Joined Up Thinking in Uncertain Times: Links between Strategic Planning and Transport.

PAS commission three research papers to look at the linkages, challenges and opportunities of the integration of strategic planning and key agendas of transport, the natural environment and health.   The papers, through academic and policy reviews and workshop and research projects, highlight the present realities and challenges to integrated delivery and tries to give recommendations to planning authorities that wish to produce integrated strategic plans. Embedding these agendas with strategic plans will allow a coordinated approached to place making across a strategic area. Recognising the role that strategic plans and coordinated planning can have in adding value when delivering places that is more than just the costumery housing provisions.  This report produced by the University of Manchester & Troy Planning + Design looks at the links between strategic planning and transport. 15th February 2021


Document

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The purpose of this report is to provide Local Planning Authorities producing, or planning to produce, a strategic plan[1] with a guide for how to work with transport bodies at the local, regional, and national levels, and how the requirements of these bodies can be fully integrated into their strategic plan making to ensure the production of more effective strategies. To this end, we have undertaken an extensive review of the current landscape and the opportunities available for strategic plan making and transport, and examined the ways in which strategic planning can be more collaborative and strengthened through engagement with transport bodies. We have interviewed land use planners and transport planners from all levels of government (district, unitary, county, combined authority, regional, and national), from the transport sector (major bus operators, Department for Transport (DfT), Highways England, Network Rail, and transport tech companies), and from other important transport partners and stakeholders from rail, bus, cycling, and road sectors[2]

This report is laid out to identify the current state of strategic planning and transport matters; the barriers to integration of these two fields; the benefits of such integration; and case studies that highlight these described benefits. This report will demonstrate the value of integrating transport matters into the development of strategic plans, as well as the benefits of having ‘a more than local’ transport vision that is led by a strategic plan, whether a Joint Strategic Plan, a Spatial Development Strategy, or a Joint Local Plan. Table 1 shows the benefits of the integrated strategic planning and transport and which collaborative opportunities local authorities may use to address such barriers to integration. In summary:

  • Strategic planning can help by shaping the pattern of development, reducing the need to travel between key land uses, and better incorporating inter-modal transport strategies into land use planning decisions to enable people to make more sustainable travel choices.
  • An effective strategic plan also sells a story and ambitious vision that stands on strong principles through which policies and projects are integrated and complementary to secure both public and government support, as opposed to scheme-by-scheme appraisal of individual transport projects in its current form.
  • The Neighbourhood Planning Act 2017 and the revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) further emphasised the importance of effective strategic planning to deliver and promote sustainable development and tackle major challenges such as climate change, health, and productivity.
  • Therefore, there is a strong case for strategic planners (from the LPA perspective) to talk to transport bodies in terms of their investment pipelines and understand their strategic investment programmes very carefully from the start of the strategic planning process.
 

1: What are the benefits of integrated strategic planning and transport?

 

Delivering National Priorities

              

x

 

x

x

 

 

Integrating Knowledge

x

 

x

 

 

 

Benefits of Integrated Strategic Planning and Transport

Pooling Resources / Achieving Savings

 

x

 

 

 

        x

 

Engaging Early / Co-production

 

 

 

 

                            x

       x

 

Broadening Geographic Scope

x

 

 

x

 

 

 

 

Fragmented Governance

Austerity / Stop-Start Funding Cycles

Insufficient Shared Knowledge and Practice between Land Use Planning and Transport Authorities

Government Approach to Investment Appraisal

Disparate Political Agendas

Lack of Modal Coordination
        Barriers to Integration of Strategic Planning and Transport      

[2] The focus of this report is on local authorities in England and excludes Greater London from its analysis, as the powers and regulations relating to strategic planning and transport privileged to Greater London make it unlike any other local authority.

 

This report does not, however, provide prescriptions for specific scenarios – all authorities are different, and as such, directions should be determined by context, people and available resources.

Planning in England is at a crossroads and a historic turning point. For once, the opportunities really are as great as the challenges. Rich and spirited conversations about planning made the headlines in all major media outlets over the past year, in part thanks to the White Paper Planning for the Future[3]. Although it is unclear yet how strategic plans will fit in the proposed planning structure, there is now an opportunity to fill that void with collective working and ideas.

The COVID-19 pandemic allows planners and policy makers to reflect and rethink. If planning claims to make a positive impact on society, tackle the climate crisis, and continue supporting economic growth, it is important to take full advantage of opportunities available from the development of strategic plans with effective sustainable transport solutions.

The discussion presented here is a discussion on how to further strengthen the links between strategic plan making and transport matters, so as to provide an integrated system that works to enhance the sustainability and equity of cities, towns, and regions across England[4]. It is never too late to start.

 
 

[3] The Planning Advisory Service considers strategic planning broadly as the production of a plan that involves more than one authority. For a brief discussion, please see Section 4: Strategic Planning and Transport below.
[4] Airport and shipping are excluded from analysis, as these are largely reserved in Whitehall and beyond the limits of local authorities’ planning and transport responsibilities.

 

INTRODUCTION

Planning in England stands at the entrance to a bold new landscape, transfigured by successive changes to local governance and planning legislation over the past decade, and more recently, in the wake of global COVID-19 crisis. The evolution of strategic planning, formerly driven by top down regional development agencies, and now being led through democratic and voluntary cooperation between councils, has created opportunities for tailor-made approaches to align planning and transport matters at the local level. Recognising a one-size solution does not work for all authorities, there is now a need for guidance on the approaches authorities should take to best align their transport and planning visions, depending on their individual circumstances.

Challenges loom large. The overarching consensus from this research is that the provision of transport infrastructure in England, in its current form, is not adequate to meet the UK government’s Grand Challenges of clean growth, future mobility, and an aging society[1].

Since 2016, transport has been the biggest emitter of greenhouse gasses in the UK and is the main cause of air pollution in city regions[2]. Congestion costs approximately £7.8 billion per year to the UK’s economy due to lost productivity and wasted fuel, which is predicted to have a cumulative cost of over £300 billion by next decade[3]. Attitudes to travel are also changing, with fewer people wishing to drive for financial, environmental and / or health concerns, or due to availability of smarter travel options by disruptive and ubiquitous technologies[4].

In the midst of this change, attitudes to transport planning in England have been stagnant since the publication of Labour’s white paper on transport in 1998. Although transport modelling has improved with advances in computing, including the introduction of social and environmental data to modelling, little progress has been made to address the above problems. The New Deal for Transport White Paper (1998) proclaimed the ‘predict and provide’ approach as unsustainable, yet it still dominates the way we plan and invest in transport infrastructure across England.

Nevertheless, delivering the right infrastructure in the right place is as much about getting funding right as using planning tools available to LPAs to their maximum potential. Recent studies show that a large number of new housing developments in England are poorly connected to existing public transport networks with little or no sustainable mobility choices in place[5]. That historical low investment in transport infrastructure provision in the UK is amongst the lowest in the developed countries further limits sustainable travel choices[6]. Uncertainty over stable funding streams, ad-hoc and fragile partnerships with neighbouring authorities and transport partners, whether evidence bases will hold up at public examination, and over modelling and whether forecasts over-stipulate infrastructure requirements for cars, have caused the following outcomes[1]:

  • Transport infrastructure is delivered well after housing, or is not funded at all, resulting in severe impacts on existing local transport infrastructure and failing to change pre-existing car-oriented behaviours to produce desirable modal-shift in new communities;
  • Land use planners and transport planners become ingrained in a siloed way of thinking, often missing the opportunities for wider benefits that the integration of planning and transport can bring, and new mobility management strategies including mobility as a service (MaaS);
  • Reduction in innovative or vision-led plans for fear of not being able to provide a robust evidence base at public examination or for the government’s appraisal tests for funding, therefore making plans ‘safe’, copy-pasted, and reactive rather than vision-led;
  • Not being able to tackle the housing crisis with creative placemaking strategies due to lack of cooperation and shared knowledge;
  • Creating places that people do not want, and cannot live a decent life within; and,
  • Lack of shared narrative and vision amongst planners and transport planners as to how, what, and where transport provisions should be prioritised.

