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ICE green paper: does England need a national transport strategy?

30 March 2023

An accessible, reliable and low carbon transport network is essential to enable the UK to achieve its long-term strategic objectives, including net zero and climate adaptation, the Sustainable Development Goals and levelling up.

However, England’s transport network is struggling from the impact of decades of comparative underinvestment in some regions, overly centralised decision-making, and the continued effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

High inflation is also increasing pressure on capital investment. Important strategic projects, such as the Integrated Rail Plan for the North and Midlands, have been subject to long-term uncertainty and delays.

This challenging context means prioritising investment is more vital than ever, but decision-makers face difficulties in assessing which transport infrastructure projects to take forward.

The UK has a fragmented landscape of different modal, thematic and regional strategies and responsibilities.

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, each have national transport strategies. England, which has a much larger population, does not. Nor is there an overarching transport strategy for the UK.

This fragmentation encourages siloed thinking and results in transport networks that often do not operate as a coherent system or serve the needs of users.

Nor does it ensure that transport investment in the UK’s largest nation is directed towards achieving the UK’s strategic objectives.

The ICE green paper consultation

This ICE green paper focuses on why England could benefit from having a national transport strategy.

It looks at how national transport strategies work in other countries. It explores how a strategy could be developed and put into practice in England to strengthen decision-making and improve the lives of the people who use the transport network.

This consultation seeks to gather evidence and views from infrastructure professionals, civil engineers, civil society groups, transport experts and other interested stakeholders across a short number of key questions on developing a national transport strategy for England.

The questions are:

Understanding the challenge

  • Question 1: What are the key gaps and challenges within the existing approach to transport planning in England?
  • What are the long-term drivers of transport demand in England?

Achieving better outcomes

  • Question 2: Should a new national transport strategy be developed for England or the UK as a whole?
  • How would an overarching strategy strengthen decision-making, help meet the UK’s long-term objectives, improve infrastructure delivery and better the lives of the public?
  • What specific issues and challenges should it address?
  • How should a national transport strategy address connectivity between the UK’s nations?
  • How would a strategy for England be integrated with those of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?
  • Question 3: What role should different stakeholders play in delivering better transport outcomes in England (e.g. central government, subnational transport bodies, the National Infrastructure Commission)?

Developing an effective strategy

  • Question 4: What timeframe should a strategy cover and how often should it be reviewed?
  • Question 5: How else can a strategy be made resilient to political change?
  • Question 6: How can existing data be best used to improve transport outcomes – and what data gaps exist?
  • Question 7: What existing mechanisms and approaches could be used to achieve the desired integration if it proves impossible to get an integrated transport strategy off the ground?
  • Question 8: What lessons can be learnt from other countries with national transport strategies?

ICE green paper: does England need a national transport strategy?

Content type: Policy

Last updated: 29/03/2023

Author: ICE policy team

  • David McNaught, policy manager at ICE