Full speed ahead: connecting cities and regions


What can be done to improve connectivity between cities and regions? This is the question posed in our latest report with the Smith Institute, Full Speed Ahead.

Transport trends are unequivocal over the next 20 years: there will be more journeys by car on the motorways and trunk roads; many more people will be using the railways nationally; and in London and other cities more people will be using the bus and rail networks.

As the Government’s National Infrastructure Plan shows, road traffic is set to rise by up to 57% between 2013 and 2040, and passenger miles on the rail network are set to increase by 46% between 2011 and 2033.

These trends will only strengthen with population growth and a growing economy. And addressing these challenges will require changes in policy, funding and infrastructure development if the UK is to maintain and improve its global competitive position.

Transport connectivity has improved in recent years, with more trains running between our major cities. In particular, connectivity between London and the major cities has improved – although it still takes much longer to travel by train from London to many of the UK major cities than from London to Paris. But as the below figure shows, the connectivity of some of the other major cities to each other (especially for rail) is well behind connectivity to and from London. Transport campaigners argue that even with HS2 nothing less than a significant and sustained increase in transport investment in existing networks will improve connectivity and see off a future of even worse congestion and more pollution.

Moreover, as the participants in our roundtable pointed out - a failing transport system with connections that make journeys longer, more crowded or more complicated will undermine national competitiveness and prosperity, and could exacerbate regional inequalities.

City-to-city connectivity by rail and road 2015



Both national and local government recognise that the stakes are high. In the PwC/Smith Institute survey of councillors with lead responsibility for transport in 2014, some 70% of respondents thought that in the near future public transport provision in their area would decline.

There are also frustrations locally about the way in which central government allocates transport funding to the cities, as well as growing criticism over the way in which transport projects are evaluated.

Local government continues to call for more funding for local transport services (especially for discretionary subsidised bus services) as well as for more investment in connectivity between neighbouring towns and cities.

The new combined authorities and their Passenger Transport Executives (PTEs) are also calling for more devolution of transport powers to city-regions on a similar basis to London. The government has started the process that can cede more transport powers to combined authorities, like Greater Manchester, although the transfer of powers to other city-regions will be on a deal by deal basis and will now include a requirement for a directly elected mayor.

Nevertheless, central government and the national transport bodies now see transport devolution as part of the solution. As we discuss in our latest report, Full Speed Ahead, this change in mind-set allows for a different conversation and new collaboration between local, regional and national transport bodies. These new partnerships are not a substitute for sustained investment in the nation’s road and rail network, but they should help to prioritise and address local issues - and allow for the development of a more integrated transport network.


Grant Klein | Partner
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