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England's Heartland and the case for sub-national transport bodies

Source: PSE Feb/March 2019

Martin Tugwell, programme director at England’s Economic Heartland, outlines the body’s vision for the future of the region, and emphasises the importance of sub-national transport bodies.

The idea for England’s Economic Heartland was formed five years’ ago during a discussion between three council leaders who wanted to strengthen the way their authorities collaborated on strategic infrastructure issues. They understood that consideration of strategic issues and solutions extend beyond any one single area and benefit from a co-ordinated response, and that there is a need for stronger integration of investment by government, its agencies, local authorities, as well as infrastructure owners and service providers.

The Heartland Alliance has grown to encompass 11 local transport authorities and three local enterprise partnerships, stretching all the way from Swindon to Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire down to Hertfordshire. It has become the sub-national transport body for the Oxford-Milton Keynes-Cambridge Arc and surrounding areas. The National Infrastructure Commission released its report into the potential of the corridor in 2016 – stating it could double or even triple its economy – and government has subsequently realised this a national priority.

By working collaboratively, we become far more than the sum of our parts.

Our meetings see political leaders from across the region choosing to come together with a shared ambition and the clout to make things happen at pace. All this enables us to have a mature conversation with government and the private sector about what the region’s priorities are – ensuring we get the right strategic infrastructure and services in the right places at the right time.

Government and its agencies are fully engaged with us because they see the intrinsic value in our offer: one strategic partnership, speaking with a single, joined-up voice on the region’s strategic infrastructure needs. For busy government ministers and civil servants, that clarity really is priceless.

As the sub-national transport body, we are producing a Transport Strategy for the Heartland – a 30-year strategic framework through which we will connect our people and places with opportunities and services. We have committed to doing this in a way which provides net gain for the environment – a zero carbon transport system by 2050.

A key part of the strategy is our evidence base, which again demonstrates the value of our collaborative approach. We have developed ‘Project View,’ an at-a-glance visualisation of transport and growth data across the region. We also have a ground-breaking policy modelling tool, which enables us to examine the relative impacts of different policy scenarios in the Heartland.

Both tools are available for use by our partners in their own day-to-day work, providing them with an incredibly valuable resource at their fingertips which simply wouldn’t have been available to them otherwise.

Moreover, the tools form the basis on which Heartland partners will prioritise future investment programmes, starting with the initial five-year programme for the Major Road Network.

Sub-national transport bodies – which also include Transport for the South East, Midlands Connect, and Transport for the North – have been described as an “important new leadership community” by Tricia Hayes, director general at the Department for Transport; while transport minister Jesse Norman says he “absolutely rates” them.

But this collaborative approach to genuinely strategic issues doesn’t have to end at transport. That’s why England’s Economic Heartland is also undertaking crucial work to improve digital connectivity and wider strategic infrastructure such as utilities. It’s why we’re promoting the need for a National Policy Statement for Strategic Infrastructure in the Heartland – as a means to join up infrastructure planning and give confidence that it will be delivered over the long term.

The region’s success isn’t guaranteed – we will only realise our potential with a clear, long-term direction of travel and purpose. England’s Economic Heartland is committed to providing the necessary leadership which will give confidence to both government and the private sector to say yes to the region.


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