Response to the Midlands Connect Transport Strategy Refresh. March 2021
Updated: Aug 30, 2021
Summary of Response
Economic growth in Herefordshire is identified in the high technology and engineering sector as well as agricultural diversification.
However, Herefordshire is often described as the forgotten county of the West Midlands.
Sustainable transport is a key feature in overcoming this.
It is imperative that improvements in transport and hence connectivity take due account of climate emergency and carbon emissions.
It is impossible to improve west-east road communication between Herefordshire and the West Midlands without considerable infrastructure investment which is contrary Herefordshire Council’s climate change and sustainable transport policies.
At a time when Economic Growth, Levelling Up and Climate Change & Carbon are major features of the Midlands Connect transport strategy, it is bitterly disappointing that there is no mention of the Herefordshire rail corridor, its potential and subsequent improvement. We notice with alarm that the Shrewsbury rail route is included but not poor Herefordshire’s.
That no action has been taken on including a vital Herefordshire track dualling scheme in either the Midlands Connect strategy or the West Midlands Rail investment programme is a travesty of biased transport planning in favour of roads. It is also symptomatic of the fact that Herefordshire remains a forgotten part of the West Midlands.
There is an urgent need to maximise the development of freight by rail, especially in the context of inter-modal rail transit, the development of freight concentration hubs (ref: HSTG report The Role of Railways in Herefordshire’s Future). A post-Covid readjustment of rail services can provide the opportunity for more freight train paths on the network.
We are pleased to see a small but significant section on the future of rural mobility in the refresh document.
Herefordshire is a rural county at the far south west corner of the West Midlands region. Its population is distributed between urban centres (City of Hereford and the five market towns) at 47%, urban fringe 11% and rural village and dispersed areas 42%. (source: Herefordshire Council population statistics). The county is a unitary authority and whilst its economy is primarily agricultural based there is a need for diversification if the economy is to grow. Such diversification is already taking place with the establishment of an Enterprise Zone at Hereford and the development of economic regeneration packages for the smaller market towns. Hereford, importantly has also become a university city with the creation of NMITE (New Model Institute for Technology and Engineering). Connectivity with the West Midlands Region as well as adjacent Mid and South Wales is an important part of this diversification and regeneration and Hereford Sustainable Transport Group (HSTG) are grateful for the opportunity of responding to the Midlands Connect Transport Strategy Refresh. Our response follows the three main critical thrusts together with the three areas of focus of the refresh document.
Economic Recovery and Growth
Transport and economic growth are interrelated. The growth anticipated in Herefordshire falls into the high technology and engineering sector as well as agricultural diversification in line with the UK’s need to move towards self sufficiency. The high technology sector does not require heavy or high volume transport but does require good ease of access to main centres such as Birmingham, London, Cardiff and Manchester. For the agricultural and food producing sector, quick access to main markets is important.
Herefordshire is often described as the forgotten county of the West Midlands and there is even a geographical misconception that it is part of Wales. To bring it into the West Midlands limelight is a major challenge. Herefordshire Council highlights some important facts about population. Herefordshire has higher proportions of residents in their early fifties and above than nationally and generally lower relative proportions of young people. There are two primary drivers of population change in an area - migration and natural change (the number of births minus the number of deaths). Since the early 1990’s Herefordshire’s population growth has been driven entirely by migration, since there have been fewer births than deaths over this period. (source: Understanding Herefordshire: Herefordshire Council).
To stimulate economic growth there is a need to reverse this trend as part of levelling up. It is possible that post-Covid a readjustment of population distribution will take place in the West Midlands and Herefordshire, as an attractive place to work and/or relocate, may well be in a good position to attract inward migration amongst the economically active mobile middle class professional sector. Sustainable transport is a key feature in this.
Climate Change & Carbon
It is imperative that improvements in transport and connectivity take due account of climate emergency and carbon emissions. Herefordshire Council’s recent decision to stop all work on a Hereford bypass and concentrate on sustainable transport measures is a major breakthrough for future transport planning. It demonstrates the seriousness that the council takes in respect of the climate emergency. Any subsequent transport infrastructure within Herefordshire in respect of Midlands connectivity will need to take due account of this important decision.
