David Cameron: "I'll help drive out Bristol's congestion"
By The Bristol Post | Tuesday, November 13, 2012, 08:00
DAVID Cameron has opened the door to help Bristol sort out its chronic traffic congestion.
Prime Minister David Cameron during a cabinet meeting at John Cabot Academy, Kingswood
Prime Minister David Cameron takes questions from students at John Cabot Academy, Kingswood
In an exclusive interview with The Post, the Prime Minister has promised to listen to the city's new elected mayor over any proposals to solve the daily chaos which costs the local economy more than £100 million a year. But Mr Cameron said the mayor would need to secure the support of neighbouring councils for any plan put forward.
Most, if not all, the mayoral candidates agree that the best way to improve travel in the Bristol area is to set up an independent transport authority which would have the power to make key decisions. It would work towards what is called an integrated transport network, with trains, buses, other road users and even planes, cyclists and ferries all working in harmony to make travelling around the city and surrounding area easier.
Mr Cameron said: "I support the idea of an integrated transport authority, if the mayor can persuade me and work with the other surrounding local authorities to make it happen.
"The travel-to-work area goes beyond the city council boundary and therefore the mayor would need the agreement of the other local authorities. It's not for me to say it should happen – it is for the newly-elected mayor to take this to neighbouring local authorities and if they agree, then to work to make it happen. It has to be that way round."
Some of the mayoral candidates have made great play of extra powers which the Government is said to have promised.
Mr Cameron said the Government was negotiating a City Deal with Bristol which would allow local control over revenue from the city's business rates.
He said: "We are negotiating with cities to give them more powers and more money and in the case of Bristol, the mayor will be leading that process – that will be an opportunity to bid for more powers on, for example, planning, transport and such like."
Mr Cameron gave this advice to the new mayor: "Do the right thing for Bristol. Once the mayor is elected, their role will not be about politics, it's about service and standing up for all of the people in the city.
"It's about representing Bristol in the United Kingdom and showing its strengths to the rest of the world.
"It's also about working constructively with your political opponents, working constructively with other local authorities and working constructively with the Government."
The Prime Minister's comments were given a cautious welcome by a leading figure on one of Bristol's neighbouring councils.
The chairman of South Gloucestershire Council's transport committee Brian Allinson, who is also chairman of the West of England Joint Transport Executive Committee (JTEC), said: "Even though the four authorities have worked together remarkably well over recent years to secure unprecedented transport investment from this government, there's still much more to do when the new mayor is elected.
"Call it an 'independent authority' or a 'super JTEC' or whatever you want – the name doesn't matter.
"What matters most is that successful cross-boundary working strengthened in a way which doesn't risk democratic accountability, needlessly duplicate bureaucracy or impose a hefty new tax on households, which had been the huge drawbacks of old-style Integrated Transport Authorities, but which there appears to be a welcome movement away from."
The Post approached North Somerset Council leader Nigel Ashton but he was not available for comment.
Mr Cameron was in Bristol for a regional cabinet meeting – believed to be the first ever to be held in a school. His team of top ministers and cabinet staff held a meeting for more than an hour in a maths classroom at the John Cabot Academy in Kingswood.
Afterwards, Mr Cameron held a question and answer session with about 100 pupils from the Cabot Learning Federation, which includes ten academies in the Bristol area.
Cabinet ministers enjoyed lunch with students in the academy's canteen before visiting projects and initiatives in the Bristol area.
David Carter, executive principal of the Cabot Learning Federation, said he was delighted that the academy had hosted the cabinet meeting and the question and answer session.
He praised the students for the maturity of their questions and told them that the experience had given them a first hand insight into Government. Mr Carter said they did not necessarily have to agree with the answers they were given but it would heighten their awareness of major political issues.
Jon Angell, principal of the John Cabot Academy, said he realised it was a cliche but the day had been a once-in-a-lifetime experience for pupils, who could see the Cabinet ministers and the Prime Minister as real people and realise they could aspire to such positions themselves.