Written evidence submission from Midlands Connect (MTP0022)
Midlands Connect is the Sub-national Transport Body (STB) for the Midlands and transport partner of the Midlands Engine. We are an independent partnership of Councils and Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), funded by Government to research, identify, develop and recommend the strategic transport infrastructure requirements and priorities for the Midlands. Midlands Connect, therefore, has a strong and relevant interest in the appraisal of major transport infrastructure projects and welcomes the opportunity to provide the below written evidence. Whilst Midlands Connect has also contributed to a joint STB submission, the below provides more detail on our specific views.
Transport infrastructure strategy and priorities
Midlands Connect supports the need to deliver infrastructure projects better, greener and faster in the Midlands, as a significant part of the UK economy. We are encouraged that the publication of the National Infrastructure Strategy last November focuses on speeding up the delivery of infrastructure improvements. We will continue to use our major projects expertise and coordinating role to help accelerate major projects that will create extra capacity for people, businesses and goods on the Midlands’ roads and railways, future-proofing our region’s transport network for generations to come. We’re committed to working with our partners and Government to ensure the improvements are implemented as soon as possible, and to ensure we secure the best possible transport deal for the Midlands. Indeed, we are currently updating our regional Transport Strategy (to be published later this year), which will set out what we believe needs to happen to ensure the Midlands is well equipped to more effectively develop and deliver the infrastructure and connectivity it needs. This will incorporate several themes discussed here, particularly those associated with funding, capacity and skills.
To support the economic recovery, now, more than ever, is the time to invest in our roads, railways and the green technology central to our carbon-neutral future and we advocate the following:
The UK, on many measures, is one of the most spatially unequal countries in the developed World. The macroeconomic stagnation that many parts of the country have experienced since the 1970s is mirrored in patterns of transport investment and connectivity improvements that have occurred over the same period.
The best linkages tend to be radial routes from London and the South-East with other regions such as the Midlands. The lack of poor connections between non-core locations risks undermining the economic potential of areas outside of the South-East. The Midlands Connect programme seeks to address this by improving connectivity between the economic centres of the East and West Midlands and integrating the regional economy.
To be successful in transport terms, Levelling Up needs to occur on 3 levels:
It is important to review the long-term impacts of the pandemic and ensure that sensitivity and stress testing is conducted to give a view on the potential impact of the key drivers of uncertainty. However, there are many key schemes that are likely to be able to proceed on a no regrets basis, with HS2 being a key example.
How the country and our region decarbonise transport over the coming years is likely to be our single greatest challenge. We look forward to the publication of DfT’s Transport Decarbonisation Plan and welcome the more ambitious policy commitments in the Prime Minister’s Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution, accelerating the shift to zero emission vehicles.
As indicated above, Midlands Connect is currently refreshing its Transport Strategy, which includes a strong focus on a wider set of objectives, including an objective to positively contribute to the net zero carbon target by 2050. An important consideration within the strategy refresh is around how we develop schemes, interventions and programmes that contribute to this objective. This includes our programme of road investment schemes, whereby we are developing a holistic appraisal framework that considers the impact on the environment and the net-zero objective.
At the same time, we are in the initial stages of developing a regional-level transport decarbonisation pathway to help guide local and pan-regional Midlands priorities. This will have a significant impact on the focus of our work programme in the coming years and the major transport projects that we will be recommending for funding. While some infrastructure interventions, such as improvements to highway capacity, may, at least in the short-term, be forecast to lead to an increase in carbon emissions, this should be viewed at the holistic programme level and assessed along with potential carbon reductions from other schemes.
In addition to having created a carbon baseline tool to establish the scale of the challenge in the Midlands and the biggest modal contributors of transport carbon emissions, the following workstreams are underway and generating key pieces of pan-regional evidence to inform our pathway and recommendations for funding:
Appraisal and funding of transport infrastructure
We are, in general, supportive of the approach taken by the Green Book and sitting below it, DfT’s Transport Analysis Guidance (TAG), which provides more detailed methodologies that are applicable to the appraisal of transport infrastructure. The Green Book provides a clear framework to develop business cases and ensures that evidence is central to decision-making and schemes are brought forward that are consistent with ensuring Value for Money for the UK taxpayer. However, regarding decision-making there appears to be some general misunderstanding on the role of the Green Book and TAG and the interaction between the Economic Case and the other 4 parts of the 5-part business case; the Strategic Case, in particular. We therefore welcome the recent review of the Green Book by HMT and the clarity this has provided. However, with regards to the development of business cases, greater guidance and the proportionality of the analysis required by specific schemes, particularly at earlier stages of the scheme development life cycle, would be welcome. The costs and resource required to develop Strategic Outline Business Cases (SOBCs) is a frequent barrier to scheme conception and development and a problem exacerbated by the challenges in funding that many Local Authorities have faced in recent times. There is a danger that the pendulum may have swung too far towards a degree of excessive detail that isn’t always proportionate to the scale of costs of the intervention proposed and may be hampering the development of the infrastructure pipeline. That said, ensuring business cases are based on good quality evidence and are adequately assured, is crucial and STBs are well placed to provide that function along with prioritising schemes to present to Government at a regional level.
Whilst, as referenced above, we are broadly supportive of the fundamental nature and principles of the Green Book and TAG, there are several gaps and areas of methodology that would benefit from review, some of which are referenced in the HMT review:
In addition to these components of the Green Book, there are several gaps to DfT’s TAG that can risk the full impacts of schemes failing to be captured. These concern the lack of a methodology to appraise programmes of investment that include sectors beyond transport, the changes to economic geography that transport can generate (frequently called land use change) and the wider impacts of improved provision for freight.
Oversight, accountability and governance of transport infrastructure projects
As the Sub-national Transport Body (STB) for the Midlands, we research, develop and recommend strategic transport projects for Government’s consideration. As such, we have an ongoing relationship with the DfT. We have been in existence and championing the Midlands for over 6 years, having secured £40m in development funding thanks to local partners and Government.
As a maturing organisation with a track record in working successfully with Government, we are now working towards formalising our relationship through a Charter/Collaboration Agreement. We believe this is an important step in cementing our role in the way transport infrastructure is developed and delivered across the region, as well as maintaining the good working relationship with Government.
As such, we have submitted our Charter/Collaboration Agreement to Government. It is underpinned by key principles: consensus and one voice for the region, evidence-led prioritisation, and confidence in Government's commitment to the Partnership. It sets out what we promise to deliver as being:
Transport infrastructure capacity and skills
Shortages of pipeline capacity and skills remain a challenge to both the delivery of existing planned transport infrastructure and would face greater strain in the case of any acceleration of rollout. Whilst the focus in this area is often on the downstream end of the pipeline, such as construction, the experience of Midlands Connect is confirmed by the findings of a recent Capability and Capacity Review, whereby we engaged a wide range of stakeholders throughout the Midlands. A key conclusion was that skill and capacity constraints begin at the start of the whole scheme development process with many scheme promoters lacking sufficient resources to put into the initial development and testing of the initial viability of schemes. This reality risks leading to the neglect of the development of the best solutions to many connectivity problems and a lack of high value for money schemes being brought forward, an example being the development of major road network pipeline.
The Capability and Capacity Review recommended that greater resources be designated to both providing access to and developing the specialist skills to move business case development forward, with STBs such as Midlands Connect being well placed to aid the delivery of this capacity and coordinate across Local Authorities.