Delivering Future City Transport - Birmingham
February 10, 2014
How can our cities deliver a better transport infrastructure and system over the next decade and beyond? And what key steps need to be taken now in order to realise our cities’ transport vision?
This is the central question we are exploring in our roundtable series with the Smith Institute, bringing together city leaders and transport providers, the first of which was held in Birmingham on 21 January.
It was clear that the attendees believe there is a lot of work to be done and that transport investment is critical to the city’s future competitiveness and its growth prospects. But they felt that the link between economic growth and transport has not yet been convincingly made and that their ‘growth story’ has not yet been clearly articulated. In particular, attendees expressed a need to think beyond the city borders. As one commented, ‘Transport doesn’t stop at the city’s boundaries’.
In addition, given current fiscal constraints, the short-term nature of forward financial planning and the absence of local funding mechanisms, the inability to plan for the longer-term is seen as hampering the ability to think more creatively and on a larger scale. While they are currently looking at time-scales to 2017, the need to look to 2040 (and beyond) is seen as vital if a step change in transport provision is to be made. But the pace of change in business practice, technology and behaviours can also lead to caution - there is a worry that a longer-term vision informed by what we know now might not be resilient and might become redundant. We could be ‘planning now for something that might not be needed’. So, how do we plan flexibly when it takes 5 years to plan and 15 years to build?
The discussion also covered potential funding mechanisms that might be created so that there could be direct funding of projects without dependence upon central government. There was a general feeling that the current funding mechanisms are outdated and that having to compete against other authorities for funding from government limits their ability to implement their transport strategy.
More collaboration across the region is needed to agree the priorities for key investments that promote growth and positively impact competitiveness. There was much discussion about the viability of creating a cross-Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) Transport Group, an integrated combined authority and joint funding of projects, with the assertion that local authorities and LEPs must work together to not only prioritise schemes across the geographical boundaries but to create a shared narrative about the regional economy and its growth aspirations.
In the absence of certainty on long-term funding, there is a real risk that delivery will only ever be piecemeal and transport’s role in driving connectivity, competition and growth will not be fully realised. A strategy is a useful platform for wider engagement – but it is only a starting point.