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Transport for the North’s Decarbonisation Strategy: reasonably comprehensive, but there are 3 key gaps

04 October 2021

ICE members show support for the first coordinated climate change strategy for the North, but warn funding decisions are needed urgently to avoid cuts to public transport and capital projects.

Transport for the North’s Decarbonisation Strategy: reasonably comprehensive, but there are 3 key gaps
Angel of the North sculpture in Newcastle. Image credit: Shutterstock

The first regional strategy bringing together northern leaders to speak with one voice on the climate emergency has been published for consultation. Developed by Transport for the North (TfN), England’s first sub-national transport body, it aims to help move the North of England towards the ambitious goal of near-zero carbon emissions from surface transport by 2045.

Recognised as the voice of the industry, ICE presents a significant independent body of knowledge. A number of ICE members therefore reviewed the strategy, providing an informed response that drew on their rich diversity of experience.

Key messages for TfN

Overall, it was agreed that the strategy was reasonably comprehensive, well-structured and covered the key areas required.

In terms of policy gap actions for TfN to prioritise, the top three included:

  • Development and implementation of comprehensive plans for the regional public transport network. This was felt to be underway with evidence of good planning, but more focus should be placed on implementation.
  • Providing evidence and strategic support to partners to identify opportunities for shared mobility, recognising the huge differences between urban areas and city centres.
  • Working with the government to support regional coordination of measures to improve logistics efficiency, including consolidation centres, mode shift to rail and information democratisation schemes.

Understanding the changing landscape – the bedrock of strategy

Given the shift in behaviours resulting from the pandemic, in terms of demands on transport infrastructure, ICE raised the importance of fully understanding the different scenarios of mobility going forward, paying particular attention to the supply chains and freight distribution.

Members highlighted the risks of incorrect assumptions being made on future societal needs. Further strategy development will benefit from greater segmentation of the different users, such as; business vs leisure, high street vs supermarkets/out-of-town retail centres, school/college/university and health.

Demand reduction – a multidisciplinary approach

Members welcomed the strategy’s clear component of demand reduction and highlighted the crucial role of improving the passenger/ user experience to influence behaviour and the multidisciplinary approach required for the 15-minute neighbourhood concept.

Modal shift – The crucial role of interchanges

In order to encourage modal shift, members highlighted the potential quick wins available through TfN supporting the enhancement of the accessibility, comfort and functionality of existing transport interchanges.

In addition, members highlighted the key role that TfN could play in working with partners to deliver a policy for an existing or new train station within a minimum radius of every new housing development, with adequate parking including priority or reduced fee parking for zero emission vehicles and active travel provision.

Freight – remains unaddressed

While the members supported TfN's approach to developing a decarbonisation trajectory, it was noted that although the policy on passenger transport is in place, freight remains an unsolved complex issue, with a major role played by local and small businesses.

Alternative fuels

Implementing a cohesive charging network needs broad collaboration, joint economic appraisals, and master planning of infrastructure improvement.

As inclusivity and supporting sustainable growth is also in TfN’s remit, members highlighted a critical need for education and awareness, with particular emphasis on the inclusion of rural areas as part of the electrification strategy, recognising the potential disparity in affordability.

Implementing electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure will have a major impact on residents of the urban Victorian terraces found in northern cities. Greater innovation of the infrastructure is required so there is no adverse impact. This needs to sit alongside an enhanced public transport network.

To ensure the emerging role of hydrogen is focused on suitable areas, such as heavy transport and joint community schemes, TfN can use its position to support local authorities to embrace innovative solutions. This includes greater awareness of, and learning from, regional and national initiatives, such as the Tees Valley Hydrogen Hub.

Changing funding mechanisms

Members highlighted the need for due consideration to be given to the funding mechanisms, highlighting changes in revenue streams, valuing social and environmental impacts as well as the need for certainty.

A funding element that has not been properly addressed outside London is the increase in capital value, particularly the long-term value of an investment in terms of the social and environmental impacts. This 'value' must be quantified when appraising projects and programmes.

It is crucial that governments and operators take these decisions on funding soon. The costs of uncertain, short-term bailout packages without a clear transition plan risks a spiral of decline and cuts to both public transport services and capital projects that would take years to rectify.

ICE’s recent discussion paper on the future funding of public transport post-Covid, outlining the need for changes in revenue sources, whether through continued central government support, higher fares, diversified funding streams or new/devolved taxation powers, was highlighted as a useful reference.

Clean growth opportunities

The importance of aligning the transport decarbonisation strategy to the wider energy strategy was highlighted by members with further work required on the provision of electricity supply, including whole-life cost, reduction of transmission losses, supply for rail electrification and the use of hydrogen.

Further consideration of the likely scope of local power generation and community acceptance may identify further opportunities for clean growth.

As we face a transformation in our mobility mix driven by changes in society, climate and technology, the need for diverse informed engagement is becoming ever more critical. The ICE has a key role to play in ensuring that policy development is balanced.

In case you missed it...

  • Dr. Edwin Barker, ICE Fellow & technical director at AECOM