Written evidence submitted by Transport for the North, Midlands Connect, Transport for South East, Transport East, Western Gateway, Peninsula Transport and
England’s Economic Heartland (MTP0032)

 

  1. Introduction

 

1.1              This is the joint submission from the Seven Sub-national Transport Bodies (STBs)[1] in response to the Transport Committee’s call for evidence in relation to their inquiry into the appraisal and delivery of major transport infrastructure projects.

 

1.2              The role of STBs as set out in the enabling legislation[2] is to identify and prioritise larger scale transport investment schemes in their areas to facilitate sustainable economic growth. They  bring a strength of partnership among their membership to speak to government with one voice.

 

1.3              STBs are working with their partners to develop consistent, clear, long term outcomes contained within agreed and evidence led transport strategies looking out over a 20-30 year period. They therefore have a role in the identification and delivery of major transport infrastructure projects, which has prompted this response to the call for evidence. 

 

1.4              In view of the timescales for the submission of evidence this response has been prepared by senior officials in the STBs.

 

1.5              STBs have a key role to play in the appraisal and delivery of major transport  projects and stand ready to assist Government in delivering the NIS in the following ways

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Transport infrastructure strategy and priorities 

 

2.1              The Government’s transport infrastructure priorities, including those set out in the National Infrastructure Strategy; 

 

2.1.1        We welcome the publication of the National Infrastructure Strategy and will have a key role to play in assisting the Government with its delivery. The NIS prompts the need for shifts of emphasis to the Government’s transport infrastructure priorities and in particular the way in which they are developed, appraised and delivered. 

 

2.1.2        This call for evidence seeks further information about the changes that will be needed in response to the NIS objectives on recovery and rebuilding the economy, levelling up the whole of the UK and accelerating and improving delivery in subsequent sections. However, there are a number of areas that we feel should be strengthened within the NIS:

 

 

 

 

 

2.2              The contribution transport infrastructure can make to the Government’s ‘levelling-up’ agenda and the economic growth of the UK’s towns, cities and regions outside London; 

 

2.2.1        The Government needs to be clearer about what levelling up means in practice. A number of commentators have identified the need for a clearer articulation of the disadvantages that the government is seeking to address (i.e. income, productivity, employment, health, educational attainment, and well-being). The what, where and importantly , who should be the targets of ‘levelling up’,  need to be identified to enable  the right packages of  interventions to be formulated[5].  Also, there is a need for a clear set of evaluation criteria against which progress can be assessed to help inform future decisions on the priorities for investment. 

 

2.2.2        Levelling up will require a place and programme based approach A key function of transport investment is the introduction of transport interventions, such as upgrades to existing road and rail lines, to stimulate growth by improving connectivity between people, businesses and places to generate ‘agglomeration’ benefits. To achieve this the social, spatial, environmental, technological and economic context of the place where the need  for transport infrastructure investment has been identified needs to be considered.  Moving forward agglomeration benefits are likely to be as much about ‘digital agglomeration’ as they are physical  connectivity  and  the approach to developing solutions needs to evolve to reflect this change.

 

2.2.3        The evidence led transport strategies that are being produced by the STBs adopt this perspective, enabling them to identify the infrastructure required to deliver an agreed strategic ambition.  These transport strategies will deliver programmes of investment rather than individual projects, with the impact of a programme being more than the sum of its parts. There is also the potential to link these programmes with other economic and social infrastructure investment programmes and ‘level up’ through a holistic place based approach.

 

2.3              To what extent the coronavirus pandemic and its longer-term implications affects the necessity and cost-effectiveness of current and future major transport infrastructure projects; 

 

2.3.1        The coronavirus pandemic has been disruptive but also presents opportunities. The coronavirus pandemic has had a profound impact upon every facet of our lives. It has reshaped the way we work, travel, and play, and has transformed the world in ways that would have been unimaginable merely 12 months ago.

 

2.3.2        STBs are working to understand the longer term impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. A number of STBs are taking an increasingly agile approach to strategic planning and appraisal for transport infrastructure projects. The experience of Covid-19 has reiterated the need to treat uncertainty as an opportunity, and approach it with the ambition and confidence. This makes it even more important to build tools that allow for more effective assessment of what these trend changes may mean. Both Transport for the North[6] and Transport for the South East[7] are using a scenario planning approach to expose and explore future uncertainty to generate a rich diversity of insights, including broader assessment of the interactions between social, economic and environmental aspects which affect how we will travel in the future.

 

2.3.3        Many of the changes that were occurring before the coronavirus pandemic have been accelerated. This includes increases in use of active travel, a step change in levels of remote working, and an acceleration in uptake of online shopping and, to some extent, greater use of electric bikes and scooters. However, we may need to adapt to (and take steps to mitigate) unforeseen changes such as short term increase in car use and low confidence in using public transport.