1: How can transport influence land-use change?[2]


 

 
[1] Adapted from Alan Wenban-Smith, ‘Land-Use Drivers of Transport Emissions – Revisited’, Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers - Transport 170, no. 2 (2017): 80.

The climate crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic have added additional layers of uncertainty to these challenges. Whether previously committed funding to infrastructure will remain once the pandemic ceases is unknown. Yet, with perhaps little time left to shift to a zero-carbon economy and reverse the effects of the ongoing climate crisis, actions must be made swiftly and decisively, or fail to provide the necessary changes in time.

Planners must understand and manage this uncertainty by recognising the opportunities that this landscape presents to shape the future. Planning is, essentially, the ability to adapt to the future by preparing actions now. Therefore, planning is only effective, insofar as it creates more certainty with action. Guy Benveniste argued ‘effective plans are audacious’[1], pushing the realm of alternative futures and imagination. Otherwise, it can be argued that Local Plans are nothing but housing delivery programmes, and transport plans are nothing but disjointed project delivery schemes. 

There are many ways to swing the pendulum towards certainty of investment, land use integration, sustainability, and greater engagement. Many remedies to transform transport infrastructure provision in England are at the hand of the central government, including rolling and guaranteed funding schemes, stronger support for less-tested placemaking initiatives, and stronger legal and regulatory wording in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), Planning Practice Guidance Notes (PPG) and other national documents. The last of these remedies has been addressed in other research including the 2019 Better planning, better transport, better places report by the Chartered Institution of Highways and Transportation[2]. Despite some progress on devolution of planning and transport powers in recent years (largely via city deals), there has not been a corresponding trickle-down from the Government where it comes to supporting capital and revenue funding. Compounding with the major cuts in planning policy in local governments since 2010, the planning system has given birth to what the RTPI calls an ‘Austerity Planner’, “who has little room for proactive planning or independently executing their professional judgement”[3], which has further curtailed the capacity of LPAs to make the most out of devolved powers or possible city deals.

However, this does not redeem LPAs from their responsibility to better integrate land use and transport to deliver sustainable mobility options. For better or worse, local authorities must use existing tools to deliver and align sustainable transport options with other planning goals. New guidance or funding from the central government will not automatically fix the ingrained response towards siloed thinking that is common in authorities across the country. Just as strategic planning today is driven through collaboration between authorities, rather than direction from the central government, so too must this integration be.

One aspect of integration that LPAs can control is partnership and collaboration between planners and transport bodies as well as wider stakeholders throughout the transport industry. Without a clear transport vision at the strategic planning level and strong integration between planning and transport, plans and projects will be brought forward in isolation from one another due to different funding sponsors, and different (sometimes contradictory) objectives, and timescales. This makes it almost impossible to assess the cumulative impact on sustainable mobility and environment, or to determine true value for money. A common theme in our interviews was that most partnerships focus on coordination of policy and retrofitting solutions rather than integration of sustainable mobility from the outset of the development of strategic plans.

We argue that transport matters should be dealt with at strategic level, involving not only neighbouring authorities, but also all relevant transport partners, and that this process should be led by planning authorities with placemaking, sustainable development, and inclusivity as overarching aims of this process.

There is no distinction between planning departments and transport departments for the residents and commuters who rely on the quality and functionality of services they use every day. The practice of making and implementing policies, programmes, and investment decisions that have important impacts on the scale of everyday life, but only within local authority boundaries, must come to an end. Parochial and competitive actions and schemes that are not able to properly address the full range of urgent and complex challenges of transport as it relates to planning matters must be dismantled.

 

Box 1: According to Centre for Cities, some examples of how economies operate across local authority boundaries are[1]:

  • The Southampton Port indirectly supports 15,000 jobs across the Solent sub-region.
  • In Birmingham, Bristol and York, the average commuter travelling into the city comes from 35 miles (56 km) away or further.
  • In Manchester, 70 per cent of businesses in life sciences with local supply links trade across the wider city region.
  • 70 per cent of start-up companies from Cambridge University locate in and around the city centre.
  • Business passengers at Stansted and Luton travel up to two hours to their respective airports.

 

Strategic planning, through close collaboration between neighbouring authorities and transport partners, is not an easy task. Transport in England is largely governed by the Department for Transport (DfT) and its agencies, and implemented at the local level by a patchwork of transport authorities including county councils, unitary authorities, integrated transport authorities, combined authorities, and newly created sub-national transport bodies. In addition, there are also business-led Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) through which growth funding is allocated and major local transport schemes are funded. All of these bodies have different responsibilities and priorities when it comes to transport planning and funding, and are accountable to different decision-making mechanisms and regulations, with little degree of control from a strategic planning perspective.

This report will demonstrate the value of integrating transport matters into the development of strategic plans, as well as the benefits of having ‘a more than local’ transport vision that is led by a strategic plan, whether a Joint Strategic Plan, a Spatial Development Strategy, or a Joint Local Plan. The rest of this report will first define what integrated strategic planning and transport looks like, and second identify the barriers and opportunities that exist in the current planning system to deliver sustainable transport options via strategic plans in England. Throughout the report, we will use case studies to highlight best practices where possible and show clear roadmaps for LPAs to learn from examples across England.

 

[1] Zach Wilcox, Nada Nohrovà, and Marie Williams, ‘Breaking Boundaries: Empowering City Growth through Cross-Border Collaboration’ (Centre for Cities, 2014).

[1] Guy Benveniste, Mastering the Politics of Planning: Crafting Credible Plans and Policies That Make a Difference (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1989).
[2] CIHT, ‘Better Planning, Better Transport, Better Places’ (Chartered Institution of Highways & Transportation, 2019).
[3] RTPI, ‘Serving the Public Interest? The Reorganisation of UK Planning Services in an Era of Reluctant Outsourcing’ (London: Royal Town Planning Institute, 2019).

[1] For detailed discussion please see Glenn Lyons, ‘Uncertainty Ahead: Which Way Forward for Transport?’ (Chartered Institution of Highways & Transportation, 2016).
[2] Adapted from Alan Wenban-Smith, ‘Land-Use Drivers of Transport Emissions – Revisited’, Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers - Transport 170, no. 2 (2017): 80.

[1] For detailed discussion please see Glenn Lyons, ‘Uncertainty Ahead: Which Way Forward for Transport?’ (Chartered Institution of Highways & Transportation, 2016).
[2] Adapted from Alan Wenban-Smith, ‘Land-Use Drivers of Transport Emissions – Revisited’, Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers - Transport 170, no. 2 (2017): 80.
 

[1] Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, ‘The Grand Challenges’, 2020, https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/industrial-strategy-the-grand-challenges/industrial-strategy-the-grand-challenges.
[2] Department for Transport, ‘Transport Energy and Environment Statistics’, 2020, https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/energy-and-environment-statistics.
[3] Centre for Economics and Business Research, ‘The Future Economic and Environmental Costs of Gridlock in 2030’ (London, 2014).
[4] K Chatterjee et al., ‘Young People’s Travel – What’s Changed and Why? Review and Analysis. Report to Department for Transport’ (Bristol: UWE Bristol, 2018).
[5] Transport for New Homes, ‘Garden Villages and Garden Towns: Visions and Reality’ (Transport for New Homes, 2020); M Carmona et al., ‘A Housing Design Audit for England’ (London: Place Alliance, 2020).
[6] RTPI, ‘Transport Infrastructure Investment: Capturing the Wider Benefits of Investment in Transport Infrastructure’ (Royal Town Planning Institute, 2014).

