We are starting to get more things right as a nation regarding transport provision – that transport improvements aren’t just about time savings on journeys, they have a fundamental impact on economic development. However there are some important issues and potential projects that currently fall between the major national networks and those that are the responsibility of local highway authorities. This is perhaps especially important in areas such as the south east where travel demand already significantly exceeds the transport capacity and there is a huge level of suppressed demand.
At the wider, national scale Highways England (and its equivalent in the devolved nations) are both providing the current highway infrastructure and maintaining it. They are also planning future developments having taken on the five year budgeting cycle developed by the rail network.
Clearly the network that Highways England is responsible for is of crucial, national significance as is their planning of further improvements. In the south of the country the increasing demand likely on the south west quadrant of the M25, whichever London Airport is chosen for expansion, and the problems on the A3 through Guildford are good examples of this.
However, below this national scale there is a huge gap in scale down to the local highway authorities – be they counties or unitaries. There are many potential projects within this gap that are of too great a scale for individual local highway authorities to address.
The gap is clear – but how should it be bridged? In particular how can a strategic case be made for major new projects that fall into this gap?
In the south, four LEPs are coming together to try and deal with this problem. Enterprise M3, Coast to Capital, Thames Valley Berkshire and Solent LEPs are initiating a study to consider their regional and sub-regional transport needs. They are doing this because they recognise that economic development and housing provision are crucially dependent on providing suitable transport links. They also recognise that it is easier for these LEPs to come together since that means that there are only four parties directly involved. Across the same geographic area there are fifteen highway authorities which make initiating and co-ordinating any work very difficult.
The study brief makes clear that a traditional transport economic case is not being sought, its outputs will set out the role of transport in raising productivity and supporting economic growth. It will cover both improved connectivity with London and be looking for other schemes that will strengthen existing, and promote, new corridors.
Whilst this commission is being led and managed primarily by the LEPs, it is being done on behalf of both the LEPs and the local highway authorities. There will also, naturally, be extensive liaison with Highways England and Network Rail.
It is intended that once the overall study has reported it will be possible for individual highway authorities to enter into additional contracts for bespoke pieces of work to identify and prioritise schemes within, or largely within, their own boundaries.
We hope that this project will help bridge the gap we have identified between national and local schemes in the south of England and look forward to sharing our experience with others once it has been completed.
Geoff French – Chair of Enterprise M3 LEP