The “Translink” Luton Dunstable Busway scheme has been promoted since 1999 as the solution to public transport problems and road congestion in Luton, Liberal Democrats have always been sceptical.
When the Liberal Democrats took control of the Council in 2003 we made the decision to allow the process of development to proceed through the public enquiry stage. There were three reasons for this:-
1. Over £2 million of council taxpayers money had already been spent, primarily on consultants, to develop the scheme and to cancel it would be to write that money off.
2. We were Councillors not traffic and transport experts and we did not feel that we could objectively judge the best transport solution for Luton.
3. We had no alternative proposals.
The only other decision we made was following the pull-out by Beds County Council in February 2005, we would not change our initial view.
The decision of the Secretary of State for Transport in November 2006 to approve the inspectors decision supporting the scheme led to Liberal Democrats expressing the view that we would make a decision on whether to proceed with the scheme when we were satisfied that the capital funding was wholly provided by direct grant; that the scheme was cost neutral in revenue terms; and that the long term maintenance costs could be properly accounted for.
Since the Labour party has taken control of the council in May 2007, they have decided to continue with the promotion of the busway scheme and to commence the procurement process to appoint a contractor.
This represents a major change from the position taken by the Liberal Democrat administration and whilst nobody disputes the importance of improving the quality and frequency of public transport provision and of encouraging more people to travel by public transport more regularly we remain sceptical that this busway represents the best solution.
The Government approval for the scheme referred specifically to the service between Luton Parkway station and London Luton Airport and this section of the route is regarded as a fundamental component of the planned expansion of the airport and the redevelopment of Napier Park (the former Vauxhall site). However, the latest consultants report published in April makes it clear that this section of the route will be on the highway with all the benefits claimed for the segregated guideway being lost. The reason for this change is quite apparent. It is cheaper to construct in this way and that is the reason why the estimated project cost has not increased.
The consultants report also confirms that details of funding from the Department for Transport are required as well as a detailed analysis of the maintenance costs.
With £80 million of public money at stake, it is well worthwhile taking the trouble to satisfy all the essential details before committing to the scheme. That was and remains the Liberal Democrat position, clearly the Labour party are taking a more cavalier approach.