Funding cuts to rural transport links leave communities high and dry in transport deserts

19th Feb 2020

CPRE have undertaken new research, working with the Campaign for Better Transport, into how well connected our rural communities are. It shows that outside of England’s major cities, communities are being left in ever-expanding ‘transport deserts’ with inadequate bus and train connections.

By Crispin Truman, chief executive of CPRE, the countryside charity

You may think I’m seeing a mirage, issuing a warning about deserts in our countryside – especially given the recent wet weather. But be in no doubt, we are seeing the rise of so-called ‘transport deserts’ that are stunting the potential of our countryside and the people who live in it.

When the only option for many people living in rural communities is to get around by car, which is the reality for thousands of people who live in Yorkshire, they could be living in a transport desert. The research launched this week by CPRE, the countryside charity and the Campaign for Better Transport (CBT), is the first attempt to develop a scoring system to rank the public transport options available to rural communities.

The extremities of a desert make for an unfortunate but apt way to describe the findings – funding cuts to rural transport have left many countryside communities high and dry. Our research has found that nearly one million people living in the south west and north east of England are living in transport deserts or areas at risk of becoming one. If we widened the scope of this study, we would expect to see that many more millions of people in towns and the surrounding villages, across the country, are living in areas that are equally poorly served by public transport links.

If you’re thinking of visiting or moving to a small town the first question is often: how am I going to get a round? Two-thirds of the towns we looked at had no train station connecting them to the national rail network: CBT figures show that more than £29 million has been cut from local authority bus services across Yorkshire and the Humber.

At CPRE, the countryside charity, we want rural communities to thrive so that everyone can enjoy the benefits of the countryside. Ensuring that our towns and villages are well connected in terms of transport links is a central part of this vision. And the benefits are clear.

With a better public transport system, we could see local shops and high streets regenerate as people become less reliant on online shopping. A network of bus routes providing access to key services for smaller rural settlements would ensure that people of all ages and backgrounds can continue to live in the countryside, protecting their way of life. Vitally, we also believe that better public transport in rural areas has a huge role to play in reducing the UK’s pollution and carbon emissions.

That’s why the government’s announcement for £5 billion into buses and cycling infrastructure is welcome news but needs to go further for rural communities to ensure they receive their fair share. This could be achieved by setting an ambitious target for the number of people living within walking distance of a regularly served bus stop in the upcoming National Bus Strategy.

But it’s not all about the bus. A range of public transport options will be essential to keep traffic off the road and carbon emission out of the atmosphere. In the face of the climate emergency, we cannot allow emissions from transport – the largest contributor to climate change in this country – to go on rising. A genuinely ambitious programme of rail reopenings connecting rural communities with the rail network will be central in creating the low carbon and connected countryside many millions are asking for. That’s why we need a Rural Transport Fund that provides better transport links for rural communities

For too long, communities in the countryside have been routinely left at the back of the queue for transport investment. That often literally means being stuck in traffic on a congested, polluted country road. CPRE, the countryside charity, will continue to campaign and drum up the necessary political will to ensure excellent public transport links return to our countryside, to the benefit of all.

Read the Yorkshire Post article here: https://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/news/opinion/columnists/better-bus-services-and-reopening-rail-lines-can-tackle-yorkshire-s-public-transport-deserts-crispin-truman-1-10261890