In the Union Connectivity Review, Independent Chair Sir Peter Hendy concluded that the Government’s policies to build back better and level up require different, strategic cases for transport investment across the country. The review built on the ambitions of the Integrated Rail Plan (IRP), widening its scope from transforming connectivity in England to the rest of the Union.

Hendy’s Review emphasised economic growth, job creation and social cohesion, themes that have since been echoed by both Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.

The potential implications of this are far-reaching – covering a wide range of projects, from the pre-application stage all the way through to construction. If implemented, its recommendations will offer plenty of opportunities as well as challenges, with planners and contractors potentially having to navigate very different infrastructure planning systems and political landscapes at the same time.

The Review outlined recommendations to improve connectivity with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. In the Chair’s words, these provide ‘comprehensive, achievable and clear plans forward to better connect the whole of the United Kingdom’.

For Scotland, this could mean reduced rail journey times and increased capacity on the west coast main line, alongside an assessment of the east coast road and rail corridor.

In Wales, it recommended improving the North Wales coast main line and rail links to the Midlands from Cardiff. It also recommended improvements to the A55, M53 and M56 roads and the South Wales Corridor. As anticipated in our latest edition of infrastructure insights, it also recommends improving port capacity at Holyhead, identifying the North Wales Coast Line as a key route for communities and businesses.

However, Welsh MPs are asking why the Government has decided Wales is not entitled to a share of HS2 spending (as per the IRP), with Liz Saville Roberts saying it ‘reveals the reality of this union of inequality’. Such concerns highlight the importance of clearly communicating the purpose of reports and the relationships between them.

Over the Irish Sea, this could mean upgrading the key A75 link to improve freight and passenger connectivity (Northern Ireland).

The Report also recommended the following:

  • Design and implement UKNET, a strategic transport network for the UK. UKNET will assess and map out key points across the UK that are essential to stronger, more direct transport connections. With additional funding and regular review, this can better serve the UK’s social and economic needs.
  • Plan improvements using multimodal corridors to support levelling up and net zero.
  • Support the development of sustainable aviation fuel plants in areas that are particularly reliant on aviation for domestic connectivity.

The UK Government will now carefully consider these recommendations in detail and work to identify the solutions that work best for the people of the UK – although the Prime Minister has already committed to setting up UKNET: “If we want to truly level up the country then it’s vital that we improve connectivity between all corners of the UK, making it easier for more people to get to more places more quickly.

“Sir Peter Hendy’s review is an inspiring vision for the future of transport, which we will now consider carefully. Determined to get to work right away, we will set up a strategic UK-wide transport network that can better serve the whole country with stronger sea, rail and road links – not only bringing us closer together but boosting jobs, prosperity and opportunity,” he said. The Review was also praised by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.

The Review is a positive step towards a better-connected, more economically buoyant United Kingdom. But, its success will depend on the delivery of relevant, benefits-focused narratives and engagement tailored to local people. Associate Director Pippa Gibbs Joubert tells us more about successful engagement for infrastructure projects.

Copper will be at Highways UK next week (3rd and 4th November) in Birmingham – the event of the year for the highways and road infrastructure sector. Join us at our ‘attitudes bar’ (stand J102) to explore our industry insight, test your highways knowledge with our ‘name the road’ quiz or simply catch-up with a drink. If you don’t yet have a ticket you can register here. 

There’s a lot to talk about, but front and centre of many minds is the challenge of Project Speed.  The Government has committed to ‘building back better’… and faster. Account manager Joseph Moore examines the role of transport corridors in this vision and argues that communities must not be overlooked in our bid to ‘build, build, build’. Read his reflections here.

On 14th July 2021, Highways England launched its new public community impacts consultation for the Lower Thames Crossing, a proposed new road connecting Kent, Thurrock and Essex through a tunnel beneath the River Thames.

Copper has been providing consultation support for the project, which is part of the biggest investment in the country’s road network for a generation and an essential component in the UK’s future transport infrastructure.

The eight-week consultation will provide communities with an opportunity to have their say on the latest proposals to build and operate the Lower Thames Crossing, including how the impacts would be mitigated, changes made to the project since the design refinement consultation, and how feedback received at previous consultations has been used to develop the project.

Copper supported the preparation and delivery of the design refinement and supplementary consultations, which were launched in 2020. With Covid-19 guidelines and restrictions now starting to ease, there will be face-to-face public events for the first time on the project since 2019. For this latest consultation, a hybrid approach to engaging with communities has been adopted, with a combination of both digital and physical events and measures in place to ensure everyone can access, understand and comment on the proposals.

