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ICE policy position statement: a national transport strategy for England

03 July 2023

The UK’s long-term economic, environmental and social objectives aren’t being realised at the pace required.

Transport has a key role to play in meeting those strategic objectives.

However, England’s current fragmented system of responsibilities makes it difficult to ensure transport planning and investment is linked to delivering wider societal benefits.

Investment in England’s railways and strategic roads is determined on separate cycles by central government.

It also controls investment in the capital maintenance of local roads, bus support, and a myriad of smaller funding pots.

There are a range of subsidiary bodies responsible for planning around and maximising the benefits from these investments.

Those bodies would benefit from a clearer strategic framework that sets out what wider outcomes the government is seeking to achieve and how it wishes to see the framework of funding and powers functioning at the various, appropriate subnational levels.

By looking across modes and addressing the desired environmental, economic and social policy outcomes, a national transport strategy would provide a clear vision and set of principles for sustainable road and rail development.

This would help to align the work of engineers, policymakers, and other stakeholders involved in transport.

Earlier this year, the ICE launched a consultation seeking views on whether England needs a national transport strategy to provide that overarching vision.

This policy position statement draws on the evidence received from the consultation.

It makes several recommendations for why a national transport strategy is needed, what it could look like and how it could be developed.


A national transport strategy for England should be developed to set out an overarching vision of a sustainable transport network.

This should establish a ‘golden thread’ of desired outcomes across modes and levels of government by drawing together the existing array of strategies into a coherent framework and identifying and addressing policy gaps and areas of need.

It should set out how transport will contribute to delivering net zero and an equitable transition.

It should also identify other long-term economic, environmental and social priorities, such as economic growth, reducing inequalities and climate resilience.

This should clarify the role of transport in delivering them and the appropriate level of investment between modes and regions.

A future review should assess whether a UK-wide strategy is needed and how it could be developed.

A strategy for England is a pragmatic starting point and will address an existing gap in transport planning. However, this strategy needs to set out the wider national context in which it sits, and an assessment of which transport issues can best be addressed at a UK-wide level.

Further reviews could then assess both the effectiveness of the English strategy and whether and how a UK-wide strategy should be developed.

The strategy needs to establish a set of principles derived from its overarching vision that enable prioritisation of transport projects.

This should allow decision-makers at the appropriate levels to develop transport interventions that deliver outcomes linked to wider strategic objectives.

A strategy shouldn’t be a wish list of projects – but it should be supported by a pipeline of projects and long-term funding commitments.

The strategy should clarify the roles and responsibilities required of key stakeholders to deliver its overarching vision.

Bodies responsible for delivery need to be appropriately empowered and supported with long-term funding settlements.

Central government should be accountable for identifying outcomes, policy formulation, funding allocation and legislation/regulation.

The Department for Transport (DfT) should own the strategy.

National agencies and Subnational Transport Bodies (STBs) should inform the strategy and have the appropriate powers and resources to develop and deliver projects within their remit based on the overarching principles and within agreed constraints.

The National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) should also have a role advising the government about specific infrastructure requirements.

A strategy has to be a long-term process which is agile and manages uncertainty.

A strategy isn’t just a document.

It should set out a long-term vision of 20–30 years but needs to be dynamic to manage uncertainty.

There should be five-yearly reviews, which would enable politicians to influence it once in a political cycle.

A further ‘trigger point’ mechanism would enable a response to significant changes in the external context.

ICE policy position statement: a national transport strategy for England

Content type: Policy

Last updated: 12/09/2023

Author: ICE policy team

  • David McNaught, policy manager at ICE