Connecting places people and business while creating world-class places to live
In the final instalment of our special UKREiiF blog series, we focus on the panel discussion of Steve Scott, EMEA Future Communities Lead for GHD, about transforming transport and future-proofing infrastructure.
The hour-long panel session started by reflecting on how behaviours of the population and workforce have dramatically changed and accelerated post-COVID, impacting how we interact with the built environment. New ways of working have emerged and continue to be developed, meaning that we need to embrace opportunities to transform the future direction of transport. At the same time, it was also noted that organisations’ approaches to tackling the next steps with the industry supply chain are critical to achieving success. Communities must balance resilience, productivity, inspiration and connectivity to succeed, and infrastructure is central to achieving the right balance.
Funding and new ways of thinking
In tackling new ways of delivering transport connectivity within cities, funding was acknowledged as a fundamental component or constraint, with the panel covering the importance of greater government funding to help navigate the current post-pandemic recovery phase and bridge financial uncertainty. It was also agreed that the allocation of funding is equally important, which is reflected by the desire from some devolved governments to have greater decision-making powers concerning local investments. This led to international models of city and community investment and development (for instance, in Germany) being discussed and where the UK should look for inspiration and lessons learned.
The agility and accessibility of the UK’s current transport and logistics infrastructure were raised. More specifically, the fact that infrastructure is not typically agile and that, without predicting passenger movement or working/living trends in the medium term, an agile model that maximises the impact and output of the existing network is required. This is particularly key when thinking about the movement of food and modern logistics — for example, using the UK’s under-utilised rail network to transport freight instead of passengers or ‘fresh air’ can considerably help drive economic growth. In the meantime, the fact that 90 to 95 per cent of freight is transported by trucks, and one freight train alone would take 90 vehicles off the road, provided significant food for thought when shared by DB Cargo’s Kathryn Oldale.
Net-zero commitments and their impact on changing the face/relationship between transport and place were covered. More specifically, the discussions focused on how the UK can be agile and adaptive with its infrastructure planning and what the priorities for change are. Not suppressing demand, decarbonisation, electrification, improving and expanding the existing road network, and only investing in ‘must do’ activities were shared as possible solutions.
Adopting and evolving existing models that have worked in other locations, whether elsewhere in the UK (such as London) or internationally, was also explored. Plans by the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, to implement a new transport model in Manchester to revitalise public-transport usage were shared as an example of this best practice approach in action. The aspiration is to move to an integrated ticketing model involving a capped fee across Greater Manchester — the first model of its kind outside London. The model is anticipated to revolutionise UK-wide public transport, making it more affordable and aligned with passenger behaviour and demand.
Achieving inclusive growth
The panel concluded by recognising that change, especially when implemented at a city level, can cause disruption and alienate some communities from an access and equity perspective. Place-based approaches and using development work to generate community-based opportunities were among the key considerations shared in relation to achieving and spearheading inclusive growth.
Putting passengers at the heart of infrastructure investment and design was recognised as central to planning for future communities from a transport, economic and connectivity perspective. It was also acknowledged that data is important in consistently enhancing knowledge of passengers’ wants and needs and better serving local communities.