‘and representatives of town and parish councils in the county’.
Although the increased flexibility for planning and implementing local transport plans is welcome, the requirement for local transport authorities or county councils simply to consult district councils in their area does not go far enough. If we are serious about local decision making and if local transport plans are to be as responsive to the needs of local communities as possible and as responsive to people in rural areas as they are to those in urban and metropolitan areas, it is essential that local transport plans are built from the bottom up. Therefore, town and parish councils, as the most local form of government, have an important role to play in feeding in the voices of the smallest rural communities.
The issue is particularly important, given that the Bill amends the 2000 Act to remove the need for a local transport authority to produce a bus strategy. Although the concept of an integrated transport plan is welcome, the bus strategy is very important in rural areas, where buses are often the only viable form of public transport. In rural areas, local services and facilities are often few, limited and geographically disparate. Lack of access to transport, particularly public transport, leaves many people facing difficult circumstances and, often, social exclusion. Lack of transport can have a multitude of negative effects, including reducing employment and educational opportunities and access to health care and social and leisure activities. That is particularly the case for the 11 per cent. of rural households without a car. The young and the elderly feature highly in that category.
Public transport is needed by people living in rural areas just as it is by those living in urban areas, but the lower population density of rural areas and the greater distances between villages and towns mean that public transport services tend to be less frequent and, as a result, less convenient. That means that more people must rely on cars for their day-to-day transport, which has significant implications for congestion levels and the environment, both of which are of growing concern to the public and lie at the heart of the Government’s current legislative programme.
Car ownership and use is high in rural areas: 52 per cent. of rural households have two or more cars, and three quarters of all journeys in rural areas are made by car. On average, rural residents travel more than 40 per cent. further than urban residents each week, because facilities and services are farther away. As services are lost—a current topic is post offices—people must travel further.