ESCC Local Transport Plan: The good, the bad and the ugly
East Sussex County Council’s latest Local Transport Plan is out for consultation and all of us have until Sunday 25 February to comment on it. Shane Snow, Lewes resident and transport professional, takes a look at what’s in it
What is the East Sussex Local Transport Plan?
Transport affects everyone every day. From opening our front doors and seeing, hearing the street to smelling sometimes tasting the air in our streets. It enables us to go to where we need or want to go, and where possible offers alternatives to the car.
That’s why all local authorities in England and Wales are required to produce and regularly update a Local Transport Plan (LTP), setting out their objectives and plans for developing transport in their area over a stipulated period.
The East Sussex Local Transport Plan (LTP 4), a draft of which was published at the end of 2023, is intended to show how East Sussex County Council (ESCC) will plan and provide transport over the next 25 years, including how it will:
- enable safer and more accessible journeys
- develop healthy places to enable people to live well
- decarbonise transport to help achieve ‘net zero’ targets by 2050 at the latest
- maintain and strengthen transport networks so that they are resilient
- support a more equitable, inclusive, and sustainable economy within coastal towns, market towns and villages in more rural areas
The plan is now out to public consultation until Sunday 25 February, with ESCC holding drop-in sessions to discuss the plan across the county. Venue, dates and times for these drop-in sessions can be seen here. You can provide your thoughts on the plan by completing ESCC’s online survey here.
So what’s of note in the plan to watch out for?
On the plus side, LTP 4 addresses challenges around the health of an ageing population and getting to ‘net zero’ carbon emissions to tackle climate change. It says it will prioritise cycling and walking to reduce car dependency, improve public transport and plan places differently.
It also helps set a direction on some specific Lewes challenges:
- How can the public realm in an ageing Lewes help people stay active and fend off ill health, thereby alleviating pressure on ballooning adult social care?
- How will new housing on the Phoenix Estate or Old Malling Farm developments (and whatever development comes next) reduce car dependency in perpetuity?
- How can we shift Lewes’ historically designated High Street more towards supporting people and place and away from simply accommodating traffic?
But it falls down in three areas:
No clear targets to meet – Firstly there are no specific measurable targets for any objectives so how will County Hall be held to account? Traffic reduction? Carbon reduction? Other places have these targets for 2030: Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire propose a 15% reduction of car distance travelled; Oxfordshire a 25% reduction in car trips and each place is building way more houses (33,500 and 100,000, respectively) than East Sussex.
Unclear on funding – Secondly, it gives no indication of how it will fund any new capital projects. Transport budgets are constrained. East Sussex lost out, not getting any promised projects from the scattering of future HS2 resource following its cancellation and if the ESCC care bill goes on rising thanks to an ageing local population, what will be left for transport anyway?
No clear strategy for project delivery – Thirdly, it includes a long list of schemes. Some that have been around for over 50 years but which are unfunded. Take reopening of the Uckfield to Lewes railway. The strategy punts responsibility back to Network Rail. But if the county and district councils want to make a Beeching reversal happen then they will have to drive the benefits case and contribute to part funding. New housing at the Uckfield and Lewes ends could help and this is for ESCC and LDC to lead on, not Network Rail. Naming a project on a list is just window dressing.
Here are some other key points I would highlight:
The Good: The importance of placemaking is recognised
We all share a wish for beautifully designed streets and public spaces, with clean air, that support social and physical activity. Things to delight us in the East Sussex LTP and that align perfectly with the aims of the Lewes Town Council are:
- Table 4.2 suggests streets should be designed according to their place as well as movement function.
- Paragraph 6.86 references the Healthy Streets assessment, which includes 10 indicators that would be welcomed for streets in all our main towns. Were this to be applied in East Sussex towns it would drive change in how our towns looked and felt.
- Paragraph 6.87 notes the historic nature of our towns and references historic centres like Lewes.
However, as mentioned above, the plan needs to contain specific funded schemes to ensure these fine words are actually put into practice.
The Bad: Cycling targets are unambitious and lumped in with walking
The previous strategy (LTP 3) also had some fine words about active travel, health and the environment. What happened? East Sussex cycling levels have declined from around 2% to just over 1% of all trips – now they are significantly below the English average of 2.2%. That is quite a failure. Government has targets to both double cycling and for 50% of trips in towns and cities by 2030 to be by cycle. Why not press for 2030, 2040 and 2050 cycling targets in East Sussex?
LTP 4 says: ‘Our Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan (LCWIP) sets out proposals to introduce a network of cycling… It demonstrates ESCC’s and our partners’ commitment.’
This is not correct – the current LCWIP lacks ambition primarily on a limited number of in-town improvements. The fantastic new Egrets Way, delivered by the third sector from Lewes to Newhaven, is curtailed at Piddinghoe. It’s the same with the fantastic new A27 path which has no decent link into Lewes town centre.
The Ugly: Weak political ambition for active travel agenda
While ESCC leaders have talked a lot about potholes on our roads they have seemingly failed to notice that pavements are also funded through their highway maintenance budget. Too many Lewes pavements are less than the 2 metres recommended minimum width or are uneven and in disrepair. This prevents wheelchair users, those on mobility scooters and parents with buggies from feeling safe in our streets.
There is frustration throughout Lewes at seemingly futile progress on basic stuff like school streets and 20 mph speed limits through town. Helpfully, Active Travel England (ATE) have developed a new assessment for highway authority active travel capability. It has five categories (from 4 = Best to 0 = Worst) and is a bit like the football league, from non-professional to world class. In this ranking, East Sussex effectively sits bottom of the fourth division, with a ranking of ‘1’.
So what to ask for?
Once you’ve read the plan, you may have many comments and requests to include in your online feedback. Here are a couple of specific requests I would make:
- The performance pay of the ESCC Directorof Communities, Economy and Transport should be linked to getting East Sussex improving its ranking in the Active Travel England assessment mentioned above from ‘1’ to at least ‘2’.
- East Sussex should take a leaf out of Oxfordshire’s book: adopt the ambition for creating a comprehensive safe cycle network, to rival the best in Europe by 2040, with the new cycling and walking plan (LCWIP) peer-reviewed by officers in local authorities with the highest rankings in the Active Travel England assessment.
Remember, you have until 25 February to comment on the plan on the ESCC website here. It’s essential that as many of us as possible do comment – so we can hold our transport authority’s plans to account.
Only that way, can we get the transport system we want and deserve.