The view from the Arc


Last week The Oxford University-led Infrastructure Transitions Research Consortium (ITRC) published a report on the Oxford-Milton Keynes-Cambridge arc based on modelling that explores how infrastructure can be provided ‘affordably, securely and sustainably’.

Transport Network spoke to Professor Jim Hall, director of the ITRC and professor of climate and environmental risks at the University of Oxford, about the modelling and the report’s findings.

Tell us about the modelling behind your report

Professor Hall

This modelling we’ve done is exploring a small number of scenarios – housing scenarios, a single route for East West Rail and different options for the expressway.

We are demonstrating the capability to look across infrastructure sectors at the implications of the arc and how it might be delivered. We are hoping this will provide information for the many stakeholders in the arc.

On transport it’s a quite simplified strategic transport model; it’s not local transport modelling.

Part of the beauty of it is that we can look at the implications of large numbers of scenarios, not only in the arc space but within the natural context. We can look at a number of different scenarios quite quickly.

What would happen if someone wanted to apply your modelling to a different large scale infrastructure programme? Would they come to you and ask you to do it, or could they use the technique themselves?

We are very much committed to open source. All models and code are online. But to be honest, you would need quite a lot of expertise in the first instance. It would involve someone getting in touch with us. We’d be happy to see it taken up.

We would talk about some combination of [us helping and a contractual arrangement]. We carry out government-funded research and work closely with the National Infrastructure Commission, the Department for Transport and the Environment Agency.

Is it the sort of thing that sub-national transport bodies could use?

Absolutely. What this is good for is looking at strategic infrastructure policies. It’s not for a local junction design.

In the arc you have the England’s Economic Heartland STB. They seem to be perhaps more engaged in looking at the wider infrastructure picture than some of the other STBs. Are they the organisation that should be looking at all this in relation to the arc?

England’s Economic Heartland is important but so are the LEPs. There are three LEPs in the arc and the local authorities have got together and created a local steering group.

The report states that local authorities and central government have lacked independent systemic analysis. In terms of ensuring that the shift from road to rail identified by the report happens, who should be responsible?

Partly that is down to the many stakeholders to self-organise and work together. They will need some analysis tools. They have had consultants doing scenarios. They have not done (or have not published) any modelling – that has been left under cover. What we are saying is, we need a more open conversation.

We need to look at specific scenarios - we need something all stakeholders can congregate around and explore options.

So the transport and development options are interconnected in terms of what needs to be done to meet demand?

If there is development and new demand, sooner or later that will lead to congestion. There is an opportunity to get people shifted onto rail. That, as we know involves planned development about where housing is developed, housing density and proximity and proximity to the station. That all needs to be planned in a joined up way.

There is an opportunity to get it right but it could be got wrong as an expressway and rail line are being planned at the same time.

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