DeHavilland has produced a transport round-up from this week’s Labour Party conference.
- Shadow Transport Secretary Louise Haigh was noticeably absent from most fringes and remained tight-lipped on offering any commitment as to whether Labour would deliver HS2.
- Industry and unions all called for more detail and clarity from Labour over policy proposals within the rail and bus spaces.
- Discussions around aviation were neglected, with more attention paid to freight and decarbonisation, with calls again for more attention to be paid to those in possible manifesto commitments.
Much like last year, shadow Transport Secretary Louise Haigh was noticeably absent from fringes. She made only one major appearance, at Transport for the North’s event alongside mayors Andy Burnham and Tracy Brabin, where she left early, just as the Q&A started.
The reasoning for her absence seemed to be Labour’s rowing back on support for HS2, with Haigh failing to commit to building it in full if they reach Government. In an earlier fringe hosted by the RMT, where she was again a no-show, General Secretary Mick Lynch was vehement about the need for Labour to follow through with their previous commitments across the transport policy space, including on renationalisation, rail infrastructure, bus franchising and decarbonisation.
Understandably, the main topic of conversation across the conference was how Labour would react to the Government’s decision to scrap the northern leg of HS2. The only announcement came from the shadow Chancellor’s speech, where Rachel Reeves announced she had commissioned Ms Haigh to conduct an independent review into the lessons learnt from the failures of the project.
At the TfN event, Ms Haigh did, however, announce that they would take a comprehensive long-term approach to rail reform. She committed to preparing a plan by the next election, with more detail expected in the coming “days, weeks and months”.
Much was said across transport fringes about the success of bus franchising by Labour metro mayors, with Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham praised wherever he went about the recent launch of the Bee Network across his city region.
West Yorkshire Mayor Tracy Brabin previewed that she would be announcing bus franchising for her combined authority later this week – an announcement happily welcomed by those in attendance.
Much like last year, a recurring theme throughout the c
onference was the need for integrated transport across the country, especially in rural communities. Industry panellists and unions alike urged Labour to develop a plan for how their rail and bus reform plans would be linked to ensure integration of transport services.
The dominant discussion during the BIG Transport fringe was freight, or lack thereof.
Panellists from across the sector and the two shadow ministers in attendance spoke of the neglect by the Government of prioritising this sector, which is critical to economic growth and the transition to net zero.
Emma Degg from the North West Business Leadership Team criticised the Government and media for framing the HS2 narrative solely around the passenger experience, arguing that capacity was being left out of the argument completely when it should be one of the core considerations.
Dafydd Williams from Associated British Ports highlighted to the audience that rail freight specifically could revolutionise the UK and put us ahead of our international neighbours if given proper consideration. He called on Labour to ensure that freight received enough weighting in investment plans.
Aviation was the one area neglected across the conference, with no specific fringes on the sector. However, shadow Aviation Minister Mike Kane told the BIG Transport fringe that Labour’s proposals in the green prosperity plan showed that they were committed to decarbonising the aviation sector – not just with sustainable aviation fuel developments but also across wider airport infrastructure.