Distinctive Group

The critical need to reduce emissions from transport, and to create highly liveable, attractive and productive towns and cities, requires a carefully coordinated, timely and budget-conscious approach to the planning and delivery of transport investments.

This is hugely significant in today’s challenging fiscal climate, when the need to ensure the transport system delivers both long-term place-based and broad, network-wide benefits has never been more pressing.

All too often, however, the way transport infrastructure is planned and prioritised, consented, delivered and funded is not conducive to a need for integration and coordination. Instead, we see delays to delivery as individual processes for decision making are played through, with each gateway presenting new opportunities for the core case for investment to be questioned.

As Scotland looks towards the delivery of major investments signalled in the Scottish Government’s second Strategic Transport Projects Review (STPR2), a renewed emphasis on delivering outcomes through integrated decision making, and public-private collaboration is needed.

At the front-end, projects need broad social licence where links between investment, housing, regeneration, health and productivity are clearly articulated and understood. Clarity of outcomes and joined-up, cross-sector messaging on the benefits of investment are critical.

This can go a long way in alleviating problems faced when getting projects going, including prioritisation, funding, and the corralling of public opinion and political advocacy. Consistent and ‘on message’ leadership, and a commitment to seeing projects through, are also critical components of creating the right conditions for inward investment.

At the delivery end, there are blockers around consenting, cost and inflation pressures, land supply and acquisition, procurement, and industry capacity. This can be exacerbated by having unclear roles and accountabilities across agencies within the transport and land use system, as well as uncertainties regarding responsibilities for planning, funding and benefits realisation within the machinery of government.

An overall shift in mindset is needed, which recognises the function of transport networks as enablers of wider social, environmental and economic outcomes, and where a resolute commitment to these outcomes continues as a golden thread through a project’s lifecycle.

Part of this shift involves acknowledging the broad spatial impact of the transport network as a whole. This calls for a strategic approach to identifying solutions where both local and adjacent settlements can benefit from infrastructure improvement, reducing competition and focussing growth on corridors of opportunity.

Investment appraisals and business cases should be innovative in their development. Appraisals should look beyond solely quantifiable evidence to inform benefit-cost ratios, and place stronger emphasis on the strategic case in drawing out the breadth of outcomes sought from investment.

It’s also vital that decision makers collaborate in a way that uses transport appraisals to guide and prioritise decisions across multiple sectors. In addition to informing decisions on specific transport projects, business cases should also underpin choices relating to planning and the phasing of development, densification, land assembly, and regeneration delivery and funding models.

Collaboration in decision making is key, including through proactive stakeholder engagement that builds and maintains broad platforms of support. Meaningful engagement with businesses and residents that goes beyond ‘consultation’ is vital to establish a clear and compelling ‘case for change’ for investment, one that speaks to issues beyond those faced by the existing transport network.

Coordinated delivery also relies on a range of tools being utilised alongside the core investment, and it is unlikely these tools are wholly within the gift of any one agency, authority or sector. Collaboration is therefore essential within government agencies and authorities, and between the public and private sectors.

Here are my suggestions for creating the right conditions for transport investments:

  • Ensure decision makers are ‘on message’ regarding intended outcomes. Keep core outcomes and benefits at the heart of decisions, and bake this into the decision making model. Transport-only decisions and engineering concerns should not reduce the focus on core benefits.
  • Ensure the right governance is in place. Define roles early on for all those at the decision making table. Responsibilities for risk, funding, and delivery of long-term outcomes must be mirrored in governance arrangements, and there should be wide-spread confidence these will endure.
  • Enable creative delivery arrangements for infrastructure. Responsibility and accountability for complex infrastructure projects must remain undiluted with joined-up accountabilities in place to deliver across transport, housing, placemaking and other interconnected elements.
  • Consider what powers are needed to deliver broader benefits. Review roles of existing agencies, to ensure they have the necessary remit, accountability, resources and powers to deliver the suite of benefits.
  • Make full use of the national and local government toolkit to maximise investment value and enact change. Alongside investment, consider the value of specific and targeted planning, land assembly and fiscal powers to provide an investment-friendly environment.

Putting the right arrangements in place for joined-up decision making and delivery is critical to progressing at pace. This will also ensure transport contributes effectively to creating vibrant, multi-functional and quality places.