What are the areas of focus in respect of Midlands connectivity and transport as they affect Herefordshire?
It is impossible to improve west-east road communication between Herefordshire and the Midlands without considerable infrastructure investment which is contrary to Herefordshire Council’s climate change and sustainable transport policies. The main west-east road corridors are the: A44 Kington - Leominster - Bromyard - Worcester - M5 A438 Hereford - Ledbury - M50 - M5 A40/M50 Ross-on-Wye - M5.
Connections from Hereford to the national motorway network are afforded by the A49T south from the Enterprise Zone to the M50 at Ross and eastwards via the A438 and Ledbury bypass to the M50.
North - south communication with the North West and South Wales is afforded by the A49T.
The difficulty and undesirability of improving the existing west-east road system leads to the consideration of rail as a major factor in the Midlands Connect Refresh. Herefordshire has three rail services and only four stations, Hereford, Leominster, Ledbury and Colwall.
Hereford - Ledbury - Colwall - Worcester - Birmingham Hereford - Worcester - Oxford - London Cardiff - Hereford - Leominster - Shrewsbury - Manchester/North Wales
The last of these services falls outside the remit Midlands Connect. Of the west-east services the Birmingham service is operated by West Midlands Railway as an extension of the Birmingham and Worcester areas suburban service. The London service is operated by Great Western Trains. Both services suffer from considerable problems of reliability in Herefordshire. This is due to the single line sections between Great Malvern and Ledbury and again between Ledbury and Shelwick Junction, Hereford. Not only is the current service frequently disrupted but such single line sections preclude any future improvements to the service.
At a time when Economic Growth, Levelling Up and Climate Change & Carbon are major features of Midland Connects transport strategy, it is bitterly disappointing that there is no mention of the Herefordshire rail corridor, its potential and subsequent improvement. We notice with alarm that the Shrewsbury rail route is included but not poor Herefordshire’s.
In 2014 the Marches Local Enterprise Partnership commissioned a Marches Rail Study. The report identified a number of issues and potential solutions which included a priority rating for reinstating double track on the rail sections mentioned above. In 2020 HSTG published a report The Role of Railways in Herefordshire’s Future which included extracts from the LEP report. That no action has been taken on including this vital track dualling scheme in either the Midlands Connect strategy or the West Midlands Rail investment programme is a travesty of biased transport planning in favour of roads. It is also symptomatic of the fact that Herefordshire remains a forgotten part of the West Midlands.
The HSTG report further highlights the need to consider the development of freight by rail, especially in the context of inter-modal rail transit, the development of freight concentration
hubs (e.g. the Hereford Enterprise Zone) and onward distribution of goods by light electric commercial vehicles. The later is in line with carbon emission reduction and removing HGV from our towns. There needs to be greater emphasis on freight by rail.
The HSTG Rail Report is forwarded separately to this response. (and available here)
Technology & the Future of Mobility
In a post-Covid/post-Brexit situation the future of mobility is going to change. It has to change, especially in respect of the urgent need to seriously address the climate emergency with regard to transport carbon emissions. The forecasts are that the demand for travel overall will decrease with changes in economic and social patterns and the emergence of a return to localism. Herefordshire and a progressive unitary authority are well placed to adapt to these changes, attract inward investment and migration and establish an economic and social pattern suitable to the 21st century and beyond. Reliance on the need for car travel is set to decrease, especially in the context of long distance journeys which is where it is important that considerable rail improvements are seriously considered as the most important part of the Midlands Connect Refresh.
We are pleased to see a small but significant section on the future of rural mobility in the refresh document. That Midlands Connect is exploring the idea of mobility hubs in rural areas, which could link communities to transport, healthcare and other services, while also working with local councils to examine how technology could improve mobility we consider a very positive move. This runs in parallel with HSTG studies and the development of a Herefordshire Bus Strategy and we would wish to be kept informed of Midlands Connect work in this respect.
There is only one logical and important conclusion. The improvement of rail communication between Herefordshire and the Midlands is paramount. The capital scheme to double the line between Great Malvern and Hereford must be brought forward in the West Midlands Rail investment programme. Without it, economic growth, a levelling up and sustainability in transport connectivity for Herefordshire will be stifled. Herefordshire will remain a forgotten Midlands backwater.