TAPAS.network | 25 February 2022 | Editorial Opinion | Peter Stonham

Making the right case,
Using the right tools?

Peter Stonham

THERE’S QUITE A HEAD of steam building up for a long hard look at how transport investment fits into the UK’s wider economic, social and sustainability strategy.

Plenty of examples are cropping up that illustrate the issues - and they are complex and cross cutting.

In the present landscape there is, moreover, a big danger of different agencies and authorities ‘doing their own thing’ and claiming they are ‘meeting important objectives’ that might well be true - but could equally well be inhibiting or making impossible the delivery of others.

Joining the conflicts between enhancing mobility and economic development and achieving decarbonisation and dealing with Climate Change, is now the topic of “Levelling Up” and what it means for particular places.

This week sub national transport body Midlands Connect unveiled a major package of highway improvements across the North and East Midlands on the A50 and A500 corridor in a report under the title Levelling-up Stoke, Staffordshire, Derby & Derbyshire: The road to success. It outlines a series of recommendations for schemes to alleviate bottlenecks along the 90km long corridor, which links Derby, Nottingham and Leicester to Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire and the North-West.

quotations 5

There is even a risk of major infrastructure upgrades serving inter -urban and inter- regional corridors actually being at risk of ‘levelling down’ the places they pass through by visiting externalities on them, or just transferring value elsewhere.

The project might arguably bring benefits for a number of large manufacturers such as JCB, Rolls-Royce, Toyota and Alstom who use this key East-West route as part of their supply chains and provide links to international markets, which the report highlights - but is that really in the cause of ‘Levelling Up”? At least as defined in the Government’s very recent White Paper on the subject which set rather different, much more local, objectives for transport improvements to help marginalised towns and communities - and not much related to investment schemes of this kind.

There is even a risk of major infrastructure upgrades serving inter -urban and inter- regional corridors actually being at risk of ‘levelling down’ the places they pass through by visiting externalities on them, or just transferring value elsewhere.

It is a criticism that has been levelled at other ‘corridor’ schemes like the East London River Crossing being promoted by Highways England.

At the heart of these issues are potential conflicts between national, regional, and local objectives and agendas.

They are clearly not easy to resolve, but without even acknowledging them, there will certainly be no solution.

New approaches and tools will be needed to find a suitable path.

In that regard the Welsh Government’s willingness to try a new approach is commendable. As we explore in a News Extra in this issue The Welsh Roads Review Panel’s latest findings should be of interest to transport professionals around the UK for the way they tackle these challenging issues.

Until a few months ago, the £75m scheme to replace two roundabouts on the A55 Expressway in North Wales appeared to have unstoppable momentum. Funding was in place and the Welsh Government, the scheme’s promoter, gave the impression that the proposed grade separation ticked all the right boxes on safety, carbon, and journey times, with a couple of improved active travel bridges thrown in too.

Six days before the scheme’s public inquiry was due to commence in September, deputy climate change minister Lee Waters postponed all activity until the Roads Review Panel, chaired by Dr Lynn Sloman, had fast-tracked its scrutiny of the scheme. The panel’s report, now published, reveals that the scheme is incompatible with several fundamentals of Welsh Government policy.

Waters responded by cancelling the scheme and establishing a North Wales Transport Commission, chaired by Lord Burns, to undertake a multi-modal study in the same way as the 2019/20 Burns Commission which recommended on alternatives to building the M4 Relief Road at Newport.

The techniques and principles they use will be a fascinating case study for many similar situations around Britain.

Meanwhile the Department for Transport has just revealed a new toolkit to address the way transport schemes are examined against the Levelling Up mission entitled Transport Business Cases: The Levelling Up Toolkit. Strangely it claims to be designed “to help business case authors engage with and assess how a transport proposal contributes towards delivering the DfT strategic priority to Grow and Level Up the Economy” - which seems to pre-date the much more fine grained and locally-focussed definition in Levelling Up, Homes and Communities Secretary of State Michael Gove’s newly published White Paper.

The toolkit can be used in the strategic dimension in a transport scheme’s business case, says DfT, where “‘levelling up’ is a relevant strategic objective of the transport programme or project,” a statement which itself surely begs an awful lot of important questions.

Fortunately, DfT says “it remains open to views on the scope and content of the toolkit, which is a live document and open to change.”

Peter Stonham is the Editorial Director of TAPAS Network

This article was first published in LTT magazine, LTT840, 25 February 2022.

Read more articles by Peter Stonham
New priorities need new delivery frameworks
IN JUST OVER A WEEK’S TIME, the Chancellor will be delivering his Autumn Statement. In this, he will update MPs on the country’s finances and the Government’s tax and public spending plans, based on the latest forecasts from the Office for Budget Responsibility, and no doubt include a good dose of pre-election political positioning.
Time for Total Transport to come out of the DfT’s ‘too difficult’ tray
NEW APPROACHES to how transport is most effectively planned and delivered tend to be more usually developed in modal, technological, operational or geographical silos, rather than all-embracing new paradigms. Changes generally emerge from disruptive new players, particular entrepreneurs breaking new ground and taking risks, technological revolutions, or challenging local political leaders prepared to stick their necks out. These are rarely characteristics to be found in centralised bodies or public authorities — least of all government departments.
Putting Local decision-making in its proper Place
WITH LOCAL ELECTIONS about to take place, it would be nice to think that relevant transport issues affecting particular places and council areas would be suitably under the spotlight; and forming at least a part of citizens’ considerations for whom they should cast their vote. But, sadly, such local polls are invariably seen as an opportunity to pass judgement on the performance of the political parties at a national level, on issues that particular authorities are actually in no real position to do much about.
Read more articles on TAPAS
It’s people driving policy
THE ANNOUNCEMENT of a tough new approach to road investment represents another step in the radical changes that the Welsh Government is making to its transport policies, and in setting a direction which many hope will be taken up elsewhere around the United Kingdom.
Why we must recognise the true impact of climate change in transport appraisal
BEIS, supported by the Treasury, recently increased the recommended values per tonne of carbon used in policy appraisal and evaluation by a factor of about 4 (ie a 300% increase). These should surely also be used in re-appraisals, notably the current DfT review of the RIS2 road projects. It is an important admission that the economic analysis of climate change has not been given nearly enough importance, and entirely to be welcomed. The values are planned to rise steeply as the 2050 deadline approaches.
The Welsh Government Roads Review
The much-anticipated report of the Sloman review of road building in Wales, and the Welsh Government’s response to it, have been published. In a further radical step spear-headed by minister Lee Waters there will be a much reduced programme of road building and improvement to a very different set of criteria as recommended by the review panel. Peter Stonham and Rhodri Clark look at this distinctive approach, how it was shaped and the way it will be implemented.