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What happened when I brought together the transport boards of the South West for the first time

30 October 2019

Katherine Bright, ICE South West Senior Vice Chair and Director, Transportation at WSP, calls for feedback from stakeholders who were recently given an opportunity to comment on the region's transport plans. 

What happened when I brought together the transport boards of the South West for the first time
Katherine Bright, ICE South West Senior Vice Chair and Director of Transportation at WSP

A while ago, I thought it would be a good idea to pull both SW transport boards together in a room and let them explain their plans for the region, while also giving us, as stakeholders, the opportunity to comment on what we thought they should be doing.

As always, these ideas of mine normally end up with me organising something and making it happen!

I mentioned my idea in passing to Paula Hewitt from Somerset County Council and she agreed. She then discussed the idea with both Peninsula Transport and Western Gateway officers, who also agreed – the idea was now getting some traction…!

Fast forward a couple of months and I and Paula (luckily she volunteered to help me!) were fully engaged in making it happen.

Turning a plan into action

We'd finalised an agenda, sourced speakers and started promoting the event. We did try to get more diversity in our panel of speakers, but ultimately our speakers were the right people to be speaking on these topics.

After a slight panic on the level of attendees at the event and some last-minute promotion, the 2 October came and we had more than 70 people in the room.

Everyone turned up early for once, and there was a real buzz and energy about the room while people waited for coffee to arrive. Our day started with an introduction from Paula Hewitt who explained the purpose of what we were trying to achieve.

We then swiftly handed over to Andy Rhind from the Department for Transport, who gave us his opinion on the purpose of transport boards and how they should work, while recognising the status of both SW transport boards and the fact that they'd had barely any funding.

There was a glimmer of hope in his presentation that funding for them may become available next year – fingers crossed!

The transport boards' work so far

Councillor Geoff Brown (Peninsula Transport) and Allan Creedy (Western Gateway) then explained the work that both transport boards had completed so far.

This work, to start with, has been focused on road based schemes, due to the funding pots available. But they acknowledged the need for a multi-modal approach, and I'm hopeful that as the transport boards gain more status, there will be more opportunity to consider rail, walking, cycling and public transport schemes to improve access to all modes across the region.

Laurence Oakes-Ash from City Science gave a lively talk about what we should be doing if we were really serious about climate change (his blog is here for those that are interested).

The rest of the morning was given over to discussion from Andrew Page-Dove (Highways England), David Northey (Network Rail) and Simon Earles (speaking for Bristol Airport and the Port), who all spoke passionately about how important our transport connections are across the South West and about the airport’s current plans for investment.

Questions in our morning Q & A session centred around the need for both transport boards to come up with a joined-up strategy for rail and access to our ports, as well as how we engage with younger people and take into account social equality issues.

Also, the importance of the rurality of the region was discussed and how do we recognise the benefits of transport improvements to the rural community such that we can submit successful requests for funding.

Debating the future of transport

After lunch (which seemed to go far too quickly…) we had two debate sessions. The first on the cross boundary and cross-sector issues and the second on the future of transport.

Our first debate was successfully chaired by Richard Fish (current chair of the SW Infrastructure Panel) and it was clear that both Peninsula Transport and Western Gateway are already working closely together for the benefit of the whole region, but how do we make sure that boundaries don’t become an issue and we don’t just focus on the centres of each area?

On the whole, the travelling public don’t care whose network they travel on, just that it works.

The second debate on the future of transport was led by Matthew Lugg (Immediate Past President on the Chartered Institution of Highways & Transportation (CIHT).

Here, each table was given a topic to discuss around the themes of planning, digitisation, carbon reduction and future mobility.

Setting out the challenges

The challenge was laid out – do our authorities have the right support to allow them to embrace the future of transport?

On planning, there was general consensus that the transport boards can be helping to prioritise schemes to the benefit of the whole region.

If we're all generally making fewer trips now, how do we incorporate that into future planning scenarios, when all our tools are still predicting growth?

People haven’t really got to grips with the whole digitisation of things and we aren’t keeping pace with technology. Maybe the transport boards can help with the whole data piece and getting better use out of the data we have to enable better, more informed decisions.

We know travel patterns are changing, the rise of electric cars, shared mobility and changing working practices are all impacting on our more traditional, car-based travel behaviours – is it really right that we're still making decisions for 20, 30 years in the future based on old traditional habits?

Zero carbon should become part of our thought process projects and we should deliver a consistent ‘zero carbon’ message for everything we do.

All in all, it was a good day and an ideal opportunity to bring transport professionals together.

Get involved

There were several requests that we should do this again and I'm sure both transport boards will be discussing this. I have some takeaways from the event – it would be great if others can let me know their thoughts.

  • How do we bring younger generations into future discussions on transport – they will be the users of whatever we develop now. How do we ensure it meets their needs?
  • How do we make zero carbon part of our thought process?
  • How do we make sure the schemes we are delivering now, will be fit for purpose by the time they are built?

And before anyone says it, yes I will make sure there are copies of the agenda to pass around next time, I was just trying to reduce waste! 

  • Katherine Bright, ICE South West Senior Vice Chair and Director of Transportation at WSP at WSP