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Q&A: exploring a national transport strategy for England

05 April 2023

Sue Kershaw shares her insights on how an English transport strategy should look and how it can work in practice.

Q&A: exploring a national transport strategy for England
An integrated systems approach will provide better value and outcomes for the user.

Earlier this year, an ICE presidential roundtable invited industry experts to discuss whether England needs a national transport strategy.

There was broad support for a new strategy. But questions remain about exactly what to develop, how, and how to make it effective.

Costain’s managing director for transportation, Sue Kershaw, participated in the roundtable. She recently returned to the ICE for a Q&A interview to share her thoughts.

What should a national transport strategy for England look like, and how can it be effective?

It should look like something you want to read rather than a technical thesis!

The ICE’s Systems Approach to Infrastructure Delivery report is almost like a picture book. But it gives you the concept of integration. It gives you the idea of systems connectivity and the benefits it brings.

A strategy needs to be readable, descriptive, and exciting. If you make it digestible to the people who need this integrated transport, and get their support, then you’re halfway there.

Can you explain more about the role of an integrated systems approach to transport?

The UK is a system of systems. Everything depends on everything else. And everybody depends on transport: to go to school, to hospital, to work; to move goods around; to improve the economy.

It's the central nervous system of the UK. As a country, you want your central nervous system to work; this is the UK’s chance to do it.

An integrated transport strategy starts with these small hubs of integration that already work for customers. It joins those hubs into clusters, then links them to other clusters… and suddenly, you can see bulbs lighting up across the UK.

You have a movement rather than just another strategy. That’s the exciting thing – this can really change the way the UK works.

What lessons can the UK learn from other countries with national transport strategies?

It just makes economic sense!

You could get much more funding for a project if you made a case for how it integrates with other projects and modes and provides a better outcome for the user.

England is the most populous nation in the UK, yet it’s the only one without a national strategy.

Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and other European countries such as the Netherlands and Scandinavian nations have national transport strategies.

Imagine telling a policymaker in any of these countries, “In England, we just plan projects and deliver them. We don't join them up. We don't get the added benefits and social value of holistic thinking”.

They’d say you were mad!

What outcomes should a national transport strategy prioritise?

It should prioritise value for money.

Combining different modes and schemes, the district centres that feed them and the teams that look after them delivers efficiency and value.

This then attracts private investment.

When you have a private sector injection into an integrated transport plan, you get schemes like Liverpool Street station: a multi-billion-pound proposition wholly funded by the private sector, releasing public money for other things.

Attracting investment is a longstanding issue for transport projects in England. This then delays approval and delivery. How can we speed up this process?

One of the major issues is drawing in the supply chain early on.

Even when you have the ‘twinkle in the eye’ of an idea, loop in the supply chain. They can consider the various options and scenarios so that when you go to procurement, you will procure something you need.

Often developers go to procurement with an idea, and the response from the supply chain is that it isn’t buildable. It's going to cost twice as much. It’s going to take five times longer. And so on.

Why not do your homework first?

Finally, how can the industry demonstrate that all of this is possible?

We need to ask people to commit to it. Not just to agree that it's a good idea, but to devote personnel to ongoing delivery.

We also need to involve the people actually operating transport at the moment because they're the ones that know the industry best.

They know the systems inside out, how to maintain them, and how to build them. They know what happens when things go wrong and how to put them back together.

When I ran the Olympic Transport Board, we had representatives from every operator across every mode.

That many people should never work. But it did, because they all pledged one thing: to deliver by 7:30 PM on 27 July 2012.

We need to capture that Olympic feeling. The feeling that you're not just doing something for yourself, but for the country and future generations.

Does England need a national transport strategy?

Have your say in the ICE’s latest green paper consultation.

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  • Ben Gosling, speechwriter and policy content manager at ICE