As the General Election approaches, policy makers from across the political spectrum must seek to accelerate the process for devolution of transport powers in the next Parliament and “seize the opportunity to unlock the potential of our city regions”, according to the ICE.
In its report Transport for Growth: Unlocking the Potential in City Regions, the ICE said the political landscape had changed with Scotland, London - and soon Greater Manchester - showing that locating transport power closer to those it affects can lead to greater focus, investment and better decision making.
It recommends the creation of fully integrated city region transport authorities with much greater responsibility for road infrastructure, all local public transport - and in some cases influence over national road and rail networks.
It also calls for funding from central government to be more flexible - with less competitive bidding for one-off funds, less funding allocations rigidly linked to Whitehall led themes and the end of annual allocations of funds.
As well, it suggested minimum three year funding settlements, allocated to bespoke city region strategies once developed.
The ICE, however, said city region strategies should derive from, and be underpinned by, an overarching national transport strategy for England to ensure they contribute to national priorities. It urged parties to act quickly in creating a national transport strategy.
Jonathan Spruce, Vice Chair of ICE’s Transport Expert Panel, said: “As we move towards the General Election, policy makers of all parties are seeking ways to get the best economic, social and environmental return on public money investments, and the devolution of transport powers to stimulate more balanced growth across the UK, is an opportunity at the forefront of the debate.
“The question has now shifted from whether this should happen, to how it should happen and it is time for all political parties to look more seriously at how to pave the way forward and seize this opportunity.
“This means making some specific changes in national transport policy to help city regions use their greater autonomy to the best effect and ensure it contributes to UK wide goals. We believe a clear, overarching national transport strategy for England is required, providing a basis for city regions to develop their own strategies.
“Once city regions have a strategy in place, their funding needs will become clear, and funding should then be allocated on a longer term basis - a minimum of three year settlements, and five years for major projects - offering stability and certainty.
“While there are some devolution success stories around the UK, we must understand that many are not yet equipped to establish strategies and assume the greater responsibility. There is also no “one-size fits all” devolution structure and the pace of reform will vary.
“It is important therefore that any future government resists the desire for standardisation and bureaucratic neatness, and is instead guided by the needs, ambition and the capacity of each area.
The ICE and its members will also play its part in ensuring the right skills and capacity exists to make the most of the devolution opportunity.”