STRATEGIC PLANNING AND TRANSPORT

Recent developments including the establishment of combined authorities and the development of joint spatial plans in the larger conurbations outside of London have placed growing emphasis on the potential role of strategic planning to deliver national strategic priorities in England such as housing investment, reducing the productivity gap between regions, and strategic sub-regional transport projects. Beyond the conurbations, because of austerity cutbacks in local planning authority staff resources making separate teams unviable, local authorities are increasingly working together on joint local plans and / or other cross-boundary spatial planning activities; indeed the Neighbourhood Planning Act 2017 includes provision for the Secretary of State to direct the preparation of joint local plans. Most recently, driven by wider housing agendas, the government has rediscovered the term ‘strategic’ via its revised National Planning Policy Framework (2019) and other pronouncements; requiring local authorities to produce ‘strategic plans’ and ‘statements of common ground’ addressing ‘strategic priorities’, even if there is scepticism about how strategic these will actually be[1]. As a result, most of these planning powers have ended up relying on voluntary mechanisms, which have been found insufficient to deliver sustainable economic growth and redress regional inequalities in England[2]. The devolution of transport planning to sub-national or regional levels, however, has been instrumental for some local authorities to think about planning and transport strategically (i.e. cross-boundary) which corresponds to travel to work or functional economic areas.

Strategic planning enables a coherent and comprehensively agreed planning approach to be delivered to a wide area, which reflects the modern reality of people living their lives across the whole of Functional Economic Areas rather than exclusively within their own local authority[3]. It can reduce costs to both public and private sectors by pooling resources for an efficient delivery of services across more than one local area, provide certainty for developers, and integrate policy objectives for sustainable growth and transport choices[4]. The changes to the NPPF over the last few years regarding the strategic part of the plan-making process have also clearly stipulated strategic matters to be addressed at larger than local boundaries and through either joint local plans or, if powers are granted, spatial development strategies within combined authority areas.

Box 2: According to the RTPI, strategic planning should[5]:

  • Have focus - being efficient in the use of resources and clear about its purpose;
  • Be genuinely strategic - dealing only with matters which require resolution across boundaries;
  • Be spatial - i.e. it should make choices between places, not simply establish general criteria for later decision making;
  • Be collaborative - meaning that partners work together to see how they can deliver each other's agendas;
  • Have strong leadership - so that negotiations between places are productive and not protracted;
  • Be accountable to local electorates.

 

The strategic plans emerging across England today differ from their counterparts from previous systems a decade ago. The current form of strategic planning is not a top-down imposition at the regional level, but rather democratic and voluntary between councils cooperating on all or some matters relevant to their local areas. While this ensures that local or cross-boundary issues are decided at the local level (i.e. principle of subsidiarity), the same local perspective can run into the risk of being parochial, immedicable to differences (whether political or over land for unmet housing need), or falling short of delivering sustainable travel choices. Moreover, voluntary cooperation between local authorities to deliver strategic visions and actions can over-rely on political leadership or senior individual officers, whose departure from authorities can easily cause disintegration of both cooperation, and on temporary alignment of policies, which can have long reaching results. For example, finding land for unmet housing needs can be greatly integrated with the provision of transport infrastructure if the timeframe for this provision is known by the planning authority. However, due to the fast-moving nature of both land allocation and transport delivery schemes, a lack of coordination, even in one instance, can be the difference between a sustainable, or sprawling development plan. Figure 2 gives an overview of statutory and non-statutory strategic plan progress in England.

Figure 2: Statutory and non-statutory strategic plan progress in England as of the 1st August 2020[6]

 

Transport infrastructure provides the services and facilities, which underpin sustainable development. It includes roads and rail, which should provide safe and effective access to homes, jobs, recreation and nature, and community centres such as hospitals. However, there is evidence to suggest a lack of strategic planning has caused long commutes and spread development away from urban growth areas – therefore contributing to sprawl and hindering smart and sustainable growth, and consequently less spending on transport infrastructure due to low population densities[1]. Strategic planning can help by shaping the pattern of development, reducing the need to travel between key land uses, and better incorporating inter-modal transport strategies into land use planning decisions to enable people to make more sustainable travel choices. An effective strategic plan also sells a story and ambitious vision that stands on strong principles through which policies and projects are integrated and complementary to secure both public and government support, as opposed to scheme-by-scheme appraisal of individual transport projects in its current form.

Far too long the dominant thinking in transport infrastructure investments amongst policy makers was that transport infrastructure would automatically lead to the accrual of benefits (e.g. better access to jobs and commercial centres, faster and further journeys, etc.)[2]. In reality, the lack of strategic thinking often led to poorly planned transport which acted as a barrier to growth and reinforced transport related social exclusion – forcing people to own a car in the absence of sustainable transport option and encouraging single passenger car journeys detrimental to the climate crisis[3].

Therefore, sustainable transport mobility based on ambitious vision and strong principles should be the golden thread running through strategic planning and its policies, and should be defined, agreed, and applied consistently through the development of a strategic plan, in order to capture the true scale of the benefits from transport infrastructure investment.

This is easier said than done. Strategic planning and transport are currently dealt with inside their own regulative and knowledge silos. Transport is often retrofitted into a local plan long after major decisions regarding the location and type of development have been made. Though the NPPF encourages local authorities to consider transport infrastructure in the early stages of plan making and cross boundary issues, some of our interviewees revealed that it fails to give enough weight to transport matters for the examination in public, and often less than other strategic matters such as housing supply, economic growth and environmental protection such as green belts.

Our research undertook an appraisal of paragraphs that deal with strategic planning matters within the NPPF and PPG documents, against transport matters that are outlined in the NPPF, and PPG documents for Plan Making, Transport Evidence Bases, and Travel Plans[4]. In many planning practice guidance notes, guidance that is related to the provision of car-oriented infrastructure is more strongly worded than that related to the provision of sustainable transport, which is commonly buffered by the words ‘where reasonable’. Some PPG notes relating to transport infrastructure also appeared to contradict the NPPF, which is the main document to consider when plan making. There is a wide berth within existing policy for strategic plans to make provision for transport infrastructure, and for the preparation of local transport policies with the involvement of transport stakeholders including Highways England, neighbouring councils and other infrastructure providers. Where there is less alignment is on the nature of how transport infrastructure should be assessed, the order of transport provision versus housing allocations, and how sustainable transport must reduce private vehicle dependency. In other words, the integration of plans and transport is encouraged, but what this integration should look like is left to the imagination of planners.

Interviewee (Local Transport Planner): “I don’t think we’re well served by national policy. We are kind of rewriting the limits of it all the time, and constantly trying to find ways of going beyond it.”

Barriers to better integrated transport and strategic planning

The onus is on the LPAs to put forward a shared vision and seek after an agreement by all parties involved in planning, funding, delivering, and contributing to sustainable transport.

Our research, however, showed that there are several barriers to better integrated transport and strategic planning in England.

Fragmented governance

There is recognition across all pieces of literature that strategic planning in England has been seriously weakened following the dissolution of regional spatial strategies, regional planning bodies and regional development agencies in 2010[5]. The new system, involving duty to cooperate and statements of common ground to fill in strategic gaps in the English planning system, has been successful in few places and failed in many others. Separate layers of government structures, including combined authorities and local enterprise partnerships, have created a further mismatch between strategic planning capacity and their fragmented funding mechanisms. Different governance arrangements can be the difference between a delivered scheme and a plan that does not materialise, depending on which government bodies are present. Such fragmented governance of delivery and responsibility has also lent itself to a democratic deficit in decision making and accountability[6]. The general public is often left in the dark regarding both major and minor decisions affecting their everyday lives and this in turn leads to poor public buy in and non-support for projects that might otherwise have a large positive impact on environment and sustainable travel choices.

Transport plans reflect this fragmentation. In two-tier areas the local transport plan (LTP) stays within county council remit to coordinate the wider transport strategy across neighbouring local districts. In unitary authorities the powers are merged within the same council, though very often in different departments. Combined authorities have their own bespoke approaches to transport, often with a strategic transport plan covering the combined authority area.

One repeated criticism raised in our interviews is that local transport plans sit outside local plans, and often need to be retrofitted to local planning strategies, causing broken infrastructure investment flow and undelivered growth sites. The NPPF puts little weight to the LTP in the examination, which further undermines the importance of a robust transport strategy at the outset of strategic plan making. The problem is further exacerbated when the local transport authority has different funding mechanisms and visions than the planning authority for the same area, often resulting in disjointed delivery mechanisms and a failure to promote sustainable transport projects.

