A new dawn for transport?

As England’s Economic Heartland (EEH) consultation on its outline regional transport strategy draws to a close, it’s refreshing that before any policies have been written, EEH has asked for input to help shape the draft strategy.  This draft will then go out for consultation next year with adoption of the final strategy by autumn 2020.

EEH appears to have set off on the right path, but more needs to be done to give greater clarity around its aims and aspirations.  One current ambition is for frictionless travel; but while it is a worthy objective between different sustainable forms of transport, it shouldn’t be an overarching theme.  If left unqualified, it could be taken as a green light for more road building in an attempt to try and reduce congestion and make it easier to drive.  That would undermine many of the strategy’s objectives, including encouraging a shift to active travel and public transport and improving place.

It is acknowledged that the strategy will probably need to go further and faster than many people realise if net-zero carbon is to be achieved by 2050, let alone at an earlier date.  It is also refreshing to hear it being said that business as usual is not an option.  However, a lot of road building still appears to be on the cards, something that will increase carbon emissions and set the strategy off on the wrong foot.

Meanwhile, Transport for the South East (TfSE) launched a three month consultation on its draft transport strategy on 7 October.  While it didn’t run a separate initial consultation as EEH has done, it did run a series of workshops with a more select audience to help shape its thinking.

To be fair, TfSE’s draft strategy does appear to have taken on quite a few of the concerns expressed around climate change. TfSE has also explicitly talked of the need to move from ‘predict and provide’ to a ‘decide and provide’.  One where we are not continually providing for ever more cars and instead are building towards a more people orientated vision.

However, after that it starts to go wrong.  TfSE wants the transition to a new way of working to happen slowly, meaning that it’s business as usual (more roads) for at least the next 5 or 10 years.  That’s 5 or 10 years we haven’t got and which of course pushes any difficult decisions beyond the current election cycle, so making it easy for politicians to sign up to.  As we only have a limited carbon budget, any delay in reducing emissions pushes us ever closer to a cliff edge, rather than a more controlled decline which is going to be challenging enough in any case.  In addition, TfSE’s preferred strategy would see active travel fall, something that cannot be right or desirable.

Both strategies will need to go much further on addressing the conflicts with climate change and both need to address how they contribute to staying within their respective region’s carbon budgets.  Something that isn’t mentioned in either at present.  However, they both seem to be prepared to challenge the status quo in planning new transport infrastructure, which is something to be welcomed given how the Department for Transport is dragging it’s heels over addressing carbon, increasing active travel or reversing the decline in bus journeys.

To help local groups better understand what is being proposed in the South East and to help coordinate responses to the TfSE consultation, we are organising a half day workshop in Gatwick on 16th November.  Please book a place if you are interested as numbers are limited and places going fast.

We also hope to run one or two workshops next year in the Heartland area (Swindon to Cambridgeshire) when the draft strategy comes out.  Get in touch if you’d like us to notify you about these.


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