Call for regional transport schemes to be judged by wider economic benefit criteria

Assessment of transport infrastructure project priorities needs to change to recognise more than just cost say experts.

Transport industry specialists, including leaders from local authorities and LEPs interviewed as part of a series of roundtables led by PwC and the Smith Institute said fairly assessing large transport infrastructure developments needed a new, more flexible and context specific approach. Doing so would recognise their transformational role in the UK economy. Failure to do so could risk leaving the UK at a competitive disadvantage.

"There needs a different conversation and new collaboration between local, regional and national transport bodies, in their assessment, delivery and operations of new transport services" - Grant Kelin, PWC

Participants said that existing approaches to appraising transport infrastructure had been useful when assessing marginal improvements to capacity that are funded by central government. But these methods are less suited when more transformational projects are planned.

The experts also called for more devolved transport decision making to ensure investment in an integrated and better connected transport network.

Participants at the roundtables recommend a new approach to appraising schemes to take account of issues including:

  • The wide range of different schemes being considered, particularly those with potentially transformational impacts on economic development, multiple regions, or sectors.
  • Increasing demand for appraisals to consider impact on economic performance rather than solely cost benefits.
  • Increasing focus on issues which relate to the environment and sustainability.

The views come as the government is expected to give more transport powers to combined authorities.  The transfer of powers to city-regions will be on a deal by deal basis and will now include a requirement for a directly elected mayor.  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.

Grant Klein, a transport sector Partner at PwC, said: “Transport is inextricably linked to economic growth across the UK, with a much wider impact than just getting people from a to b. It’s clear central government and the national transport bodies see transport devolution as part of the solution to improve intercity transport connectivity, and plan for capacity and upgrades. It’s a change in mind-set that needs a different conversation and new collaboration between local, regional and national transport bodies, in their assessment, delivery and operations of new transport services.

“These new partnerships are not a substitute for sustained investment in the nation’s road and rail networks, but will help taxpayers get the most for their money by helping to  prioritise and address local issues and allow for the development of more integrated transport service,” he said.

A major talking point at the roundtable events was the need for integrated, multi-modal transport strategies which can properly link local and national road and rail networks.

"In many places transport services are too fragmented, in part due to the commissioning of services by different agencies. While HS2 and Crossrail were examples of major project progress, participants said more effort was required to ensure that connections were being made between different modes of transport and between different places across city-region boundaries" Klein said.

Smith Institute director Paul Hackett believed a  step-change in transport investment and a more joined-up and integrated city-to-city transport network were required.  "Making the most of HS2 and other major transport schemes is part of the answer, but the view from transport professionals and other stakeholders is that more must be done to improve and connect local transport systems – especially between the core cities,” he said.

If you would like to contact Jackie Whitelaw about this, or any other story, please email