Unpicking the infrastructure investment strategy

The infrastructure investment strategy gives weight to the view that done well, done sympathetically and done with communities and businesses, we can bring about benefits that are more than just the time it takes to get from A to B, says Rupert Clubb.

It has often been said that the beginning and end of a journey start on the local road network and for our communities it doesn't really matter what we call our roads, SRN, Local Roads, MRN and so on. For them it's how they get from A to B. They want to do this knowing it will be reliable, quick and safe.  

The Transport Investment Strategy sets out a vision for our roads network that recognises that we must fundamentally put the user at the heart of the decisions we make. It makes strong reference to the importance we must place on our environment and wellbeing. It is uplifting to see these words set out in a transport strategy document. This strategy gives weight to the view that done well, done sympathetically and done with our communities and businesses we can bring about benefits that are more than just the time it takes to get from A to B. It presents an opportunity to shape housing development, improve prosperity and to capitalise on new and emerging technology.

Local roads will always be important to local authorities, not least because of the sheer length of road that we manage, some 44 times the length of road than the SRN. It's also fair to say there has been a historic under-investment in our local roads. We know that for infrastructure investment to be successful in creating those vibrant, thriving and healthy communities we need to follow an asset approach which emphasises the importance of good maintenance. Investment in new infrastructure, strategic or otherwise cannot be at detriment to the long-term maintenance of what we already have. 

So, we have this opportunity, initially set out in the Rees Jeffreys Road Fund Major Roads report, which suggests not only an MRN but also, crucially, the ways in which funding could support it. We can all list our most heavily trafficked routes, the ones that without which businesses, visitors and residents themselves would struggle. What matters now is the outcome we choose for this potential new network. In some respects, it matters not who manages it; more important are the outcomes for the user.

Bring together a good quality strategic road network with a major route network that has for example, the right levels of investment to unlock pinch points and you almost have a recipe for success. Throw in the right level of investment for the local roads, including the necessary maintenance funding and the network can only provide a great user experience, provide opportunities for business and support our economic growth.  

It is too easy to think about new infrastructure, even though that may be the right solution. Our sub national transport strategies need to drive that particular set of priorities. And within those transport strategies we need to look at other ways to support the traveller. We need to consider, for example, how smart ticketing solutions can help with the user experience. We need to be mindful that at some point the internal combustion engine will become the enthusiast's choice rather than the norm. Our transport strategies not only need to consider the here and now but to look 20, 30 or 40 years from now. Our investment decisions need to be reflective of what a future network may look like. 

I think the Transport Investment Strategy sets the tone and gives us the springboard to consider this. As a strategy, I quite like it and it appears deliverable. The test will be how we rise to the challenges it poses and how the government supports us in doing it. It has also been said that fine words butter no parsnips - perhaps the first recognition of how committed we are will show through in the autumn budget on the 22 November. I do hope so.

Rupert Clubb is director of communities, economy and transport at East Sussex County Council. He will expand on his thoughts on unpicking the Infrastructure Investment Strategy and the interfaces across the SRN and local and major roads networks at the Highways UK conference on 8 November.