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05.08.15

New county alliance seeks £3bn transport investment

Three county councils have united to fight for greater infrastructure investment as part of a groundbreaking strategic alliance to boost economic growth.

The councils – Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Northamptonshire – decided to cooperate on this single issue, rather than create a formal combined authority or similar construct, as other authorities have when seeking devolution of Whitehall spending.

The alliance, calling itself ‘England’s Economic Heartland’, calls for £2.8bn of transport investment in major road and rail projects, in an open letter to George Osborne.

This would be made possible through a new ‘transport infrastructure forum’ that would link up the transport plans of all three authorities.

The alliance is asking the government to provide the area with a five-year growth deal, particularly seeking to implement efficiency measures like smart ticketing, integrated car parking and “emerging internet and smartphone technology”.

It argues that these measures have already been applied in several UK and global cities but have not yet reached any shire counties.

Cllr Ian Hudspeth, leader of Oxfordshire County Council (pictured above), said: “Many journeys with a big impact on the local economy don’t start or end in Oxfordshire so it is important that investment in our major roads network is planned with our neighbours.

“That’s why we are working closely with Northamptonshire and Buckinghamshire to press government to invest in these roads that are so crucial to creating jobs and helping people get to work.”

He justified the creation of an alliance by claiming the government is “more likely to listen to the strong business case for this vitally important investment” if counties talked “with one voice”.

The authorities also believe that a more resourceful transport system in the three counties, as well as more cohesive relationships between public transport providers, is “central to improving productivity, attracting private sector investment and accelerating economic growth”.

They attributed the proposals to the “growing devolution agenda nationally” which provided the platform for the new approach.

Hudspeth says the ‘heartland’ area has an economy equivalent to £46.6bn, which could grow by a further £9bn annually and create tens of thousands of jobs if its proposals are acted on.

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