Nationally significant infrastructure projects, such as the Lower Thames Crossing, have an important role to play in supporting the UK’s recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic and future economic growth.

Copper will continue to support the Lower Thames Crossing as the project prepares for its Development Consent Order application.

For further information about the Lower Thames Crossing and the community impacts consultation, please visit: https://ltcconsultation.highwaysengland.co.uk/

 

This May, parties will face their first electoral test since the Covid-19 pandemic, and voters will decide who has the most compelling vision of Britain’s ‘new normal’. This will be a vision that needs to deliver for villages, towns and cities across the country, while addressing underlying changes to living and working structures.

We are following five battles across the UK, each of which will have significant implications for development and infrastructure plans locally and nationally.

The battlegrounds we are focusing on are the West Midlands Mayoral, the Tees Valley Mayoral, Northumberland Council, West of England Mayoral, and Thurrock Council. These elections provide an excellent platform to examine the influence and cut-through of the government’s levelling-up agenda, writ large in the commitment to ‘build back better’ through extensive infrastructure development.

About the West Midlands mayoral election

The West Midlands electoral area includes the metropolitan boroughs of Birmingham, Coventry, Dudley, Sandwell, Solihull, Walsall and Wolverhampton. It is a diverse region home to over 2.5 million people. The area has the potential to spearhead the country’s green revolution, just as it did in the 18th Century with the Industrial Revolution. The candidates vying to win the upcoming mayoral election will need to be bold, ambitious, and optimistic.

Runners and riders

(First and second choice prediction poll conducted by Find Out Now (FON) from 1 to 7 April and first choice prediction poll run by Redfield & Wilton Strategies (Redfield) from 18 to 21 April)

In 2017, the election was a two-horse race between the Conservative’s Andy Street and Labour’s Siôn Simon. Street won with an extraordinarily slim majority of 3,766 votes in the second round. This election is predicted to be no different.

Andy Street (Conservative)

FON poll prediction – First choice vote share: 45% | Second choice vote share: 52%

Redfield – First choice vote share: 46%

Incumbent Mayor, Andy Street, is pitching himself for a second term based on his record over the last four years. He claims to have attracted £3.3bn worth of investment in the region since 2017 and has committed to securing £10bn in his next term. He also wants to deliver 100,000 jobs in two years. He hopes some jobs will come from leading infrastructure projects like HS2. He is a keen advocate for HS2, believing that it will make West Midlands the heart of the UK’s transport system, attracting businesses to the region.

Street unveiled a £15bn metro and rail masterplan for the West Midlands in 2020, including delivery of eight new Metro lines and 21 new rail stations by 2040. Planning permission has been secured to reopen five stations so far. They are expected to open by 2023 and cost £61m. While Street is a keen proponent of the plans, he is not providing all the funding himself and is undoubtedly benefiting from government support. The Department for Transport is providing £20m, Birmingham City Council £21m and the West Midlands Combined Authority £21m. Street claims that he secured £250m from the government to extend the rail network in 2017 and promises to “bombard Grant Shapps” with plans for eighteen more stations if he wins the election.

Street’s green credentials are noteworthy. He wants to make the region net-zero carbon within 20 years. He will agree on a programme of new segregated cycle routes, hire a new Executive Commissioner for cycling and walking, complete the roll-out of the West Midlands bike hire scheme and deliver more hydrogen powered and electric buses, including making Coventry’s bus fleet all-electric. He believes his infrastructure and development plans can be met without impinging on the green belt, something that remains to be seen.

Liam Byrne (Labour)

FON poll prediction – First choice vote share: 38% | Second choice vote share: 48%

Redfield – First choice vote share: 37%

Street’s primary challenger, Liam Byrne, is positioning the West Midlands region at the forefront of the green industrial revolution. He wants to convene a COP-WM to bring important stakeholders in the area together to make the West Midlands the first net-zero region and the green workshop of the world. This translates into a new training and skills programme which will provide 200,000 green manufacturing and trades jobs.

Byrne will create a new Mayoral structure called GrETHA (Green Energy, Housing, Transport Agency) and give it £500m of borrowing capacity to deliver those projects. The structure will issue West Midlands Green Bonds to further increase funding. Unlike Street, he does not rule out building on the green belt.

