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Call for rethink on devolved transport decision making

Decision makers must rethink the way they assess transport infrastructure plans in the light of devolution, according to a new report.

Management consultant PwC and think tank the Smith Institute carried out a series of round table discussions about transport infrastructure, interviewing key figures in the sector. The findings have just been published in a report called Full Speed Ahead.

Round table participants welcomed bodies set up to oversee regional transport strategy, such as Transport for the North or Midlands Connect.

But there was concern that increasing political devolution and the election of mayors in cities like Manchester, was not accompanied by protocols to ensure the best possible transport schemes and full co-operation between cities.

The report says: “It was asked if city-to city transport planning and decision making might become sub-optimal if some, but not all, cities have transport powers under the auspices of a metro mayor. It was said that burden sharing, for example, was difficult to achieve if there was no institutional arrangement and protocols to underpin collaborative transport deals.”

Round table participants also feared that smaller places could lose out on much-needed transport investment. “Poorer places in urgent need of jobs and growth are often the same places that suffer from lack of transport services and inadequate connectivity,” says the report. “Some of these disadvantaged places may be too small or unable to take on new transport powers and responsibilities.”

The report said culture of considering the value of regional transport schemes in terms of their cost should change. Impact of projects on economic performance is critical, as is the evaluation of schemes in the context of other schemes and their impact on other regions and sectors, it says.

PwC transport sector partner Grant Klein said: “Transport is inextricably linked to economic growth across the UK, with a much wider impact than just getting people from a to b. It’s clear central government and the national transport bodies see transport devolution as part of the solution to improve intercity transport connectivity, and plan for capacity and upgrades. It’s a change in mind-set that needs a different conversation and new collaboration between local, regional and national transport bodies, in their assessment, delivery and operations of new transport services.

“These new partnerships are not a substitute for sustained investment in the nation’s road and rail networks, but will help taxpayers get the most for their money by helping to prioritise and address local issues and allow for the development of more integrated transport service.”

Round table articipants also said that in many places transport services were too fragmented, partly because of the commissioning of services by different agencies. They called for more effort to ensure connections were being made between different modes of transport and between different places.

Smith Institute director Paul Hackett said: “We need a step-change in transport investment and a more joined-up and integrated city-to-city transport network.  Making the most of High Speed 2 and other major transport schemes is part of the answer, but the view from transport professionals and other stakeholders is that more must be done to improve and connect local transport system – especially between the core cities.”

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