Case Study – West Midlands Combined Authority

  1. Mayor: Andy Street
  2. Political: Conservative-controlled
  3. Location: Summer Lane, Birmingham
  4. Key Facts: 18 local authorities and three local enterprise partnerships covering Birmingham, Coventry, Dudley, Sandwell, Solihull, Walsall and Wolverhampton.

Transport infrastructure will be critical to the West Midlands economic recovery post-Covid-19, according to Mayor Andy Street. “Despite the pandemic, good progress has been on our ambitious 20-year vision of how our towns and cities will need to be linked in the coming decades.  Our 2040 Transport Plan envisages 150 miles of new Metro lines, calls to reopen long-closed railway stations, as well as pioneering ‘Very Light Rail’ technology and driverless vehicles.”

In central Birmingham, the ‘Westside’ Metro extension from Centenary Square to Edgbaston village is set to open in late 2021 and work has started in Digbeth on the ‘Eastside’ line, which will take the Metro through to link with HS2 at the new Curzon Street station.

A key component of the plan though is to “level up” the West Midlands with the focus going beyond the Second City. Two of the largest projects are brand new stations for Coventry and Wolverhampton which are progressing fast.

Elsewhere on the railways, progress on plans to work with Government and local councils to reverse the Beeching cuts and reopen long-closed stations has been made. Planning permission has been secured for five new stations – including in the heart of the Black Country in Darlaston and Willenhall.

There are also plans for many more stations including in Wolverhampton, three more in Coventry and at the Fort and Castle Bromwich in North Birmingham.  The Metro section of the plan is also progressing at pace with diggers in the ground, laying track.

Huge progress has also been made on the bus network, which remains the backbone of public transport. The bus fleet has been continually improved, with new vehicles and cutting edge technology. In the Spring of 2021, 20 new hydrogen buses, which consume four times less fuel compared to diesel buses and cover 300 miles on a single tank, will be introduced in Birmingham.

Coventry has been selected to develop a business case to switch the entire city’s bus fleet to electric vehicles.  Then there is ‘Very Light Rail’, a pioneering concept that draws on design and component expertise from our auto industry to create a relatively low-cost streetcar system.

The Very Light Rail Innovation Centre, now being built in Dudley, will design and develop lightweight rail vehicles and include 2km of test tracks. It will test the new VLR system that is being built now in Coventry and will soon be rolled out in the city and hopefully more places across in the UK and around the world. In VLR, West Midlands industry is once again driving innovation.

“What the transport map doesn’t show,” says Street “are the numerous other schemes on the table to improve cycling, walking, and healthier ways of getting around which will also play a part in revolutionising how people move about the conurbation.”

“It’s likely the new post-Covid reality will see greater homeworking and a reduction in five-day-a-week commuting. I am working with Transport for West Midlands and the Department for Transport to ensure that the transport offer adapts to passengers’ changing requirements and priorities. We’re looking into options such as improving service patterns at local stations and introducing a new rail service to Moseley, Kings Heath, and Hazelwell stations. With a devolved, democratically accountable regional body at the heart of decision-making for the West Midlands transport network, we are able to assess and implement a transport offer that will work best for local people.”

Published by Never Going Back Book

Dad, husband, brother and son. Interested in travel, politics, sport, health and much more. Semi-retired and aiming to making the most of life as I approach my sixth decade.

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