Time for change: collaboration needed to deliver national and regional transport strategies

A more collaborative approach between public sector development and transport planners could reduce the need for expensive and often unachievable infrastructure to support private sector development.

Integrating the rail network.
Integrating the rail network.
  • Updated: 10 May, 2021
  • Author: Dave Darnell, CEng, MICE, FIHT Chairman ICE South East England Transport Panel

As we exit the Covid-induced lockdown, it is an opportune time to reassess the UK transport network and future demands, whilst addressing climate change impact and overcoming the implications of Brexit. These three overriding issues are not mutually exclusive, and a single transport strategy action can apply to two, if not all three.

The lockdown has proven that there are different ways of working which, if supported appropriately, could reduce the demand on the transport network, particularly in respect of commuting into major centres. London, being at the northern boundary of the EU, has always been the UK focal point for European business, but is it now time to diversify and strengthen more regional centres.

The commitment needs to come from the public sector to provide the private sector with the confidence to invest away from the overcrowded south east. Connectivity, on a national, regional, and local basis will be critical to achieving this diversification and balancing of the economy.

Sub-National Transport Bodies

Since the Cities and Local Government Devolution Act 2016, a new wave of sub-national (or regional) transport bodies (STBs) in England have emerged.

STB Regions
STB Regions

Unfortunately, out of the eight STBs, only Transport for London and Transport for the North have statutory powers - an application by Transport for the South East (TfSE) being rejected in October 2020.

Although the regional structure has been a forward move by Government, this is only half a step unless statutory powers are granted. DfT could retain a management role and be responsible for inter-regional coordination and infrastructure of national importance, with the STBs taking responsibility for prioritising limited budget expenditure within their region and implementing the enhancement of the regional transport strategies.

England’s Economic Heartland (EEH)

Both TfSE’s and EEH’s strategies are comprehensive and have identified interventions to provide sustainable transport infrastructure within their regions into the foreseeable future.

However, as competition for funds intensify, some creativity and compromise will be required if they are to be implemented. Neither strategy fully encompasses ICE’s view for collaboration - “it would be beneficial for STBs to be mindful of links between economic infrastructure and housing so as to inform better decision-making about spatial planning and infrastructure requirements going forward”.

The inference being future housing should be located around existing infrastructure and strengthening it, rather than providing new infrastructure to support housing located in remote locations. Whilst allocation for housing and other development is the responsibility of local plans, housing developments and compliance with requirements is normally undertaken by the private sector.

There should be a focus on reducing the dependency on car journeys and the following are potential opportunities to achieve this.

Transport Oriented Development

The principle of Transport Oriented Development (TOD) has been touched upon in the EEH strategy and should be considered further to locate future residential and commercial developments closer to transport hubs. There are two approaches to TOD:

  • Transformative Transport Development (TTD), developing around and over existing transport interchanges, and
  • Transport Led Development (TLD) where new transport Infrastructure is built in advance of and to support development.

The latter is costly, but the opportunity exists with the commitment to East West Rail. However there needs to be a collaborative approach across sectors to maximise this opportunity.

TLD requires public investment in advance whereas TTD can attract private funding by imposing requirements on private developers to implement infrastructure and enhance the existing environment as part of any planning approval.

Enhanced Digital Infrastructure

During lockdown, a significant proportion of people worked from home including many EEH commuters to London. Provision of fast and reliable digital infrastructure will therefore enable better work options, either from home, travelling to work or a combination.

Whilst this is not a direct transport infrastructure intervention, it is an example of where collaboration could reduce travel demand and should be a priority in any infrastructure strategy. This has been identified by EEH, however, to facilitate new and strengthened existing networks, quickly and seamlessly, will require public and private sector collaboration.

Active Travel

To reduce car dependency, other options for journeys are needed. Invariably, local plan allocations for residential and commercial developments are in isolated locations requiring expensive infrastructure to be provided from either the public or private purse.

When planning for new development, active travel provision and links to public transport must be achievable together. Residents of new developments need to be given practical and affordable options on which to base journey choice, outlined in the graphic below.

Travel Options
Travel Options

Too many housing developments are being built with insufficient regard to the sustainability of the location leaving residents with no alternatives to private vehicle. Collaboration between developers and local government planners should therefore be high on any Transport Strategy priorities to support net-zero carbon targets, accessibility, connectivity and reduce infrastructure costs.

National Connectivity

In the Heartland, the Government has identified the Oxford to Cambridge Arc as a national economic priority.

It is surprising that the EEH strategy, has not specifically re-opened the debate about an intermediate HS2 interchange with East West Rail. This would enhance the future connectivity of the Oxford Cambridge Arc with the West Midlands and North of England, almost three hours currently by rail from Birmingham to Cambridge.

The Oakervee HS2 review states “HS2 should be planned as part of the national rail network. This includes links to existing railways”. HS2 is of national importance but does not link to a regionally significance scheme in the Heartlands. Surely this should not be the case if we are to have a connected net-zero transport system. Is it time to reopen the debate for such an interchange as life has changed significantly since original HS2 decisions were made?

The message is we need to think differently. A collaborative approach to regional transport strategies is needed to improve connectivity, minimise cost and achieve net zero carbon targets.

There is not enough funding available to satisfy every stakeholders’ aspirations, but collaboration and compromise on aspirations will certainly help to deliver a carbon free transport system.


Read ICE’s response to the England’s Economic Heartland draft transport strategy.

Guest blog

Dave Darnell BEng (Tech), CEng, MICE, FCIHT - Transport Consultant, WSP

*ICE welcomes guests to share their views about infrastructure policy issues on the Infrastructure Blog. These views are the views of the individual. If you are interested in writing for the Infrastructure Blog, please email [email protected]. ICE reserves the right not to publish articles that have been submitted.

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