MORE THAN half of small towns in the south west have such bad transport connectivity that they are considered to be living in ‘transport deserts’ or are at imminent risk of becoming one, according to CPRE.

New research from the countryside charity has revealed that nearly one million people (975,227) who live in these towns have no option for convenient and affordable public transport.

A ‘transport desert’ occurs when a community lacks the public transport options for residents to be able to conveniently travel on a day to day basis without driving. The research, conducted by the Campaign for Better Transport (CBT) for CPRE, is the first attempt to develop a scoring system to rank the public transport options available to rural communities.

Public transport services, including bus, train and community transport options, were scored in over 160 locations in the south west against their accessibility and frequency. The analysis has shown that in 56 per cent of the cases, residents who can’t drive or are unable to afford a car are at risk of being cut off from basic services.

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Crispin Truman, chief executive at CPRE, the countryside charity, said: “A thriving countryside depends on well-connected small towns and villages serviced by low carbon public transport that fit into people’s everyday lives.

"But it is clear that, outside of England’s major cities, communities are being left high and dry in ever widening ‘transport deserts’ with completely inadequate bus and train connections. And this is having dramatic effect on rural communities – young people are compelled to move away, older people are left isolated and lonely, while less affluent families can be sucked into a cycle of debt and poverty.

“CPRE is calling on the government to act now to reconnect everyone with proper public transport options. That means establishing a dedicated rural transport fund.

"But recent government funding to re-open some railway lines across the country does not go nearly far enough – especially in the shadow of the 28.8 billion planned spend on roads. If the prime minister and this Government are serious about ‘spreading opportunity to every corner of the UK’ we need decisive action to stop the march of ‘transport deserts’.

The research shows that the lack of public transport in some counties is even more severe:

• Dorset: ten out of the 14 small towns in Dorset have become ‘transport deserts’ or are at risk of being absorbed into one. This is after 80 per cent cuts to spending on bus services in the county;

• Devon: 17 of the 25 towns investigated are in the same position.

Darren Shirley, chief executive of Campaign for Better Transport, said: "Nearly a quarter of the country's population lives in small towns, too many of which have become transport deserts.

"In some cases, towns which lost their railway stations in the Beeching cuts of the 1960s are now losing the bus services that were brought in to replace them.

"Weak transport provision is a major barrier to participation in these towns, affecting low income households, older people and those in education and training the most. A lack of sustainable transport options also undermines efforts to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

"Small towns have been sidelined for too long: the Government must act to reconnect these transport deserts."