Interviewee (Private Bus Company): “Often we find that transport steering groups are only a means to prove to inspector that they've done something. They drag us all in on the date they decided and then they just talk at us for an hour. We often didn't know what the agenda was.”

This is further problematic when considering the current membership and geography of LEPs to distribute major capital funding for transport projects for their area. As currently constituted, LEPs represent their functional economic areas, but this does not always translate to true transport boundaries as travel to work areas can be very different (Figure 4). LEPs also represent large business organisations in their areas, many of whom are not best suited to advise the strategic transport needs for their areas. The relationship between the economy and transport is not a straightforward issue, and to plan for business needs alone diminishes other goals of transport provision as they relate to sustainability, social equity, and growth. Poor transport prioritisation and investment on the basis of what looks best can easily lead to ill effects on both employment and housing markets. Campaign for Better Transport found that only 1% of government growth funding up to 2018 was allocated to cycling, whilst 67% was allocated to roads[7].

Interviewee (Local Transit Authority Member): “Our members feel very uncomfortable supporting bids for highway improvements. That that feels like an uncomfortable thing to be supporting. At a time when we just declared a climate emergency."

Moreover, with the increasing powers assigned to combined authorities, it is not clear how growth fund allocations will be made going forward.

Figure 3: Travel to Work Areas that cross more than one LEP boundaries

 

There have, however, been improvements. The Combined Authorities Act 2018 gave three combined authorities (CAs) powers to create spatial development strategies (Liverpool City Region, Greater Manchester, and West of England). This would further enable extra powers to the integrated transport authorities within those areas to bring in local planning and transport matters under one umbrella, while also better coordinating investment and priorities. The Neighbourhood Planning Act 2017 and the revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) further emphasised the importance of effective strategic planning to deliver and promote sustainable development and tackle major challenges such as climate change, health, and productivity. The Bus Services 2017 Act also created opportunities for key partnerships between planners (and LTAs) and bus operators for better coordination of investment and planning.

These improvements have not come equally across the country. In many cases, only the largest city regions enjoy this devolution of power and are therefore in a better position to win successful grants than shire counties or poorer towns and urban centres, or to levy charges such as a strategic infrastructure tariff (SIT)[1]. Fragmented governance has created a system of winners and losers, where funding flows to big urban agglomerations which already enjoy better than average transport, whilst smaller locales are left struggling to catch up.

Austerity and stop-start funding cycles

The wave of privatisation since the 1980s and the austerity agenda implemented by successive governments since 2010 has forced local authorities to rely extensively on transport providers to deliver needed infrastructure for growth sites[2]. However, transport delivery partners such as Network Rail, Highways England and bus operators often plan their future infrastructure pipeline with reference to their business case (where they can make profit or provide public service), not necessarily in line with the visions set by a local planning authority. This model of delivery, first, undermines the plan-led system and leads to reactive planning, which is opposite of strategic planning. Second, by not being able to plan where future transport investments will go, this model also undermines sustainable development principles (e.g. the new garden communities that serve cars, but not rail or bus services). Third, relying on external parties to deliver needed infrastructure can also be risky in case the business case or viability prospects change, thereby compromising the delivery of investment. Therefore, there is a strong case for strategic planners (from the LPA perspective) to talk to transport bodies in terms of their investment pipelines and understand their strategic investment programmes very carefully from the start of the strategic planning process.

Interviewee (Sub-national Transport Body): “Austerity hit hard many local planning bodies, where there is lack of good skills and knowledge.”

Local planning and transport authorities are not always confident they have clearly identified infrastructure needs and priorities. Short turnaround times for funding opportunities has created a series of short-term infrastructure projects that do not help strategic planning and are often not supported by a detailed evidence base, which will not hold up against the examination in public. Monies available are often heavily ring-fenced to very specific conditions, hence undermining vision-led planning to provide integrated sustainable transport solutions, and forcing plan makers to be cautionary and conservative to existing problems, often failing to provide innovative and fast approaches to deliver outcomes for the future. 

Furthermore, insufficient funds from the national government have led to local authorities using a “cocktail” of funding mechanisms to meet their infrastructure priorities including Community Infrastructure Levies (CIL), LA Core Funding, LEPs, and S106 developer contributions[3]; the last of which is identified as a key funding source by a majority of local authorities. Most of these mechanisms raise funding via development and are insufficient to capture the uplift in land values to fund strategic sustainable transport due to low value of land value in most of the country outside London and the South East[4], further undermining a strategic planning approach where transport is integrated with development from the outset. Sustainable transport has often become a lower priority for both developers and planners than affordable housing, green infrastructure and social infrastructure.

Interview (Local Transport Planner): “Quite a lot of time is spent on getting funding, which involves developing a business case, lobbying, engagement, etc. and there is not guarantee that you will get the funding anyway.”

Lack of shared knowledge domains and practice between land use planning and transport authorities

Land use planning and transport planning are regulated by different departments of the government, are often run by different teams within councils, operate at different scales (e.g. local vs. regional), and have very different methods, aims, and epistemological grounds (e.g. planning is often ground in social sciences faculties whilst transport planning is within the domain of engineering). Integration of planning and transport is crucial for sustainability and well-being of communities, but such integration remains hard to achieve in England due to ingrained siloed working, cross departmental work not seen rewarding considering siloed objectives, the financial and time costs associated with such collaboration, and lack of opportunities to foster such collaboration. Despite these barriers, people we spoke to for our research were very keen on collaborative work, but our research found only a handful of examples of collaborative working between land use planners, transport planners and service providers in England.

Today’s planning can be divided into three major parts: its theory is based on communicative, deliberative rationality that argues knowledge is a social construct and that planning is taking appropriate and mutually agreed action for a collective reimagination of possible futures of places; its method is based on qualitative and quantitative spatial information about places and functions; and its practice is based on collaborative action where multiple stakeholders are included in decision making processes (for development management / control, visioning, and / or scenario building)[5].

Transport planning, as a policy sector, is the process of defining vision, policies, and investment to achieve the sustainable movement of goods and people. Today’s transport is based on scientific instrumental rationality that uses quantitative data and predictive models and focuses on solving problems (e.g. congestion)[6]. In England, two dominant approaches of transport are ‘predict and provide’ and ‘further and faster’. The former is, put simply, analysing current trends of traffic flows, extrapolating to the future and providing necessary transport infrastructure and services for predicted future demand. This approach has been the dominant practice for the last five decades and reinforces current dominant mode of transport (i.e. private car usage), and leaves little room for the modal shift required for transition to a lower carbon transport future[7]. Industry leaders and academics have been calling for an alternative approach, ‘decide and provide’, to give a bigger role to visioning and transformative policy making as opposed to predictive modelling[8]. ‘Further and faster’ is a criticism raised by walking and cycling advocates in England[9] towards transport planners and in particular Department for Transport who rely on modelling and appraisal approaches that prioritise longer journeys and travel time savings as opposed to shorter journeys in neighbourhoods, which has been become a central tenant of good placemaking and planning, especially in response to the climate crisis and the coronavirus pandemic.

Government’s approach to strategic planning and transport investment appraisal

As it stands, the current approach to plan making and investment in England strives so much to be policy complaint, through housing delivery numbers or rigorous DfT appraisal criteria, that it mostly reinforces the existing practice, and rarely tests and experiments with new methods.

Since 2017, joint-local plans appear to be the government’s preferred option for strategic planning. This is being emphasized through a “carrot and stick” approach. The “carrot” is infrastructure and capacity funding, including the new strategic infrastructure tariff (SIT), which is only available for joint planning committees, or combined authorities. The “stick” is that if local authorities cannot properly prepare plans, the secretary of state can take away planning powers. Though the government wants more joint work between local authorities, this type of work is untested. For example, the Planning Inspectorate (PINS) letter to the West of England[10] shows the NPPF needs to be clearer in dealings with strategic plans. As such, this warrants careful examination in the near future of how strategic plans can function within the existing policy framework. Local authorities entering a joint spatial arrangement with neighbouring areas need certainty and clarity about the benefits of joint working.