On HS2, Byrne wants to accelerate the project to provide more jobs. He previously led a campaign against the Washwood Heath Depot because he preferred the land to be used as a business park. He has criticised the planned design of Curzon Street station and proposed that a new science museum be built in it. He wants the £2.75bn contract to manufacture the HS2 train fleet to be given to a firm in the Black Country.

Byrne has pledged to create a 10-year transport plan including the setup of a West Midlands Project Speed to replace Street’s tube map and see how the transport infrastructure programme can be delivered faster. He will urge train companies to move to electric or hydrogen trains and aims to continue the ‘very light rail’ programme in Coventry to provide a fleet of 100 shuttles and reignite the East Birmingham and Solihull Tram proposal. He wants to make Coventry’s bus fleet all-electric and half of West Midland’s fleet electric or hydrogen based by 2025. The 2025 target is ambitious and provides more certainty than Street.

Byrne has promised to roll out a walking and cycling network across the region to double cycling use by 2025, so 50% of all journeys in town and cities are either or walked or cycled by 2030. He will also appoint an active travel champion.

Jenny Wilkinson (Liberal Democrat)

FON poll prediction – First choice vote share: 4% | Second choice vote share: N/A

Redfield – First choice vote share: 6%

What makes Jenny Wilkinson’s bid distinctive is the promise to establish local Citizens’ Assemblies to help find solutions to challenges, including the climate emergency and system racism in public institutions.

It is unclear whether voters will buy into Wilkinson’s call for direct democracy. Considering the stunningly low turnout of 27% at the 2017 election, residents do not appear to be engaged.

Steve Caudwell (Green)

FON poll prediction – First choice vote share: 8% | Second choice vote share: N/A

Redfield – First choice vote share: 5%

While Steve Caudwell is unlikely to cause any major upsets, if the frontrunners can convince Green voters that they have the best environmental solutions, that might secure them the edge as the second-choice candidate and win the second round.

Unlike the other candidates, Caudwell wants to bring buses back into public ownership and end the West Midlands Railway franchise.

Pete Durnell (Reform UK)

Redfield – First choice vote share: 4%

Pete Durnell is an anti-establishment libertarian who previously ran as a UKIP candidate in the 2017 mayoral elections.

He is the only candidate openly critical of HS2, calling it a “massive vanity project, and clearly not the best way to spend £100bn”. Instead, he wants to spend the money on an integrated transport network.

Voters might select Durnell as a protest vote, so who knows where their second choice will go.

Local issues

Unsurprisingly, the key concern for voters is health. This comes after Covid-19 has ravaged communities over the last year, causing 100,000 people to lose their jobs. According to Redfield & Wilton Strategies’ recent poll, the key issues for voters are:

  •  Health (50%)
  • Policing (42%)
  • Environment (37%)
  • Economic growth (33%)
  • Education (33%)

Of those key issues (note: education not included), Labour is more trusted than the Conservatives to deliver on all key campaign issues except for strengthening the economy. The green revolution and infrastructure development is key to economic recovery in the West Midlands, where the Conservative’s Andy Street is perceived as particularly strong. While Labour is trusted to handle the majority of local issues better, the Conservatives are polling ahead. Could Street’s record on infrastructure make the difference?

Wider picture

Whatever the outcome on May 6, the future of the West Midlands region is integral to the United Kingdom’s green revolution and economic recovery from Covid-19. The future Mayor needs to fight hammer and tong for the West Midlands to ensure it benefits from government funding and plays its role as the second most populous region in the country. Byrne has already criticised Street for not being bold enough and planted his flag as the candidate to do it. He said: “People in the West Midlands can name Andy Burnham and they can name Sadiq Khan, but they can’t name their own Mayor,” he said. “Lots of people in the Midlands feel we now risk being overlooked.” Will voters side with Byrne or will they back Street with his infrastructure and development focused record as Mayor and background as Managing Director of John Lewis?

This May, parties will face their first electoral test since the Covid-19 pandemic, and voters will decide who has the most compelling vision of Britain’s ‘new normal’. This will be a vision that needs to deliver for villages, towns and cities across the country, while addressing underlying changes to living and working structures.

We are following five battles across the UK, each of which will have significant implications for development and infrastructure plans locally and nationally.

