Published: 13:01, 09 April 2020
| Updated: 13:19, 09 April 2020
Plans to create a transport "powerhouse" in the south east have edged a step closer after Medway Council's cabinet backed the move this week.
It comes as Transport for the South East (TfSE) prepares to put forward a proposal to the government, asking for powers which would allow the body to create an integrated transport network spanning from Hampshire to Brighton and Kent.
Medway Council's cabinet unanimously supported the creation of the sub-transport national body when it met at Chatham's Gun Wharf on Tuesday.
Cllr Adrian Gulvin (Con), portfolio holder for resources, described TfSE as the future "southern powerhouse" for transport.
He said: "This body will benefit the whole county - we must make sure the south east gets the infrastructure investment that it deserves."
A total of 16 local authorities are current members of the TfSE, which has existed in shadow form since June 2017 and whose membership includes Kent County Council and Medway Council.
In its proposal, TfSE leaders says the government has failed to properly invest in transport infrastructure across the south east, despite the region contributing around 15% of UK's goods and services in the last decade.
Planned transport infrastructure investment amounted to £1,307 per person in the south east, from 2017 to 2019, which was below the England average of £1,955; north west's £2,439; west midlands £3,029 and London's £4,155.
Medway council leader, Cllr Alan Jarrett (Con), said: "The south east is a vital contributor to the UK economy, which will only be enhanced by the region's interconnectivity."
Consequently, TfSE is seeking powers to support or oppose bills in Parliament, acquire land for transport infrastructure expansion, provide grants, and create an integrated smart ticketing system.
Under the new system, 54 seats will be shared among the 16 authorities, with Kent County Council distributed the largest, a total of 11, while Medway Council will receive just two.
When reaching a decision, a super-majority of three-quarters will be required, which amounts to around 40 votes.
Medway Council's opposition leader, Cllr Vince Maple (Lab), described the initiative as a "sensible" one and said: "I want to see all levels of transport decision-making devolved from central Government to local communities."
The vote share has been divided to reflect population sizes according to ONS statistics from 2016.
Kent has the highest at 1.54 million while Hampshire is the second largest (10 votes) at 1.36 million and Surrey the third (eight votes) with 1.18 million people.
Medway has a population of around 276,000. It's two vote share falls in line with the membership's other unitary authorities, including Portsmouth City Council, Southampton City Council and Brighton and Hove City Council.
Some councillors said they were pleased the local authority would finally be given a "voice" amongst the "top players" in the south east transport network.
"I want to see all levels of transport decision-making devolved from central Government to local communities..."
But, Medway Council's deputy leader, Cllr Howard Doe (Con), said: "I'm concerned that we, as an authority, get two seats out of a large number."
He later added: "But, on transport strategy schemes, we have a lot in common with Kent and together we can influence decision-making within this body."
TfSE plans to submit its proposal to central Government later this year once they have secured consent from all of its constituent authorities.
A final decision date has yet to be announced.
The Department for Transport has already awarded grants of £1.5m towards the body, with each unitary authority paying £30,000 each year and £58,000 per county council.
More by this authorCiaran Duggan, local democracy reporter