By Daniel Hunter
Political disagreement on projects, patchy investment, inadequate maintenance and the absence of clear, strategic thinking is undermining the contribution transport infrastructure could make to economic growth, competitiveness and quality of life, according to the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE).
In its State of the Nation: Transport report published today, the leading engineering body calls for the creation of a comprehensive, long term transport strategy for England, joined up across different modes and integrated with strategies from the devolved nations. To avoid the failures that have blighted the implementation of previous transport strategies, it also calls for a “shake-up” of the decision making framework. This would include:
· The creation of an Independent Infrastructure Commission — operating at arm’s length from Government - to inform the development and implementation of a transport strategy and ensure it survives multiple political cycles. Such a body would also inform strategy development for other infrastructure sectors.
· The extension of devolved powers on transport - through the creation of more powerful, fully integrated transport authorities in city regions - so decisions on local roads, rail, bus networks, ticketing and fares can be made by those with knowledge and understanding of their area. Transport for London provides a good example of how this could be done.
· The creation of a special Transport Futures Board - to provide solutions on emerging politically sensitive and complex issues — starting with how we will pay for travel in the future, following on-going debate around the idea of road user charging.
Additionally, ICE calls for “immediate action” to improve the condition of our roads and end the short term approach to funding maintenance. It recommends a five year budget for the Highways Agency to replace the “stop start” annual funding, and commitment to a focussed, joint central and local government programme that finally clears the maintenance backlog — including filling millions of pot holes - and establishes a shift from reactive “quick fix” maintenance to planned, more cost effective regimes. The report highlights successful approaches in Wales and South East England.
“The UK’s ability to generate and sustain economic growth depends on the effectiveness of our transport infrastructure - it enables access to work and business, education, health services and the movement of essential goods into and around the UK," ICE State of the Nation Transport panel chair, Steven Hayter, said.
"Government policy affects every aspect of this, yet despite progress in the rail sector and some broad transport goals set out in the National Infrastructure Plan, the strategy and objectives remain unclear. In the last five years many of the most important issues — from aviation capacity through to severe pothole damage — are still unresolved.
“The need for a coherent, long term transport strategy - particularly for England - is becoming urgent. Without one, investments and improvements to the networks will continue to be delayed, uncertain, expensive to deliver and inefficient. We are confident Government recognises this, but it is time to translate intent into action. It has an immediate opportunity to show it is serious about creating a more strategic framework for transport, by bringing forward the delayed Green Paper on future ownership and funding of our strategic roads network.”
But Hayter warned that strategy alone will not deliver improvements. “Effective implementation of a strategy is also key and this demands political stability and a consistent vision. The mismatch between the long term nature of strategic infrastructure planning and short term political cycles has a negative influence, especially within transport. The decision making framework needs a “shake up” if we are to see the transport infrastructure we need actually get delivered and within reasonable timescales.”
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