With the Neighbourhood Planning Act 2017 and revised NPPF there is a strong emphasis on effective duty to cooperate. However, outside combined authority areas, options are limited when it comes to providing sustainable transport options. For example, chapters 9 and 16 of the revised NPPF offer guidance to local plan makers as to how and when transport can be integrated into plan making, but it falls short of ensuring such integration is actually delivered at the local scale. It falls on local authorities to interpret and decide on national policy, which clearly leads to different interpretations across England.

Current appraisal approaches to transport investments are done on a scheme by scheme basis. This creates uncertainty around the delivery of all projects within a proposed integrated network, hence undermining sustainability of transport or housing delivery projects. A scheme by scheme approach does not capture the cumulative impact and full wider benefits of integrated sustainable transport and development. Moreover, route-based appraisal and planning of strategic road networks make it a challenging task to implement a placemaking-led approach. Having a robust but rigid assessment criteria also encourages what CIHT calls a “regime-complaint approach”[11] to transport planning, which would rather allocate funds to safe and conservative projects, rather than assist in a culture change towards innovation and sustainability.

Disparate Political Agendas

Many investment decisions that determine the future success of places have major implications for larger-than-local area boundaries i.e. economic development for the functional economic areas, housing decisions for housing market areas, or transport investments for travel to work areas. However, negotiation, collaboration and agreement on priorities requires time, money and most importantly, a willingness to agree. Under the current rules of the planning system, the road to effective strategic planning is paved by voluntary partnerships between different LPAs and between LPAs and transport bodies, but hindered by local rivalries, personal disagreements, and other tensions[12].

Local plans between different authorities and local transport plans often follow different schedules in response to diverse needs and funding streams, which makes it extremely hard to align timetables, core strategies, priorities, and outcomes. Good alignment becomes even harder when considering different and sometimes overlapping boundaries of LEPs, functional economic areas, and travel to work areas.  Considering where and by whom investment should be made is wrought with political sensitivities, even for the best-intentioned plans When considering it is not just political objectives but also budgets that need to be aligned, each with different governance structures, each accountable to different remits and bodies, this alignment becomes even harder.

Interviewee (Private Bus Company): “The entire bus industry struggles with both development planning and plan making. If your priorities are shorter than investing a lot of time resource in looking long term, it just doesn't seem to make sense”.

In addition to schedule conflicts, the job losses and high turnover rates in planning departments due to budget cuts in local governments in the last decade have eroded personal connections that voluntarily build collaboration[13]. Our interviews established that where formal mechanisms for collaboration between transport and planning do not exist, personal relationships can fill these gaps. Until local authorities can provide stability, there will be a dearth of such informal arrangements.

Compelling evidence and data to convince local political leaders of the benefits of collaborative work is lacking. On the contrary there is evidence that long term benefits for a sub region or benefits that are not at once captured by local area are often overlooked for short term gains[14].

Interviewee (Land Use Planner): One thing LPAs are struggling when it comes to strategic planning is to agree on a framework that would sit at strategic level. Vision-led planning is key.

Lack of modal coordination

Transport interventions are often delivered in modal silos, be they roads, rail, bus, or cycling and walking infrastructure. Road improvements are often separate from public transport delivery, or the provision of footpaths and cycle lanes. Even public transport interventions can be disjointed from one another depending on the operator in question (Network Rail versus private bus companies versus the local transport authority for example). As a result of this lack of coordination, transport infrastructure is often delivered in a haphazard manner, in a way that prioritises increased movement and speed within a single mode, over an approach that favours placemaking and the creation of spaces where each mode of transport is fairly accommodated, and where modal shifts are encouraged.

The lack of coordination between public bodies further leads to poor coordination between the public and the private sector, which is largely responsible for investing and delivering bus services in England. Bus services are not subsidized by local authorities, but rather by the central government and, thus, there is a diminished incentive for LPAs to engage with these operators in the production of a strategic plan. The Combined Authority Act 2018 gave West of England, Liverpool City Region and Greater Manchester combined authorities powers to create spatial development strategies which are similar to London in that they can bring bus and transport franchises under their control and coordinate strategic planning and transport planning matters under the same roof. While this may bring incentive for planning engagement, to shift ownership of a bus route from private hands to public ones does not ensure viability. Given the lack of a placemaking lens when considering transport provision within strategic plans, the profitability and hence the operational sustainability of these routes are at risk.

The same disjointed approach is true for other public transport agencies separate from local authorities, including Highways England and Network Rail - which are typically are consulted on strategic plans only towards the end of the planning process. While not driven by financial viability to the extent of bus operators, transport delivery by these actors is also not done through a placemaking lens, therefore potentially undermining the vision and objectives of strategic plans.

Fare integration is one example where modal coordination is also rare across England. With exception of a few city regions, there is no fare-discount for those transferring from bus to tram, or rail, or other – all modes are paid for separately and in full. This further undermines the inter-modal connections, which are so required for a sustainable transport network by creating a fare penalty, driving modal preferences towards the car, and reducing the justification for a placemaking approach within strategic plans.

Since bus operators are not statutory consultees in the development of Local Plans, sites can be taken forward without a full understanding of whether they can be served by bus, whether a route could be commercially viable in the long term, and what the cost would be to pump-prime bus services. Many bus operators highlighted that basic design principles, such as footpaths to bus stops, the distance to bus stops, and on-street parking provision, are often overlooked by planners and developers but are fundamental to the attractiveness and feasibility of providing bus services to new housing developments.

 

 

 

[1] Hannah Hickman et al., ‘A Smarter Approach to Infrastructure Planning Overcoming Complexity in City-Regions and Counties’ (London: Royal Town Planning Institute, 2019).
[2] Gerard Whelan and Chelsea Dosad, ‘Integrating the Planning and Delivery of Sustainable Transport with New Housing Development’ (KPMG, 2019).
[3] Hickman et al., ‘A Smarter Approach to Infrastructure Planning Overcoming Complexity in City-Regions and Counties’.
[4] National Audit Office, ‘Planning for New Homes’ (London: National Audit Office, 2019), https://www.nao.org.uk/report/planning-for-new-homes/.
[5] Ernest R Alexander, ‘There Is No Planning—Only Planning Practices: Notes for Spatial Planning Theories’, Planning Theory 15, no. 1 (2016): 91–103; Linda C. Dalton, ‘Theory and Practice, Practice and Theory: Reflections on a Planner’s Career’, Journal of the American Planning Association 81, no. 4 (2015): 303–9; Patsy Healey, ‘Collaborative Planning in a Stakeholder Society’, Town Planning Review 69, no. 1 (1998).
[6] Marco te Brömmelstroet and Luca Bertolini, ‘Developing Land Use and Transport PSS: Meaningful Information through a Dialogue between Modelers and Planners’, Transport Policy 15, no. 4 (2008): 251–59.
[7] Murray Goulden, Tim Ryley, and Robert Dingwall, ‘Beyond “Predict and Provide”: UK Transport, the Growth Paradigm and Climate Change’, Transport Policy 32 (2014): 139–47.
[8] CIHT, ‘Better Planning, Better Transport, Better Places’.
[9] David Hirst and Noel Dempsey, ‘Active Travel: Trends, Policy and Funding’, 2020, https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/cbp-8615/.
[10] Malcolm Rivett and Steven Lee, ‘Examination of the West of England Joint Spatial Plan’, 2019, https://www.jbp.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/JSP-Second-Letter.pdf.
[11] Lyons, ‘Uncertainty Ahead: Which Way Forward for Transport?’
[12] Nicholas A. Phelps and Dave Valler, ‘Urban Development and the Politics of Dissonance’, Territory, Politics, Governance 6, no. 1 (2018): 81–103.
[13] RTPI, ‘Resourcing Public Planning’ (London: Royal Town Planning Institute, 2019).
[14] Wilcox, Nohrovà, and Williams, ‘Breaking Boundaries: Empowering City Growth through Cross-Border Collaboration’.

