By Harry Mottram: Whatever your views are on the HS2 rail project linking the Midlands and the North the Government has made its mind up to scrap it and spend the money elsewhere. And Bath and the surrounding region could benefit as the Network North document published today (4th October, 2023) says that Network West run by the Metro Mayor Dan Norris’s West of England Combined Authority (WECA) could get an extra £100 million pounds. In the document it states: “We will boost funding to the West of England Combined Authority by £100 million. The funding could be used for an extension of MetroWest to the south – covering Weston-super-Mare, Taunton/Exeter, and Worle/Weston-super-Mare Parkway. The authority could also start Temple Meads passenger and capacity enhancements, step-free access across the network and complete electrification between Temple Meads, Bristol Parkway and Chippenham.”
Cynics have already suggested none of the many transport upgrades promised in the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s speech at the Conservative Party Conference will ever take place. Partly due to the time scales required to progress the projects, and partly because if the Government calls and loses a General Election in 2024 then the incoming Labour or Lib Dem Government may or may not action the plans. It is possible that a new administration could even restart the HS2 Manchester section since millions have already been spent on its construction including the acquisition of land at tax payers expense.
However if the plans go ahead to pump cash into Network West then commuting from North Somerset to Bath from places such as Portishead, Pill and Weston-super-Mare would get easier. But it’s a big if as Sunak’s critics suggest.
What is of concern to commuters and bus users in the area is the state of the bus services outside of Bath and in particular WECA’s much criticised WESTlink bus service that is set to be extended to run until 2026. The reason is the nature of the service.
Local Democracy Reporter John Wimperis reported: “The West of England’s on-demand minibus service, which does not follow set routes but takes people on requested personalised journeys anywhere within one of two zones, which roughly correspond to the Somerset and Gloucestershire parts of the region, with some shared areas. Travel can be booked through an app, online, or on the phone.
“The ‘bus service improvement plan’ funding for the scheme was originally set to run until March 2025, but has now been extended to March 2026. After this point, the West of England Combined Authority (WECA) and North Somerset Council, who together run the scheme, will need to ensure it is cost effective for them to run.
“But although the duration of the scheme is set to get longer, the length of journey you can take could get shorter, with proposals to divide the zones into smaller areas. Speaking at a scrutiny committee meeting on October 2, WECA officers said that an announcement from the traffic commissioner limited how far the minibuses could be driven without switching the drivers over to EU regulation hours.
“Officers warned that this would mean spending more on extra drivers and vehicles unless the zones were changed so that journeys did not last for more than 20 minutes.”
One good piece of news is that the Prime Minister has extended the £2 flat fare to the end of 2024 on bus services as part of his Network North announcements.
Some people would like to see a more comprehensive bus network outside of the city with fixed routes and a timetable to enable commuters to abandon their cars. Another option that has been put forward by the Trams for Bath group in 2006 was their proposed re-introduction – the city had a tram network but this was closed in 1939. That idea has been gathering dust since having been put forward to BANES for consideration – an idea that to be actioned would need a lot more than the £100m promised to WECA.
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