Safe Net-Zero Access as a Central Focus of Transport Appraisal

How can we make investment in sustainable transport more attractive? This was the question I explored in my presentation to the Landor Local Transport Summit in Cardiff. Our planning systems for land use, transport and community planning seek to improve the wellbeing of all citizens but often struggle to get buy in from a sufficiently wide range of investors. The bulk of the resources available for transport investment are in consumer marketplaces, such as car purchase or parcel delivery, where there remains poor alignment between investment and the wellbeing of citizens. There remain many perverse incentives in consumer market design that work against the delivery of welfare for citizens. The last 20 years has taught us much about how to reframe these marketplaces to achieve consistency with sustainable development goals.

New approaches to transport appraisal at the turn of the century recognised that the supply and demand for transport should only be only one element of the future business case for investment. Business cases to create value from improved efficiency of transport were one important element. However business cases also needed to be based on transport’s effectiveness in reducing emissions, building more cohesive societies, and enabling economic competitiveness. If we want better opportunities and places for citizens then we need to design our consumer marketplaces accordingly.

The new community planning legislation at the turn of the century required local authorities to deliver a collective vision for people and places within all communities including for transport investment. Accessibility planning requirements were threaded through community planning to ensure that access to opportunity for all people was being planned and that access of key places was equitable and sustainable. The different approaches to implementing these approaches in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales allow us to learn from what worked best.

Investment decisions were fundamentally changed by the global financial crash in 2008. The cross-sector community level investment structures created over the previous decade were often insufficiently resilient, and many of the partnerships between public authorities and retailers, health authorities delivering access to services were replaced by narrower service delivery requirements. However, platform-based business models proved to be much more resilient in sustaining cross sector delivery because the relationships between customers and suppliers were more clearly defined and more agile.

Transport is a derived demand, and it is access to opportunities and capabilities that predominantly defines its value. My presentation in Cardiff suggested that we need a radical rethink in the way we approach transport appraisal to recognise how future transport investment will be delivered through smart platform-based business models for safe net-zero access. The transport appraisal toolkit must become far more easily customisable to the needs of service providers, lifestyle change, development planning, regulation and taxation to ensure that future investment is better aligned with transport policy than it has been over the last 20 years.

Participants at the Landor Summit observed that the links between transport and land use planning were currently more of a focus for transport planners than embedding a vision of the welfare of people and places in investment. The Well-Being of Future Generations Act in Wales is a very positive step to refresh the focus of community planning for the net-zero planning era. If transport appraisal does not shape the investment narrative for safe, net-zero access then others will step into the void left by transport planners. Smart City and Levelling up investment programmes are already  being used to fund legacy transport infrastructure projects due to a shortage of good sustainable transport investment opportunities. Electrification of buses, cars, and vans will be a small step towards more sustainable transport, but we urgently need to create a pipeline of other sustainable transport investment opportunities through partnerships with service providers, businesses, and local communities. As many authorities start to prepare a new generation of local transport plans and community plans the time seems right to ensure that every citizen can buy into a local transport platform that helps them to harmonise their day to day consumer needs with the well being of future generations.

My presentation slides are here.

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