The battlegrounds we are focusing on are the West Midlands Mayoral, the Tees Valley Mayoral, Northumberland Council, West of England Mayoral, and Thurrock Council. These elections provide an excellent platform to examine the influence and cut-through of the government’s levelling-up agenda, writ large in the commitment to ‘build back better’ through extensive infrastructure development.

About the West of England Combined Authority

The upcoming West of England Combined Authority (WECA) mayoral election will be the second election since the Combined Authority’s creation in 2017. Whoever is elected will succeed the Conservative incumbent and inaugural Mayor of the West of England, Tim Bowles, who is retiring at this election.

All bets are off in terms of the outcome of this election for two reasons:

First, the combined authority is young and preceded by only one previous election, won by Conservative incumbent Mayor Tim Bowles. Turnout for this election was low at a time when WECA was still obscure for many, and there were no accompanying local authority elections to draw citizens to the voting booths.

Second, WECA is equally divided along party lines. WECA is composed of three unitary authorities, namely Bath & North East Somerset, South Gloucestershire, and Bristol. The leadership is represented by:

  • Liberal Democrat Councillor Dine Romero of Bath & North East Somerset
  • Council Conservative Councillor Toby Savage of South Gloucestershire Council
  • Labour Mayor Marvin Rees of Bristol City Council

This means that, apart from Conservative WECA leader Tim Bowles, the Combined Authority cabinet is equally split between three major political parties.

May 6th will also be the day Bristolians get to elect their mayor, with incumbent Labour mayor Marvin Rees running for re-election. Rees holds considerable sway in the region, being at the head of the West of England’s biggest urban hub, which could prove to be a determining factor in the outcome of the regional mayoral election. The two incumbents have had a tumultuous relationship over the years, with Bristol’s Mr Rees claiming that the city was being excluded from key decision-making, and Mr Bowles claiming that Bristol City Council was blocking the planned expansion of WECA to include North Somerset. Although they called a truce earlier this year, the interplay of influence and power between city and regional mayors will certainly evolve following the election.

Whoever is appointed WECA mayor will exercise key functions devolved from the central government, as laid out in the West of England Devolution Agreement. Among these are responsibility over the local transport budget, control of over £30 million a year in funding, power over strategic planning and a new key route network, and responsibility for the adult education budget.

They also face a challenge that the Combined Authority, however effective it might be, has arguably yet to establish itself as a widely recognised political force in the life of those in the region, with a recent survey indicating that the current mayor has been operating under the radar for many residents.

Embracing infrastructure opportunities in the West of England

At a recent hustings event, housing and transport emerged as twin themes.

Labour candidate Dan Norris highlighted the case for affordable homes and emphasised the need for funding towards council homes and housing associations, while the Green Party’s Jerome Thomas would turn to the mayorship’s hitherto unused compulsory purchase powers as a way to buy land for new housing. Conversely, Conservative candidate Samuel Williams spoke of a ‘need to engage the market’ and his desire to see the private housing market play a key role in his vision to build 130,000 new homes over the next few years.

The election takes place against the backdrop of critical changes in the region’s transport infrastructure, with the West of England Mass Transit Project in its early stages and the Joint Local Transport Plan 4 (JLTP4) in its first phase of implementation.

Liberal Democrat candidate Stephen Williams and Jerome Thomas both agreed that they would tell officers to stop working on new roads, with Stephen Williams arguing that he would stop road construction in order to ‘work up how bus franchising would work best’.

Pointing to the fact that transport accounts for 34% of carbon emissions in the region, Jerome Thomas reflected an overwhelming agreement among candidates that sustainable transport and policies aimed at tackling the climate emergency must be at the forefront of any and all programmes. This consensus is a sign of the times for a region where a transport overhaul has long dominated the list of local issues, and where two of the most ambitious transit and road plans in England are currently underway.

While all candidates share ambitions for long-term improvements to dramatically change the way people move around the West of England, they had diverging ideas on what these would look like. Other than ideas ranging from Samuel Williams’s suggestion for trams, to Jerome Thomas’s proposal for a green bus and taxi fleet, details on what a green transport revolution would entail for the West of England are still unclear. What is certain however is that people in the West of England are impatient for a revitalised transport system, and that the upcoming Mayorship will likely go to the candidate most able to distinguish themselves as a champion for infrastructure and an advocate for transport.

Wider picture

The role of infrastructure development in the election and in the chosen candidate’s success cannot be overstated, as the region attempts to impose itself as a powerhouse in the wake of sweeping Government investment in infrastructure, and as the country prepares to rebuild post-Covid.

