Together our networks form a transport system that is itself part of a much wider infrastructure system, one that helps define the fabric of our society. We all know that a failure to invest in maintaining our existing infrastructure leads to decline, not just in terms of infrastructure quality, but also economic competitiveness. It was no surprise that when reflecting on the Government’s focus on productivity many commentators focused on the critical importance of transport.
Increasingly our expectations as businesses, as individuals, as consumers of transport is for a transport system that provides us with choice, that is reliable, one that has the capability to deal not only with growth but also changes in the way we conduct our lives.
Little surprise then that our transport infrastructure has to cope with so many pressures – the need to cater for longer-distance movements whilst respecting local priorities and sensitivities; the need to manage the impact of existing movement whilst also enabling growth to take place; the need to maintain what we have whilst also investing in the capacity required to support growth.
These pressures are played out no more explicitly than across England’s Economic Heartland Strategic Alliance – a partnership of Local Transport Authorities and Local Enterprise Partnerships.
Originally an initiative of the Political leadership in Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Northamptonshire, the partnership has recently welcomed Milton Keynes, Bedford Borough, Central Bedfordshire and Luton as the added value of strategic, sub-national planning is recognised more widely.
The Alliance area is at the heart of science and technology enabled innovation in the UK. It is an area of economic success, one in which investment in infrastructure delivers higher returns faster, an area that makes a financial contribution to the Chancellor that benefits UK plc as a whole. This success brings with it pressures on the transport networks that criss-cross the Heartland area; notwithstanding our economic success the productivity gap with global competitors remains.
In addition, our transport networks need to accommodate the flow of goods and people associated with growth right across the UK. Think of it: the flow of material through our international ports along the south coast from Southampton right round to Felixstowe, the overwhelming majority of it has to transits through the Alliance area – truly our transport networks are at the heart of the UK.
The Strategic Transport Forum is the Alliance’s response to the need for leadership on strategic infrastructure: a new sub-national partnership, one that comprises local partners, Government, its agencies, infrastructure owners and transport service providers.
Our purpose is simple: to provide the strategic leadership that enables our networks to be planned and developed as a transport system. It is our opportunity to provide clarity on strategic priorities that gives confidence to our existing businesses that their transport needs will be met, as well as encouraging new investors to come to the UK.
Working collaboratively we can ensure that the transport system is greater than the sum of the individual networks, that we share knowledge and experience to simplify processes, that we draw on the experience of the private sector to complement that of the public sector.
The Government’s introduction of an amendment to its Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill to enable sub-national transport partnerships is recognition of the added value of strategic planning.
The commitment to establish a National Infrastructure Commission on a statutory basis with a remit to consider transport infrastructure needs alongside those of digital infrastructure, energy supply and distribution, water and waste infrastructure is further acknowledgement of the critical importance of co-ordinating investment at scale.
Sub-national partnerships have the potential to use their experience on strategic transport to develop a comprehensive approach to strategic infrastructure more generally. That in turn would help the Commission ensure the UK plans for and delivers the infrastructure required to improve productivity to that of our global competitors.
Sub-national partnerships, such as England’s Economic Heartland Strategic Alliance, are opportunities for genuinely collaborative working across levels of Government, between public and private sectors. The opportunity is right here, right now.
Martin Tugwell – Programme Director, England’s Economic Heartland Strategic Alliance