Bus on rural road
Mobility and transport
Mobility & Transport
A group of cross-party rural leaders, representing over 40% of the UK’s land area, have written to three ministers urging government to imbed a 'deeper understanding' of the countryside context when shaping the future of rural transport.

The main letter, sent to Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps MP on Friday, is a response to the Department for Transport’s future of rural transport call for evidence, which closes today. 

The call for evidence set out “to gather the views of all those with a stake in how our rural communities can benefit from transport innovation”.

The group, which forms UK100’s Countryside Climate Network (CCN), submitted a set of fundamental issues in its letter following conversations with Siemens UK and SSE at a roundtable on 21 January.

24 of its members, from Cornwall to County Durham, urged Grant Shapps to consider these critical issues as the department develops its vision for the Future of Rural Transport.

A call for adequate levels of seed funding from government are a consistent feature among some of the solutions offered by the network.

The group of rural leaders also wrote to Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government Robert Jenrick MP and for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy Kwasi Kwarteng MP.

They did this to encourage collaboration with their DfT colleagues to deliver comprehensive solutions to tackling climate change, “because for too long the solutions...have been considered in siloes”.

The collaboration they wish to see is to ensure the planning-related and energy-related considerations are factored adequately into the vision for the Future of Rural Transport.

Cambridgeshire County Council Leader and CCN chair Cllr Steve Count and UK100 Director Polly Billington wrote to the ministers on behalf of the network.

They said: “We are committed to delivering Net Zero within our communities, and as such are taking this opportunity to share firsthand the challenges we face in decarbonising our transport emissions. 

“Our hope is for you to incorporate this wider and deeper understanding into shaping the future of rural transport.

“We are also writing to Robert Jenrick MP and Kwasi Kwarteng MP in parallel, because for too long the solutions to tackling climate change have been considered in siloes and without clear determination of how governmental departments can and should work together to deliver comprehensive solutions, we will fail to tackle the climate emergency.” 

The network has called on the government to address the following issues (see them outlined in full in the letter to the Secretary of State for Transport):

Innovation beyond technology: Innovative thinking is needed beyond the strategy’s focus on technological innovation. This is to comprehensively tackle the decarbonisation and accessibility challenges that rural communities face.

Electrification: Rural network infrastructure from a transport point of view must be different from urban areas to account for rural citizens’ different needs.

Modal shift: Whilst EVs have a role to play, a shift away from single-occupancy private cars is required to decarbonise transport. This requires significant infrastructure and education to make active travel accessible. 

Substandard public transport: There must be urgent post-Covid investment to improve travel choices and connectivity, as well as a regulatory framework that allows councils to have more choice and flexibility with services and operators.

Understanding the rural context: Rural citizens are more reliant on cars because alternatives do not yet exist. More research is needed to understand the complex requirements, as well as stronger acknowledgement of the role lower tech solutions have to play.

Systems change: To deliver a successful future-based strategy, it is important to think long term. And to improve rural transport, there is a need for a consistent stream of long-term funding to address the inherent problems with the status quo.

Rural opportunities: There are burgeoning rural opportunities that have not been fully explored. There's a need to make space for rural councils to co-create their own solutions, listen to what their communities want and need, and make it easier for community-led initiatives to thrive.