While the election will close on May 6th, the real race could begin thereafter, as the newly elected Mayor will take on the challenge of raising WECA’s profile. Tough choices will ensue, with a need for all three authorities as well as neighbouring North Somerset to overcome divergent party-political lines to work towards ambitious regional policies (including the 2030 net zero target and Joint Local Transport Plan), and major projects like Mass Transit and the Spatial Development Strategy. For any party to succeed, they must ensure they have understood residents’ concerns and have developed a decisive plan to deliver meaningful and long-lasting change to the region.

Copper Consultancy will be providing ongoing coverage of the May 2021 Local Elections. For more information, please contact jonathan.surridge@copperconsultancy.com

UK roads, railways and airspace are some of the most congested infrastructure in the world. As demand increases, more people are searching for innovative, emerging technologies that could help transport systems become more efficient and effective.

In recent years, innovation has become something of a buzzword, so what do we mean by it and how does it link to transport?

Innovation and infrastructure go hand in hand

The infrastructure industry has always embraced the latest technologies, putting it right at the heart of delivering bigger and better projects. With rising populations and environmental challenges, transport constantly looks to develop and adapt with new technologies such as drones, electric and hydrogen vehicles, and even jet packs and space travel.

Although some of these technologies may seem more at home in a James Bond film, there are a number of exciting companies in the UK and across the world, who are taking innovative technologies to the next level. Innovation in all forms face huge challenges to become commonplace, but in infrastructure and transport, we may see it even more than most industries.

Generally, there is no shortage of ideas and concepts of the next best thing that’ll take us from A to B the quickest, however it’s less usual for them to turn in to reality – often what seems to be the best ideas can dwindle away. You could identify a number of reasons for this, but perhaps unsurprisingly, money plays the biggest role.

There’s huge competition for space in the market too. All new technologies are competing with each other. Innovations in aviation and advances in cycling, are still jostling for position. The reason being, they’re all in the early stages and are battling it out for funding. As government or a private sector company, why should they invest in a new transport method over another?

Building trust and establishing awareness, from the inventor to the consumer

The purpose for an innovative, new transport system or product may seem obvious to the inventors, but when many companies are offering the same result with another method, it’s hard to be a scene stealer and stand out in the crowd. Ultimately, if you aren’t seen as the leader of your own field, it’s harder to secure funding and take your product to the next stage in development.

So what can be done to attract investment in the most exciting and emerging technologies? Just like more conventional businesses, innovators should take a strategic approach when building advocacy and awareness amongst key stakeholders and those likely to invest.

Innovators also need to become industry change makers, meaning they have to be the voice people listen to in the industry and set the narrative to match their own agenda.

By working closely with key stakeholders, innovators can establish awareness and trust with them, and in due course, build a portfolio of potential business and funding opportunities.

Translating innovative ideas into reality

Aside from providing funding, these key stakeholders could have an influence in shaping the future infrastructure innovative technology will need. This is incredibly important when a concept requires external support in making a vision a reality, such as charging points for electric cars, landing pads for electric urban aircraft and new energy sources for hydrogen trains.

Just as contactless payments only became a reality once shops had the infrastructure to accept payments, key stakeholders need to be onboard and actively working on behalf of the technology companies, whether the companies are looking for funding or not.

One of the biggest issues when delivering transport innovation is an assumption that there is a market available. Many novel projects will gain large press coverage and social media following, leading to a conclusion that there’s a welcoming audience to deliver to.

Make-or-break: understanding the regulatory environment

Although press coverage can play a positive role in raising awareness, it should not distract from the logistics and legalities of making new technologies a reality. With any new product or technology, rules can be imposed on it before it even reaches the market, by people who either see it as a risk or simply don’t understand it.

Regulations can make a service or product harder to sell to customers and potential investors. Without considering the regulatory environment at the early stages of conception, projects may find their operations constrained, leaving them in an unprofitable situation and unable to progress.

There is no clear relationship between the amount of popular interest a technology generates and its potential to create value or change. Decision-makers need to have the knowledge to assess technology advancements and the potential impact, to ensure it has the best outcomes for society. That way, companies can actually create policies in their favour rather than seeing it enforced on them.

A more strategic approach from innovators in transport will mean they can build advocacy on a deeper level than just public support, and become industry change makers. By developing policies that fit their business needs and securing funding, they’ll be able to deliver their vision and transform the way we go about our daily lives.