 

2.3.4        The agility developed through STB scenario tools provides the basis for further interrogation of evolving and new trends, based on evidence as it develops, with the aim of supporting an ambition to ‘build back better’. But this approach can also provide opportunity to shape longer term agendas (e.g climate change), rather than simply reacting to change. 

 

2.3.5        Implications of these findings for major transport infrastructure projects: 

 

 

2.3.6        It is too early to say what the implications for major transport investment. The pandemic has had a dramatic impact on transport, the economy and on peoples’ lives. There are still many ‘known unknowns’ about Covid-19 and its potential impacts. The recovery from the pandemic will likely take years, rather than months, and when the recovery does occur, the volume of users using different transport modes (and therefore, the form of the transport network) will likely differ markedly from current patterns. In view of this it would be wrong to either pause or stop or the development of major transport infrastructure proposals until the longer-term impacts become clearer. Planning must remain flexible and adaptable to ensure the best possible longer-term outcomes in this highly uncertain time.

 

2.4              How major transport projects can be delivered while ensuring the Government meets its decarbonisation 2050 net-zero targets;  

 

2.4.1        Changes to the way major transport projects are developed will be needed to decarbonise them. 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 in the Spring and welcome more ambitious policy commitments in the Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution including the commitment to  accelerate the shift to zero emission vehicles by ending the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans in 2030,  10 years earlier than planned. 

 

2.4.2        As STBs we would like to see a radical change to how infrastructure is appraised.  Firstly, we believe that carbon appraisal should be embedded as a core requirement from the very earliest stages of scheme development.  Secondly, we would like to see that a holistic view is taken where carbon is treated like a finite commodity and similar approach is adopted to the way we appraise a scheme’s affordability and value for money.  By appraising regional programmes holistically we are able to look across the board at how those programmes will help to decarbonise society and what contribution each scheme makes.   In this way we can determine whether we can ‘afford’ the carbon output of each individual scheme within an overall budget allocation.

 

2.4.3        Changes to the way transport projects are procured will be needed to help decarbonise them.  These include the following:

 

 

  1. Appraisal and funding of transport infrastructure  

 

3.1              The effectiveness of the Government’s decision-making and appraisal processes for transport infrastructure projects and any changes required to the ‘Green Book’; 

 

3.1.1        We welcome the recent review of the Green Book by HMT and the clarity this has provided. We also welcome 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. However, there appears to be some general misunderstanding about the role of the Green Book and TAG in decision making 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 and the opportunity for greater consistency and commonality in the approach to appraisal across Government departments it provides.

 

3.1.2        With regards the development of business cases however, greater guidance and the proportionality of the analysis required for specific schemes, particularly at earlier stages of their development would be welcomed. The costs and resource required to develop Strategic Outline Business Cases is a frequent barrier to scheme conception and development. 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 programmes of schemes at a regional level.

 

3.1.3        There are a number of gaps and areas of methodology that would benefit from a review. These including the following:

 

3.1.4        In addition to these components of the Green Book, there are a number of gaps in the DfT’s TAG that can risk the full impacts of schemes failing to be captured. These concern the lack of a methodology to appraisal programs of investment that include sectors beyond transport, the changes to economic geography transport can generate (frequently called land use change) and the wider impacts of improved provision for freight.

 

  1. Transport infrastructure capacity and skills  

 

4.1              The extent to which there is enough capacity and the right skills within the UK to deliver the Government’s transport infrastructure plans, and options to help address shortages in transport infrastructure skills.

 

4.1.1        STBs can help develop capacity and capability. England’s Economic Heartland is working with the Department for Transport to trial a regional centre of excellence: one that will host specialist skills and knowledge upon which their partner organisations including their local transport authorities will be able to draw on as they develop their proposals to the point of delivery. Midlands Connect are developing similar proposals specifically around business case development and a regional decarbonisation pathway. 

 

 

January 2021

 

 

Endnotes


[1] Outside London the seven STBs covering England are:  Transport for the North, Midlands Connect, England’s Economic Heartland, Transport East, Western Gateway, Peninsula Transport and Transport for the South East.

[2] The Local Transport Act 2008 (as amended)

[3] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lk8JbVYYuj0

[4] https://decarbon8.org.uk/sntbs-carbon-governance/

[5] http://www.frontier-economics.com/uk/en/news-and-articles/articles/article-i7182-levelling-up-getting-it-done/

[6] https://transportforthenorth.com/future-travel-scenarios/

[7] TfSE draft report, due to be ratified by the Shadow Partnership  Board in January 2021. https://transportforthesoutheast.org.uk/meetings/

[8] https://www.carbontrust.com/what-we-do/assurance-and-certification/pas-2080-carbon-management-in-infrastructure

[9] https://www.oecd.org/governance/procurement/toolbox/search/green-public-procurement-netherlands.pdf