[1] RTPI, ‘Settlement Patterns Urban Form and Sustainability: An Evidence Review’ (London: Royal Town Planning Institute, 2018).
[2] Iain Docherty et al., ‘The Curious Death – And Life? – Of British Transport Policy’, Environment and Planning C: Politics and Space 36, no. 8 (2018): 1458–79.
[3] Karen Lucas, ‘A New Evolution for Transport-Related Social Exclusion Research?’, Journal of Transport Geography 81 (2019).
[4] The Department for Transport has prepared a new PPG on sustainable transport, which was not publicly available at the time of publication of this report but, we were told, is substantial. However, so long as the wording in the NPPF remains the same, we have reserved optimism as to how much this new PPG will be effective to promote sustainable transport infrastructure provision.
[5] Mark Baker and Cecilia Wong, ‘The Delusion of Strategic Spatial Planning: What’s Left After the Labour Government’s English Regional Experiment?’, Planning Practice & Research 28, no. 1 (2013): 83–103; Town and Country Planning Association, ‘Planning 2020 – Final Report of the Raynsford Review of Planning in England’ (London: Town and Country Planning Association, 2018).
[6] Gavin Parker, Emma Street, and Matthew Wargent, ‘The Rise of the Private Sector in Fragmentary Planning in England’, Planning Theory & Practice 19, no. 5 (2018): 734–50.
[7] Campaign to Protect Rural England and Campaign for Better Transport, ‘Where the Money’s Going: Are the New Local Transport Bodies Heading in the Right Direction?’, 2013, https://bettertransport.org.uk/sites/default/files/research-files/LTB_report_250913_web_FINAL.pdf; Campaign for Better Transport, ‘LEP Watch Update’, Campaign for Better Transport, 2016, http://bettertransport.org.uk/blog/better-transport/lep-watch-update.

[1] Cecilia Wong, Abbas Ziafati Bafarasat, and Mark Baker, ‘Strategic Planning’, in Contemporary Planning Practice: Skills, Specialisms and Knowledge, ed. Gavin Parker and Emma Street (London: Macmillan, Forthcoming).
[2] County Councils Network, ‘Unleash the Potential of Counties’ (County Councils Network, 2019); UK2070 Commission, ‘Make No Little Plans: Acting at Scale for a Fairer and Stronger Future’ (UK2070 Commission, 2020).
[3] For a discussion of why using administrative regions and local authority areas as proxies for spatial economic analysis, please see Colin Jones, ‘Spatial Economy and the Geography of Functional Economic Areas’, Environment and Planning B: Urban Analytics and City Science 44, no. 3 (2017): 486–503.
[4] Wilcox, Nohrovà, and Williams, ‘Breaking Boundaries: Empowering City Growth through Cross-Border Collaboration’.
[5] RTPI, ‘Strategic Planning: Effective Cooperation for Planning Across Boundaries’ (London: Royal Town Planning Institute, 2015).
[6] Authors’ own analysis of data from LPA websites, Planning Inspectorate and Catriona Riddell Associates.

 

COLLABORATION TOWARDS A MORE CERTAIN FUTURE

Introduction

Co-production, rather than compromise, is the crux of an effective strategic plan. To achieve a future where transport delivery effectively contributes to the priorities of a strategic plan, planning and transport agencies, at a minimum, must work together to establish a unifying vision. Focus must be shifted from exclusively forecasting based on existing travel and housing demands, to backcasting the necessary strategies needed to implement their shared vision. The way this process is achieved is important. Whilst negations and compromises prioritise agreement on the first acceptable scenario and achieving an output that is a culmination of different aims and interests of involved parties, collaboration and co-production starts from the outset of defining those aims and outcomes together.

This requires considerable “up-front" investment of resources by each party, and it is understood that the impacts of a decade of austerity may make authorities reluctant to embark on this journey. However, as shown below, there are considerable advantages to transport-informed strategic planning which would bring significant short- and long-term benefits for those involved as well as for the wider community. The onus is on local authorities to serve the needs of their local area and strategic planning offers considerable benefits that are irresponsible for authorities to ignore.

Despite favourable legislature in the statute and strong encouragement from the NPPF, uptake on strategic plans has been low since 2010 and even lower for transport focused strategic plans. Considerable powers can be devolved from Whitehall for the areas with former integrated transport authorities (ITAs) but no new ITAs have been created since 1970s and it is telling that local authorities with considerable cross-boundary commuting and unsustainable new settlements are not taking up these opportunities. The examples and recommendations below should underline the benefits of strategic planning on transport matters and encourage local authorities to follow the proactive and visionary approach as promoted throughout this report.

Box 3: Benefits of working together[1]:

  • Funding provided by central government to nine of the areas with devolution deals to invest in economic growth – this currently amounts to £246.5 million a year, a total of £7.4 billion over a 30-year period;

  • Consolidated local transport budgets and full devolution of adult education funding;

  • Devolved powers in tax e.g. Manchester’s ‘earn back’ arrangement to retain a portion of additional tax revenue generated by its investment;

  • Funding to support housing growth e.g. £300 million of devolved housing loan funds for Greater Manchester over ten years.

 

Broaden the Scope: Functioning economic geographies and multi-organisational partnerships

Rarely do functional regions forming housing and economic market areas match to the boundaries of local administrative area where most planning and transport related decisions are made for[2]. This ‘wicked’ problem (i.e. a well-known problem without an apparent solution) has been discussed widely in the literature – as the RTPI has put it “the direct solution of simply redrawing boundaries to reflect functional geography is rarely adopted as it is unpopular, expensive and difficult to get right”[3].

To manage this wicked problem, local authorities and transport authorities must enter partnerships with one another reflecting the lived reality of economic and community needs. This will ensure policies, strategies and interventions for the wider economic geography work. These arrangements will differ depending on the local governance arrangements of the area in question. A partnership between planning and transport authorities in two tiered-authorities will look different from one in a unitary authority or a combined authority for example.

Strategic work, whether on housing delivery, transport delivery, or otherwise, should cover a wider  economic area, and broaden its scope where possible towards a sub-regional analysis of movement, goods, and services across all modes of transport. This approach is better suited to bring forward a more robust and relevant evidence base (beyond travel to work areas) as well as relevant solutions and outcomes, driven by a growth-based vision for a much wider area. Higher level analysis will bring forward the investment from both public and private sectors in skills, housing and particularly in transport, and ensure that the investment is directed towards strategic and cross-boundary projects, rather than only locally important ones.

A strategic plan and better integration of land use planning and transport planning at the strategic level offers efficient and reliable transport services, increases in productivity by reducing transaction costs and travel times, and better integrated placemaking strategies to make high quality liveable places connected to public space, employment markets, recreational activities. Such integration offers innovative solutions to transform transport towards a lower carbon future by changing the use of land in conjunction with the right transport policy or delivery partner in a consistent and coherent manner. This is especially relevant to major projects, where benefits which would usually only serve their immediate area, can now be distributed to the whole area.

Example: How does the 2040 Greater Manchester Transport Strategy support the overarching spatial framework?[4] The Places for Everyone joint plan is the overarching spatial plan for Greater Manchester (minus Stockport), it seeks to influence the scale and distribution of housing and employment, ensuring that land is made available to deliver the increased number of jobs and homes needed to support economic growth and access to opportunity until 20137. To achieve this, Transport for Greater Manchester has been working closely with land use planners at the GMCA to ensure that any significant new housing and employment areas are connected to Greater Manchester’s existing transport network, with enough capacity to support the increase in journeys. the Transport Strategy Deliver Plan 2 (2020-2025) which was published alongside the new draft GMSF in 2019 (which is now withdrawn and replaced by Placed for Everyone strategy), sets out all the transport projects they hope to achieve in the next five years to deliver growth.  

New governance arrangements for a transport related strategy making need to be put in place to ensure decisions are only related to strategic matters and not to be conflated by local matters. A joint working group consisting of land use planners, transport planners, policy community, and politicians, will offer confidence and accountability to external stakeholders. Such joint boards (under banners of growth hub, joint management, etc.) will give opportunity to for small and medium businesses and the wider public to be heard and provide input that is often not possible in the current governance arrangements offered by the current diaspora of combined authorities, LEP structures, two-tiered authorities, and otherwise. Voluntary based, bottom-up joint initiatives between local planning authorities and transport authorities should also be flexible to adjust and reflect the ever-changing realities of functional economic geographies and the field of transport providers and changes in the delivery and technology (e.g. HS2). Such flexibility ensures a robust membership of relevant stakeholders and terms of partnership.

