and trust start to move.  And who knows – we might finally get that bus to Fleet we’ve waited so long for!

Tickets please!

Last Friday, I hurriedly submitted written evidence to an inquiry which had been launched by the Transport Select Committee on the Bus Services Bill.  I’d only discovered the day before that it was taking place, and the deadline was that day.

Bus_1

I can think of better ways to spend my summer, but buses are an important part of civic life to me.  They have been woefully neglected as part of the fabric of society outside London.  If, like me, you can’t drive (I had to surrender my licence because of my neurological condition Chiari Malformation), you can come to rely on buses pretty heavily.  Which means that if the service is pretty woeful, you are stuck.

I’m not going to bore you here about the contents of my submission.  Suffice to say, there is something wrong with our democracy if we have allowed our buses to get into the position they are, and if the piece of legislation going through our Parliament right now misses a lot of the central points that it should be dealing with on the matter.

Bus_2

Even more of a failure is the fact that the Transport Select Committee’s Inquiry has been launched AFTER it can have any real impact on the nature or content of the legislation – a bit of a waste of time.

I’ve done a written submission nonetheless – I doubt many other people have, given they probably hadn’t heard of it, and if they had, the precise guidance for submitting such written submissions probably put them off.  We must find ways of making these inquiries and consultations more user-friendly.  There are pressure groups campaigning on the issue, such as the Campaign for Better Transport’s Save Our Buses, and We Own It, specifically raising the issue that local authorities should be able to own and run their own services, but they must find it difficult too.

Me and some of the gang on one of the local bus services which connects our village to a nearby Sainsburys superstore.

Me and some of the gang on one of the local bus services which connects our village to a nearby Sainsburys superstore.

The issue is important, but probably more important is the quality of our politics right now.  First, we need to do something about the quality of our opposition parties – I’m in despair.  Second, the House of Lords – for me, an issue like this demonstrates the need for a set-up in the shape of a Sortition – another elected chamber just wont cut it.  A chamber drawn at random from people on the electoral roll, in the same way as jury service would ensure we have a chamber that considers issues like bus services deliberatively – and might ensure that those considering the issue might even use buses regularly!