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Last edited 20 Feb 2021
Connecting England's Economic Heartland
The Institution of Civil Engineering (ICE) recently made a response to England's Economic Heartland (EEH), written in consultation with members in the South East, South West and East of England, ensuring it was as relevant to the region’s needs as possible.
 Untapped potential
EEH covers an area which stretches from Swindon and Oxfordshire in the west across to Cambridgeshire in the east, and from Northamptonshire down to Hertfordshire. With the country’s two most prestigious universities and a number of science and tech firms headquartered there, the region is economically significant.
In a report on the Oxford-Cambridge Arc, the National Infrastructure Commission said the region could become the UK’s Silicon Valley, with the government since putting in place policies to realise the region’s potential.
The strategy is written with this in mind and acknowledges the challenge that the region faces, namely that significantly growing the region’s economy while realising net environmental gain is not something that ‘business as usual’ transport policies will achieve.
The responses to this Outline Strategy will help inform a draft transport strategy in early 2020, with EEH set to flesh out policies, proposals and projects within that.
EEH is not yet a statutory subnational transport body (STB) in the same way Transport for the North is. The intention is that, by producing a cohesive and coherent strategy on what transport infrastructure is needed to drive economic growth in the region, the government can formalise its role and provide EEH with powers and responsibilities to deliver the changes required.
But infrastructure is more than just transport. There are inextricable links between housing, energy and water supply, waste services and more.
As devolution policy progresses, it would be beneficial for EEH and other STBs to be mindful of these links between economic infrastructure and housing so as to inform better decision-making about spatial planning and infrastructure requirements going forward.
This was set out in the ICE's 2019 State of the Nation report on connecting infrastructure with housing, where we envisage the role of STBs evolving to essentially become subnational infrastructure bodies that bring together government, regulators, businesses and stakeholder representatives to create regional infrastructure strategies.
ICE believes the Outline Transport Strategy must be more detailed in its links between transport, other infrastructure and housing, allowing the region to reach its full growth potential over the next 30-year period.
The most prominent ambition in the strategy is to deliver a zero-carbon transport system in the region by 2050, which ICE has welcomed.
Consideration should be given to establishing a set of carbon budgets in order to meet this ambition and drive further carbon efficiencies. One omission in the strategy is any reference to charging points for electric vehicles and the role of connected and automated vehicles (CAVs).
The draft Transport Strategy should set explicit targets, such as stating how many charging points there currently are and how many there should be by 2050, as well as include analysis of the impact that CAVs could have on the wider transport network.
A greater focus on demand-side reduction is also required; building new connections may be the most suitable solution in some cases, but measures such as congestion/road user charging, and the application of workplace parking levies need consideration.
There are also areas outside EEH’s direct remit that we recommend they exert their influence on. If the ambition is for the region to become zero-carbon, it makes little sense for East West Rail not to be fully electrified, as is currently the case.
With technology changing rapidly, it is difficult to predict exactly how the digital landscape will evolve over the next 30-year period.
A question that the strategy must answer is how working practices enabled by greater digital connectivity will impact on why, how and where people travel and the frequency at which they do, including the potential this will bring for freeing up capacity on existing routes.
The implications of improved digital connectivity on future travel demand needs to be reflected in the design of the strategic transport corridors.
A copy of ICE’s response to EEH’s Outline Transport Strategy can be found here.
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