Bosses angry at roads snub
Aug 28 2006
By Emma Pinch
West Midlands business leaders have accused transport planners of snubbing them on regional policies which could impact dramatically on their profitability.
More than nine out of ten firms surveyed by the West Midlands Business Council and the Institute of Chartered Accountants said they were not consulted when vital decisions were made on projects ranging from road-works at motorway junctions to the phasing of traffic lights.
And as the boss of one of the area’s biggest haulage firms described consultation on the Local Transport Plan as “a sham”, a senior local politician accepted more needed to be done to involve the business community.
The WMBC membership includes the Confederation of West Midlands Chambers of Commerce, the Federation of Small Businesses, Heart of England Tourism, the National Farmers Union and the Institute of Directors. Of the 300 businesses quizzed, 93 per cent said they were not consulted on transport.
WMBC executive director James Watkins said: “There is a huge percentage of businesses saying that when it comes to regular consultation between local authorities and Government and the Highways Agency, there are still not the right mechanisms in place.”
He said businesses needed advance warning and the opportunity to comment on road projects, large and small, as the financial impact could be far-reaching.
“There is a danger that we quite naturally focus on the bigger projects which are also fundamental to people in the Midlands, such as widening of the M6. But the smaller projects are fundamental, too, to traffic flow across the Midlands.
“For retailers, loss of passing trade is an issue if the local high street is going to be dug up. They need to be able to adjust their business plans accordingly. It can impact on the retailer’s profit for the rest of the year, and the year after that as well.”
Mr Watkins conceded there had been a series of “quick win” road improvements across the West Midlands, such as the changing of double yellow lines in some places to single yellows.
“There is no doubt that progress has been made with local authorities responding with practical action to business concerns on transport, but there is a mismatch between good intentions and practical actions,” he added.
Figures from the National Office of Statistics show the West Midlands is one of the most congested regions in the country, with the average employee taking 27 minutes to get to work, longer than anywhere except London and Manchester.
Chris Kelly, chairman of Keltruck West Bromwich, branded the obligatory consultation over the region’s Local Transport Plan, submitted to the Government by local councils and Centro-Passenger Transport Authority earlier this year, a “sham”.
“Whatever they put in the draft of the Local Transport Plan just happens to come out in the actual plan, there are no aspects that the public or businesses are able to change,” he claimed.
Gary Clarke, chairman of Centro-PTA, said he accepted the survey findings and that there was room for improvement in the consultation process.
“I fully understand businesses want more consultation,” he said. “As far as Centro is concerned we try to work with the business community as much as we can. There are practical challenges in making sure we are communicating with every single group.
“It means everybody working together as partners and sometimes it is hard to know what is in other agencies’ minds. I think to an extent it has to be Government led.”