Emerging subnational transport authorities are providing much needed support in this regard to coordinate local transport knowledge and needs at a regional level to ensure good practice and data is shared[5], and bigger monies can be leveraged by pooling resources together. Their voluntary and horizontal partnership structure complements current practices of strategic plan making and aids the development of robust strategy making for functional economic geographies and beyond. These benefits stretch from the economy to health and to equality.

Example: Sub-national transport authorities The Department for Transport is supporting the development of sub-national transport bodies (STBs), continuing devolving some powers and working closely with them on strategic transport matters such as the business plan for Northern Powerhouse Rail. Though the Transport for the North remains the only sub national transport body with statutory status,  other STBs are in development such as Midlands Connect, England’s Economic Heartland, Transport for the South East, Western Gateway and Peninsula Transport. The way the membership structure is formed ensures that these authorities are a coalition of willing, and can flexibly provide the resources to deliver on cross-boundary infrastructure, dependant on what is needed.

Engage early: co-producing spatial strategies

A strategic plan has a chance to bring together a diverse group of parties and interest with the aim of developing and implementing visionary and effective placemaking for the area. The joint work needs to be based on collaboration and coproduction that aims at building professional and local experience and expertise of each interested parties to the aim of betterment of the whole area. Such collaborative joint work will easily get the political buy in and secure greater level of private engagement and investment.

This is easier said than done. Great effort needs to be spent from the outset on an effective and collaborative governance arrangements to ensure a truly co-producing environment. Paragraph 16 of the NPPF states that Local Plans should "be shaped by early, proportionate and effective engagement between plan-makers and communities, local organisations, businesses, infrastructure providers and operators and statutory consultees”, however, there is no a clear guidance from the government on what proportionate and effective engagement looks like. It is even more important for strategic plans to be engaging with transport partners in all shapes or forms and go beyond statutory consultation to make sure quality housing, employment centres and public spaces are connected by an effective and sustainable modes of travel. It is only after then a shared vision can be formed that would put the interest of improving transport matters in the area. The invitation to all parts of transport delivery partners should not be a formality but actively encouraged.

Interviewee (Planning Consultant): “The stage at which planning authorities start to assess sites in their SHLAA is an absolutely key stage for input from transport. Once those assessments go public it’s hard for councils to retract what has been said.”

An effective and sustainable transport network is only as strong as its weakest part – for example the effectiveness of strategic road network, managed by Highways England, could easily be hampered by problems in local roads or access roads from residential areas, managed by local highways authority. Most transport modes are complementary of each other – therefore it is crucial for all parts to be working as efficiently and sustainably as possible. Sharing data and limited joint work e.g. sitting on biannual panels can only go as far to actually deliver meaningful policies or little towards raising aging transport infrastructure and travel modes to the challenges of the 21st century. This is even more important for areas out of the spotlight e.g. rural areas with strong city region neighbours or large cities without strong transport powers devolved from Whitehall to voice their needs together and lobby for support.

Example: Cumbria Infrastructure Plan[6] The Cumbria Infrastructure Plan, created by the County Council in partnership with the Cumbria LEP, created a framework in which the County can negotiate with the Transport for the North, Highways England, Network Rail, and local MPs on Cumbria’s infrastructure priorities. They also created a shared vision with all the districts within their boundaries, which helped them secure support from outside organisations, and gave them strong mandate with a unified voice. This allowed schemes to be pushed forward much faster through the development of business cases (as they were prioritised, resources were focused on these schemes rather than people working on different things). A non-statutory plan was preferred because it was quicker and less detailed, yet articulated vision and ambition in a way that clearly focuses on economic growth and priorities for infrastructure projects. This plan was in part a response to the first strategic document draft by TfN sent to all partners, which did not have any single new line of road or rail in Cumbria. However, after the publication of this document, it helped to get Cumbria on the map and steer some of the conversation in favour of them. When TfN publish their own statutory plan, Cumbria’s non-statutory plan and its schemes will have statutory status, which facilitates easier access to funding.

Coproducing spatial strategies and vision will ensure partners’ commitment and greater certainty that will ensure all parts of transport network will be delivered, hence securing strong positive cumulative impact of whole transport network. Planning Advisory Service document[7], dated but still relevant on the issue, highlights how planning authorities should engage with transport partners on different scenario building to identify and coproduce vision and appropriate placemaking strategies. A shared spatial vision would also clarify timelines and budgets for partners to better plan.

Pooling resources and achieving savings

Strategic plans can help local authorities and transport partners make significant savings and reduce costs of plan making by combining technical capacity and skills and better align policy objectives and budget timelessness for an effective implementation and delivery plan. This will bring corporate knowledge sharing and greater organisational skills to the table for better management of the projects as well as plan making. The establishment of a strategic infrastructure tariff, and the pooling of S106 funding from authorities across Oxfordshire is an example of such commitment.

In addition to savings, such partnerships ensure consistency of approach which is of paramount importance if transport wants to be transformed into a lower carbon future. A strategy that involves building new settlements connected via road networks whilst investing in cycling infrastructure in well served urban cores surely is paradoxical to the climate emergency that many local councils across England have recently declared.

Pooled budgets can be used to leverage existing funding for bigger monies, use cross subsidy to make up any shortfalls or divert funding where needed and also direct the investment and development in a coordinated way.

Integrating land use and transport knowledge in strategic planning

Strategic plan making process provides a unique opportunity to spatial (land use) planners and transport planners to exchange knowledge and challenge bias. Driven by a shared vision and objectives, land use planning and transport planning complements each other in a way that not only expands skillset for problem solving and future defining but also rethinking some assumptions and better understand other’s points. CIHT[8] suggests a common set of shared place-based objectives instead of traditional siloes to provide sustainable placemaking and transport options for the area. The priority should not be saving travel times, which may promote further travel distances, but rather increase productivity, wellbeing, while lowering carbon footprint.

Example: Alternative approaches to conventional appraisal methods[9] The National Infrastructure Commission (NIC), set up by the UK government to provide impartial, expert advice and make independent recommendations to the government on economic infrastructure, was asked to carry out an assessment of the rail needs of the Midlands and the North, to inform the development of the government’s Integrated Rail Plan. To achieve this, NIC decided not to use the conventional methods of assessing the impact of transport interventions in isolation and with marginal benefits, but instead has developed its own methodology that aims to fully capture more dynamic interactions between transport and economic growth. This approach assesses the potential for rail investments to support both economic growth and competitiveness, and sustainability and quality of life. Therefore, it can assess transformational changes that rail investment can bring about. 

Planners are excellent mediators, bringing different perspectives on the table, managing uncertainties and different interests – often agonistic interests – and finding solutions. The example from the Netherlands[10] suggest that the socialisation of knowledge whereby both planners and transport professionals, actively involved in production and processes by which their tacit knowledge is produced, can contribute to greater understanding of their shared knowledge and both internalise and externalise to turn discussion into alternative testing and scenario building. Some authorities in the country, such as Plymouth, have an integrated planning and transport planning team, and therefore create knowledge sharing by virtue of their organisational setup. Even where planning and transport authorities are separate, however, there is still scope for such exchange.

Example: Co-production of Knowledge Transport for Greater Manchester and the Greater Manchester Combined Authority have bi-weekly planning and transport working group meetings together, in which planners and transport planners together review the work they have been doing, ask questions of others, and provide a base for knowledge sharing between disciplines. This can be viewed as a model for knowledge sharing where planners and transport planners are in separate organisations.

Stronger coordination (both intellectually and practically) between planning and transport would also ensure sustainable development and transport visions are enshrined in the plans from the outset. Innovative solutions would emerge, previously thought barriers will be resolved, and can deliver better vision and placemaking.

