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Rural transport report urges government to prioritise rural connections in the East

A new report from experts in the East, including Visit East of England, calls for a rebalancing of transport policy and investment to accelerate improvements for rural communities and highlights the need for longer-term funding for all Local Authorities.

It also recommends increased collaboration between all organisations working within the rural transport space to improve passenger experience, reduce emissions and increase access to essential services, businesses, work and education.

The Transport East Regional Strategy Hub has published its report exploring the challenges for rural mobility in the East and recommends clear actions to improving rural transport provision.

The report was launched at a Parliamentary Reception featuring the Minister for Roads and Local Transport, Guy Opperman MP, and host George Freeman MP.

The report and recommendations are based on written and oral evidence from 140 respondents overseen by seven expert Commissioners, exploring the experiences of rural transport for people, businesses and providers.

Commissioners heard hard stories of house-bound older people who found it difficult to access healthcare and social activities. Businesses highlighted challenges in recruitment and retention adding costs in a constrained economic environment, and education providers reported difficulty attracting students from more rural areas, restricting life chances.

The Rural Connections report formulates some clear actions, directed at specific stakeholders, to improve rural connections.
Key recommendations in the report include:

• Central government to give all local transport authorities longer-term funding certainty by expanding the Local Integrated Transport Settlements to the whole country.

• Central government to focus on rebuilding long-term capacity and capability within local authorities to support innovation in rural transport.

• A better join-up between land-use and transport planning at all levels of government to increase the viability of rural services and enhance sustainable communities.

• Prioritise the maintenance of rural public transport and active travel infrastructure.

• Transport East and other Sub-national transport bodies to strengthen the evidence for the value of rural services and the case for investment.

Dr Scott Copsey, Chair of the Regional Strategy Hub and Director of the Smart Mobility Unit at the University of Hertfordshire said:
“This report strengthens the evidence around the need for decision makers to level the playing field for rural transport services. Current policy and investment under values the essential role rural transport plays in allowing people of all ages to access work, training, health services and everyday activity.

“By actioning our recommendations and working in partnership with communities and operators, government – both national and local – can transform provision.”

With a third of the East’s 3.5 million population living in rural communities, and 600,000 of these people living in ‘transport deserts’, improving rural transport options is an important priority for Transport East, the region’s Sub-national Transport Body. Transport East established the Regional Strategy Hub to tackle difficult transport challenges facing the East by bringing together experts and insight into key policy issues.

Andrew Summers, Chief Executive of Transport East, said: “It is evident from the responses to this rural mobility call for evidence that the impacts of poor transport provision in rural areas affects many areas of society. Improving it is also complex and needs focus from all levels of government.

We know the local authorities in the East are committed to making rural transport better for their communities and economies but need more investment and tools from central government. Transport East’s Rural Mobility Centre of Excellence is helping partners understand how to bring new solutions forward faster.”

Speaking at the event, local MP and host of the parliamentary reception George Freeman MP, said: “Rural transport is a key issue for people in Mid Norfolk and for many rural areas like it. I recognise many of the issues raised in the Rural Connection report and ask government to work with Transport East and local authorities to progress the recommendations and improve services on the ground.”