Access all areas: EEH's Martin Tugwell on regional transport


As Highways England unveiled its preferred route for the Black Cat roundabout upgrade in England's Economic Heartland (EEH) area, Transport Network spoke to EEH's programme director, Martin Tugwell, about maintaining a complex balance between partners, priorities and transport modes on a regional level.


Routes and modes

'We need to change the way we look to plan the development of our transport system, move away from thinking in terms of trying to categorise people into groups such as ‘driver’ or ‘public transport’ because therein lies the danger that we inadvertently build in a bias that potentially reinforces existing travel behaviours when in fact we are seeking to achieve a paradigm shift.

We need to adopt an approach to the planning and delivery of investment in infrastructure and services that is focused on supporting our ambition to enable the economic potential of the Heartland to be realised: the vision for our overarching Transport Strategy is: ‘connecting people and places with opportunities and services’.

We need to better understand future connectivity needs – which will be as much about digital connectivity as it is about physical connectivity – and to create a sense of ambition around how we want our transport infrastructure and services to be developed as a truly integrated system (as opposed to a number of individual networks).

In other words, while our investment in new strategic rail infrastructure and services will create new travel opportunities it will not remove the need for investment in our road network – but what it should do is change the nature of that investment so that it complements, rather than competes with the investment in the rail network.

While we need to understand the drivers underpinning current travel choices, we must not inadvertently reinforce them on future generations by failing to set out a bolder vision.

Highways upgrades in an integrated system

‘It is absolutely essential we invest in our highways because of our transformational levels of growth. The existing network is struggling to cope with the growth we have already. However digital connectivity is fundamentally changing travel patterns, while East West Rail could open 5-10 years before the Cambridge to Oxford Expressway – and we know from experience that passenger numbers are likely to exceed forecasts.

‘The issues around East West Rail and the Expressway are an illustration of the challenges we have to address if we want to deliver an integrated approach. While it is great to see the secretary of state support the east-west railway, which he is driving forward, we know that whatever happens when it is up and running we will almost certainly have more passengers than we predicted. We are talking about a part of the country where people are used to using the railways.

‘If there is a certain amount of money for improving transport infrastructure, how do we unlock and deliver the most economic growth, in a way that complements sustainable travel and delivers net environmental gain? We need to do some further work on how to best spend that money.

‘If the driver here is improved connectivity, someone working in Oxford for instance might want more digital connectivity and if we are also trying to get net environmental gains and deliver more sustainable transport that must also be considered.’

Demand versus vision – moving away from predict and provide

‘The question is, how do we make connectivity easy for the public and give a them choices, rather than treating people as just train users or road users but also making the last and first mile top notch?

‘EEH understands this is about delivering economic potential. The ambition is to delivery on our economic potential and our political leaders are serious about doing that while also delivering net environmental gain. It is not growth at any cost. So we need to think about what we need to achieve as an outcome. We need to start thinking about what we need to achieve as a place.

‘We are carrying out a connectivity study and we need to work with planning colleagues to find where growth might take place. However we need to focus on where we want to end up. That way we move away from predict and provide by focusing on a long-term plan and where we want to be.’

Freight and passenger routes

‘One of the first pieces of work we commissioned was a piece on freight. If we don’t start by thinking about freight and logistics then we are not going to realise the best outcomes. That work is due to report in the next few months or so.

‘What are the freight options for the future? People are toying with the idea of hyperloop technology. We ought to be bold enough to think about strategies and technology that we can start to offer to other countries as a solution. We need to be bold and start to think about where we want to go.’

Government control and independent regional voices

‘We made a call as part of the budget submission last year that the Government should give us a sense of how much is available to be spent in transport infrastructure so we can sit down and have a conversation about outcomes, for example housing growth, digital infrastructure and business opportunities. We are looking into first and last mile connectivity, assessing the need for investment and assessing what the users’ requirements are of course.

‘We won’t let any funding uncertainty hold us back. We will crack on and think what is best for the corridor. However I think a funding envelope is eminently possible. We need to treat the Treasury as another investor. We need to secure private investment as well of course.’

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