'Pitiful' railway speeds between Portsmouth and Southampton could be boosted if huge regional transport plan goes ahead

‘PITIFULLY slow’ rail speeds between Portsmouth and Southampton could be a thing of the past if political chiefs in Whitehall back a radical new plan to overhaul the region’s flagging transport network.

Leaders from authorities across the region have today united behind an ambitious proposal to give the south-east more power to determine how it develops its future transport plans.

The plea from Transport for the South East is designed to ‘power-up the region’s economic recovery’ from the effects of Covid-19 and ‘accelerate investment in sustainable transport’ as part of a 30-year transport strategy.

As part of the ground-breaking proposal, the government is being asked to give the region devolved powers to determine its own strategy.

A new transport overhaul could give the south-east region power to create a new high-speed rail link joining coastal communities from Bournemouth to Dover, boosting network speeds in Portsmouth.

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If agreed by transport secretary Grant Shapps and approved by parliament, Transport for the South East would become a statutory sub-national transport body with the ability to influence major improvements projects – including the creating of a high-speed rail network linking coastal communities from Bournemouth to Dover.

Keith Glazier, chairman of Transport for the South East, said: ‘The south-east is a true powerhouse for the UK economy, contributing more than any other region outside London. It’s the country’s principal international gateway for people and goods and drives productivity and prosperity across the UK.

‘Our transport strategy sets out how investment in a more sustainable transport network will help our economy recover and grow, delivering a green transport revolution that will create jobs, boost quality of life and help cut carbon emissions to net-zero.’

Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson, leader of Portsmouth City Council, said the new transport deal could boost the area's economy. Picture: Habibur Rahman

The bid has the backing of councils across the region, including those in the Portsmouth area, as well chambers of commerce, and local economic partnerships (LEPs), which in total represent more than 7.5m people and 300,000 businesses.

Brian Johnson, chairman of Solent LEP, said the deal would have the potential to ‘unite coastal communities in a way not seen before’ and improve regional networks and links to the capital.

He added: ‘This is not about building new motorways – this is about improving the region’s entire transport network as part of a green recovery (from Covid-19). This has got to be a good thing for a region.’

Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson, Portsmouth City Council boss, said the plan could have huge benefits for the Solent, providing ‘significantly better’ rail links.

Rail link between Portsmouth and Southampton could be boosted in a new regional transport deal. Photo shows a train arriving at Portsmouth & Southsea railway station Picture: Malcolm Wells (13722-3575)

‘It’s pitiful that it takes an hour on the train to get to Southampton,’ he said. ‘If you look at trains between other cities, it’s a snail’s pace. It’s no wonder everybody uses their car on the M27.’

He added the proposal could open the doors to create a new ‘tram system’ linking Portsmouth, Havant and Gosport.

‘This would be transformational,’ he added. ‘This would give people a viable and attractive alternative to taking the car.’

Among the potential powers the new devolved regional transport group would have would include the ability to implement road charging schemes and clean-air zones to reduce pollution levels.

Cllr Vernon-Jackson welcomed efforts to cut emissions but warned: ‘I worry about this because I think the decision about those things are made best by local people in the areas that are most affected. I don’t want somebody who lives in Kent making a decision about a clean-air zone in Portsmouth. They won’t know what’s going on and I think that’s something that should be made locally.’

Transport for the South East was formed in 2017 and brings together 16 local transport authorities and five local economic partnerships along with other partners including Network Rail and Highways England to speak with one voice on the region’s transport investment priorities.

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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