Delivering national priorities

Since the Town and Country Planning Act was published in 1947, the purpose of the planning system has been to deliver objectives as set at the national level through local policy. The most recent national objective, as clearly stated in the NPPF, is “to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development”. Since 1947, the current structure of planning machinery has been designed to ensure that planning is centrally co-ordinated, locally delivered, and effectively executed to the satisfaction of the national or devolved governments. Without this assurance, local planning authorities risk being penalised or losing their planning powers. This underscores the need for strategic planning to work at multiple scales, taking into simultaneous consideration local, regional, and national priorities.

Strategic planning, which builds on a strong collaboration with transport partners, can ensure that local authorities are in a stronger place to deliver national objectives and take advantage of grants and supports available from the central government to deliver their own priorities. Especially where there is overlap between strategic and national objectives, as is the case of the Oxfordshire Growth Plan, and the proposed Oxford to Cambridge Arc, the benefits of such arrangements are tangible, and compounding.

Although the partnership and governance of combined authorities and city and growth deals varies from place to place, a strong and accountable leadership from local authorities is now claimed to be pre-requisite of any devolved powers from central government[11] and often can be leveraged to secure larger support both from the public and private sectors. Greater Manchester is one example where the benefits of a combined authority and accountability of an elected mayor have led to continual devolution of spatial planning, transport, and funding powers from the central government through four devolution deals from 2014 through to 2016. In turn, the region has benefitted from the expansion of its carbon-neutral tram network and subsequent investment around new transport hubs, while simultaneously promoting the central government’s northern powerhouse and northern gateway strategies. Outside well-established city regions, strong partnerships between local planning authorities and transport partners are necessary to move towards a lower carbon transport future, resilience against climate change, and the post-coronavirus economic recovery, and levelling up agenda.

Powers are available to authorities who are keen on establishing partnerships to secure stronger transport futures. These can include workplace parking levies like in Nottingham, road charges, or even establishment of a Passenger Transport Executive. These powers have been rarely used in the last two decades, however, and local authorities who are serious about serving their communities and meeting stringent government tests must take better advantage of these permissible regulations and legal powers as able.

An effective integration of land use and transport will ensure that planners can support wider social outcomes and address national objectives such as statutory clean air plans which require strong coordination between development and transport investment. One way to achieve this to ensure integration between strategic plans / joint core strategies and local transport plans which would support placemaking strategies and innovative solutions rather than delivering houses without sustainable transport option or perpetually giving into demand without changing travel patterns and behaviours with regard to supply side management of private vehicles. Strategic planning is an excellent way of showing that a local authority has met the legal test of ‘duty to cooperate’, and further integration of transport would only strengthen this soundness (example: south Essex where inspector failed a local plan due to unsustainable transport options for garden city proposal).

 


[1] National Audit Office, ‘English Devolution Deals’ (London: National Audit Office, 2016), https://www.nao.org.uk/report/english-devolution-deals/.
[2] M. Baker et al., ‘Recommended Housing Market Area Boundaries: Implications for Spatial Planning: Geography of Housing Market Areas in England-Paper C’ (London: Department of Communities and Local Government, 2010), https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/6350/1775491.pdf.
[3] RTPI, ‘Strategic Planning: Effective Cooperation for Planning Across Boundaries’, 7.
[4] Transport for Greater Manchester, ‘The Greater Manchester Transport Strategy 2040’ (Manchester: Transport for Greater Manchester, 2017), https://tfgm.com/2040.
[5] Cecilia Wong et al., ‘Mapping Policies and Programmes: The Use of GIS to Communicate Spatial Relationships in England’, Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design 42, no. 6 (2015): 1020–1039, https://doi.org/10/ggr3m3.
[6] Interview data and AECOM, ‘Cumbria Infrastructure Plan’ (Penrith: Cumbria LEP, 2016).
[7] Janice Morphet, ‘Steps Approach to Infrastructure Planning and Delivery’ (London: Planning Advisory Service, 2009).
[8] CIHT, ‘Better Planning, Better Transport, Better Places’.
[9] National Infrastructure Commission, ‘Rail Needs Assessment for the Midlands and the North - Interim Report’ (London: National Infrastructure Commission, 2020).
[10] Marco te Brömmelstroet and Luca Bertolini, ‘Integrating Land Use and Transport Knowledge in Strategy-Making’, Transportation 37, no. 1 (2010): 85–104.
[11] Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government, ‘Northern Powerhouse Education, Skills, and Employment Summit 2020’, accessed 16 July 2020, https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/northern-powerhouse-education-skills-and-employment-summit-2020.

 

SELECTED CASE STUDIES

Three case study areas were chosen by the research team for in depth analysis and interviews, so as to critically investigate the links between strategic planning and transport matters, and showcase potential approaches for decision makers when producing their own strategic plans.

These areas are Greater Manchester, Oxfordshire, and Plymouth.

The areas were selected due to different approaches employed towards strategic plan making (e.g. Combined Authority, Joint Plan, Aligned Strategies), as well as the level of integration between their strategic policies / visions and transport matters in both strategic plans and local transport plans.

Other areas and plans of strategic importance, including non-statutory strategic plans, were also investigated to inform our thinking, but were not focused in-depth.

The main lesson learned from these case studies is that strategic planning, through close collaboration between neighbouring authorities and transport bodies, offers extensive opportunities to ensure that strategic level planning policies on transport matters are in place to accommodate and cater for future growth projections, as well as make the existing built environment more sustainable.

A strong corporate governance and enterprise mindset is required to undertake this monumental task. Early and effective engagement between planning departments and transport partners to develop a shared vision that supports economic growth, tackles the climate crisis, and has a positive impact on the society is not easy. Nor is it cheap. There is a very high bar that planners need to meet. The need to show a five year land supply that is viable and deliverable, and which relies on external developers to develop and deliver homes, has led to countless examples of poor integration between these fields; far out sites from the city centre are chosen, and transport planners are relied on to make these sites more viable and deliverable, despite their funding and business case. When everything hinges on deliverability and viability in the margins, it is almost impossible to ask for S106 and CIL returns to contribute to transport infrastructure as developers can easily walk away.

However, our research evidently demonstrated that the local areas successful in developing their strategic plans with a strong focus on sustainable development are the ones that realise the potential of strategic planning both in the short term and long term. These plans work in terms of planning at the right scale (functional economic market areas), engaging early and effectively, pooling knowledge and resources, and integrating land use planning and transport for a sustainable future.

They were able to this because there were strong governance arrangements in place to ensure local department teams were effectively communicating with each other, had strong local political buy-in, and were measured against clear benchmarks on success (and failure). This raises confidence and portrays an approach of consistency, which makes it easier to bring private capital, liaise with external stakeholders, and support a vision-led plan.

These local authorities had also an enterprise mindset that helped them see the value of taking risks i.e. regime-testing approach to planning rather than regime-conforming (see paragraph 4.28), and making the most of tools and resources available to them (see Cumbria Infrastructure Plan in paragraph 5.12).

Work at all scales, from reconfiguring national policies and guidance, to re-allocating funding within various transport authorities, can be done to better facilitate integrated and sustainable transport-led plans. Nonetheless, the onus is on local authorities to serve the needs of their local area. Strategic planning offers considerable benefits that are irresponsible for authorities to ignore.

Greater Manchester


 

Strategic Planning / Transport Document

Status

Places for Everyone Joint Plan

Work in progress

Greater Manchester Transport Strategy 2040

Adopted in 2017

Manchester Local Plan (2021 – 2036)

Regulation 18 public consultations underway

Salford Local Plan

Regulation 19 public consultations finished

Stockport Local Plan (2020 – 2035)

Not yet progressed to preferred option stage

Trafford Local Plan (2022 – 2037)

Plan being drafted

 

Greater Manchester is a mayoral combined authority in North West England, and the first combined authority in the country. Composed of ten local authorities, each previously with its own strategic plan, these functions are now being delivered through the combined authority with the adoption of its Transport Strategy, and the upcoming Places for Everyone joint plan.

While it is not yet clear whether the spatial framework will take the form of a spatial development strategy (strategic policies only) or a joint local plan (containing both strategic policies and development management policies), the shift in future towards a more strategic planning base for the entire sub-region is clear.


Figure 4: Strategic planning and transport stakeholder mapping in Greater Manchester