Civic leaders say that Stoke-on-Trent is set for a transport revolution after being shortlisted for a major national transformation fund that could be worth tens of millions of pounds.
A tram network, electric buses with priority lanes, improved heavy rail services, high-tech automated pods and other emerging new transport forms are some of the options that Stoke-on-Trent City Council is considering in its detailed bid for a share in the £840m Transforming Cities Fund.
The council’s successful initial bid to the Department for Transport programme means Stoke-on-Trent is one of only 10 city regions across the country – including much larger economic areas such as Sheffield, Leicester and West Yorkshire – to be vying for the funding. The cash is being made available to cities to improve public and sustainable transport, using innovation and technology to cut congestion and reduce journey times.
Deputy council leader Abi Brown said: “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to create a transport revolution for the city. We are leading a real vision that will help people to get to where they want to easier, safer and quicker. It’s about connecting people to their places of work, and removing barriers to the growth of our economy.
“We want to make Stoke-on-Trent a metro city and we are looking at the best options that will increase the speed of journeys, so that that crucial last mile of travel time into the city takes only five minutes rather than half an hour. There will be different solutions for different parts of the city, taking into account current infrastructure and routes available.
“Other metro areas have had trams for 10-15 years, including Manchester and Nottingham. Now it is our turn.”
The council has revealed that by 2033, long stretches of the road network and key junctions will reach 100 per cent capacity, and estimates that congestion costs the local economy £80m per year – equating to many hundreds of lost productivity hours for working people. The council is also working with the government on an air quality action plan in parts of the city, to manage air quality on busy roads.
At the same time, the city’s economy has grown much faster than the UK average, with gross value added – a measure of the goods and services produced in the city – increasing by 22.6 per cent, compared to 18.2 per cent nationally for the period 2009-2015.
The number of people visiting the city has also increased, with 4.8m day trips in 2016, up 100,000 on the previous year, and with 200,000 people staying overnight.
The council is looking at options for metro-style routes, linking key locations, including Stoke Station which attracts more than 3.2m visitors per year; the 28,000 students and workforce in the University Quarter and the city centre, with its growing retail and leisure offer and expanding council-led Smithfield site. It would also link the Festival Park and Etruria Valley area which has large private sector employers such as bet365 and Vodafone, and the growing Ceramic Valley Enterprise Zone site which is bringing 140 hectares of brownfield land into use, delivering 3.3m sq ft of new floor space, and has 2,000 jobs secured and in the pipeline, with a capacity for 4,700 more.
Funding from the programme would support growth detailed in the local plan, which sets out how the city can develop 199 hectares of land, supporting 17,000 jobs and 27,800 new homes by 2033.
The bid is also the opportunity to strengthen public and sustainable transport infrastructure in time for HS2 services that are scheduled to run from the city in 2026.
Councillor Brown added: “This is a huge opportunity to shape our city’s future. We have great impetus behind us, having been shortlisted against much bigger cities for both UK City of Culture and Channel 4 hub competitions. The transformation fund is a much bigger prize – a multi-million pound opportunity to deliver real change that will bring people into the city, help to retain our workforce and support people who live and work here.”
The council is working with the DfT to develop detailed plans over the coming months. The DfT is looking to start allocating funding next year to successful cities, with a view to schemes being developed over the next four years.
Council leader Ann James said: “We are setting out a very clear statement of intent for the future transport systems that the city needs and deserves. We are well served with road and rail, and we are one of the best placed cities and best connected cities in the whole of the UK. It’s only when you come to travel between our towns, development and housing areas do some of the barriers become more recognised. Through the transformation fund, we want to tackle these barriers head on so that residents, workers and visitors can travel more quickly by taking cars off the road and introducing new forms of transport that maximise technology to create a much more connected city.
“It is right that this fund is targeted at public and sustainable links – this is not about building more roads, but making improvements that mean bus, rail, cycling and other methods of transport are as attractive as driving a car. We want to cut congestion and to make affordable public transport a better option for everyone in getting about the city.”
For all media enquiries please contact the Communications Department at Stoke-on-Trent City Council on 01782 232671.