Thursday, 3 June 2010

There will be trains and buses for all - the latest in motherhood and apple pie from Cornwall Council

As required by law, Cornwall Council is currently in the throes of developing a new local transport plan. This will be the third such plan and the crucial difference from previous plans is that this is set to last for 20 years rather than five years each for the previous plans. You can access the online version of the plan here (download it under Item 11, appendix 1).

This is both good and bad news. In theory, a longer plan should allow a more strategic approach. In other words, we can think more about what we would like to see even if it is not going to be deliverable in the short term.

On the flip-side, the hugely long timescale means that the plan is prone to woolly thoughts and ambitious aims without any sort of targets or means to achieve the desired ends. And it is this 'motherhood and apple pie' thinking which is prevalent throughout the document.

For instance (these are all quotes from the document with no backup evidence given):

- A quality Cornwall wide bus service will be delivered with express bus services linking the main towns.
- If you live in a rural village you will have the choice of using an accessible and high quality community bus service to make part of or your entire journey (sic).
- There will be a lower risk of your child being involved in a road traffic accident regardless of where you live.
- It will be easier to access employment, training and education opportunities without a car.
- Improving and expanding Cornwall’s railway with our partners to provide a reliable core network and more frequent service linking the main Cornish towns to each other and the rest of the country.

There's absolutely nothing in these (or indeed in the rest of the document) with which I would disagree and I don't think anyone else would question the aims either. And that's part of the problem. I have yet to find a document which secures 100% support and yet is still both affordable and deliverable.

By setting a 20 year timescale, the authors ensure that there is no way any of them will be around to be held to account for anything which is not achieved.

For this document to be of any practical use, it needs to set out both a timescale for achieving the aims it sets and have a delivery plan to show how we will get where we want to be.

The plan is that the Cabinet will agree the document on Wednesday and it will go out for consultation over the summer before being signed off at the beginning of next year. I have asked for significantly more detail on the points I have mentioned above. It's a fine ambition to have and, if achieved, would be great for the residents of Launceston and the rest of Cornwall. But I cannot see it being realistic or achieveable and, if that is the case, then - regrettably - this is a missed opportunity.

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