Reducing carbon across Tees Valley

There are several schemes aiming to reduce carbon across the Tees Valley, however, the schemes are competing for priority use of existing road space. Using Yarm Road in Darlington as a specific example we will consider the competing priorities for the road space, the stakeholders involved with their own preferences/agendas and the economic impacts of prioritising decarbonisation.

This case study is a part of the LGA's Decarbonising Transport Action Learning Sets (ALS) programme

What is the challenge?

How do we make decarbonisation the priority for all stakeholders?

Yarm Road is a main route from the ring road into the town centre of Darlington. The road is narrow in parts, constricted by homes, businesses, and trees. Yarm Road passes an out of town retail park and some of the town’s biggest employers. Yarm Road is also a main route from some of the less affluent areas of Darlington into the town centre. The road is a main corridor for buses (currently without any bus provision such as bus lanes) and passes Darlington Railway Station, one of the key stations on the East coast mainline and is the busiest station in the Tees valley. In addition to this there are currently no cycle lanes, and the road is used for on street resident parking.

Increasing use of public transport and active travel will give several other benefits such as health benefits (healthier living, reductions in obesity and respiratory issues such as asthma), economic benefits, shorter journey times and improved accessibility for all (not just those able to afford a car). The challenge is to ensure stakeholders understand there are multiple benefits to a decarbonisation approach and to work together to overcome challenges presented. Some of the current competing priorities are detailed below:

  • Councils are currently under economic pressure due to Government cuts to funding, decarbonisation improvements are known to be expensive. Various grants are available from government and organisations, however, these need to be applied for and competition for these are intense. Private sector investment is minimal for these improvements, Section 106 is available near housing developments.
  • Councils want to maintain/increase road capacity to encourage economic growth into town centres. Encouraging shoppers into town centres as opposed to out of town retail or online shopping. Allowing workers easier access to town centre jobs and creating new office space in town centres. Currently private cars are the easiest way to encourage this.
  • Organisations such as Active Travel England are pushing for more active travel corridors, however, these are expected to be local transport note (LTN) 1/20 compliant. This means minimising shared use paths and fully segregated cycle lanes and decarbonisation contributing to the Tees Valley CA target of 50 per cent of journeys to be wheeled/walked.
  • Desire to improve bus corridors to make services faster and more reliable, reduce numbers of car journeys and increase revenue for bus operators. Urban Traffic Management and Control (UTMC) can be used to optimise traffic signals, however, dedicated bus routes are most efficient.
  • Competing priorities and aspirations can have an impact. In Darlington there is a prioritisation of rail projects due to railway heritage celebrations in 2025.

What actions will you now take to address the challenge?

Initially time was spent concentrating on Yarm Road as an issue and trying to think how all users could be routed through a narrow corridor. During the action learning set there was discussion around ‘thinking outside the box’, looking for other available corridors the run parallel to Yarm Road. Also, looking for compromises that may offer other benefits alongside decarbonisation, particularly through incentives rather than pricing drivers off the road. Actions have been broken down into short term (quick wins), medium term (realistic and achievable but time consuming) and long term (aspirational) options.

Short term:

  • UTMC optimisation.
  • Reinstate parking charges in the town centre.
  • EV charging points across the town to encourage zero emission vehicles if people choose to drive.
  • Review funding options from Active Travel England and Public Health England.
  • Review current Active Travel Hub provision in Darlington, can this be expanded, are bike ability classes targeting schools, workplaces, and homes near Yarm Road.

Medium term:

  • Alternate route for cycle path using parallel streets.
  • Review current bus infrastructure and possibilities for cycle paths.
  • Upgrades to Darlington and North Road stations to encourage more use of trains for travel to Darlington.
  • Active travel corridors to be reviewed between key destinations.

Long term:

  • Introduce ride share schemes into Darlington and workplaces in the town.
  • Review potential for incentivised car share parking.
  • Out of town park and ride opportunities, specifically for town centre employers.
  • Creation of mobility hubs, to encourage different forms of cleaner transport (e cycles, e scooters, etc).
  • Creation of freight hubs out of town centre, encourage last mile deliveries through EV, cargo bikes, etc.
  • Pursue private sector investment and optimise section 106 funding where possible.

What will be the impact?

There will be several positive impacts for the scheme:

  • Reduced carbon emissions through increased use of cycles for shorter journeys, more efficient bus journeys and improved access to Darlington train station (with improved cycle storage) encouraging more residents to use the trains.
  • Reduce impact on local health services if people are fitter (walk/cycle), cleaner air reducing respiratory issues (such as asthma).
  • Less reliance on car usage and ease the burden on those who can not afford cars. Working with the local cycle hubs that can provide cycle training, servicing, and reduced price, second hand bikes.
  • Removing cycle infrastructure from the main road may allow for bus improvements.
  • Easier routes to the town centre for bike and bus will encourage more local residents to use the town centre, encourage growth and aid in accessing town centre jobs.
  • Linking the Yarm Road cycle lane into a wider Tees Valley network, this will encourage more cycling for commute and link to cycle leisure routes.

How will you look to sustain the approach in the long term?

A sustainable approach will be needed to ensure improvements are measured, maintained and benefits realised. A closure report with set timeframes for review will be created and actions assigned to specific staff members. An After Action Review will be booked to ensure useable feedback is received and acted upon, this will involve all relevant stakeholders. The scheme will be used as a pilot and, if successful, similar approaches will be taken in future schemes.

Lessons learned

The Action Learning Set process has had several benefits. Some of the main takeaways from these sessions have been:

  • Thought Sharing – discussing issues with others, understanding their point of view, and listening to their advice in a structured way is something I have been able to use in my day to day work. This process encourages ‘listening to listen’ and not ‘listening to reply’, we are more likely to take onboard other viewpoints and learn from these situations.
  • Thinking ‘outside the box’ – this has been a strong point for all our discussions. Often, we are focused on what has been done before or the accepted process. Through discussions there have been examples of new and innovative ideas and this approach will be needed for my case study scenario.
  • Building new relationships – talking to people outside of my organisation with no prior knowledge of these scenarios has been beneficial and allowed for an entirely impartial point of view.