Following the recent General Election, the UK's Department for Transport published its Transport Investment Strategy on 5 July 2017.  This follows on from the Industrial Strategy green paper earlier this year and sets out how transport can enable delivery of the Industrial Strategy. 

The Transport Investment Strategy does not tell us much that we did not already know, but the key points of note are:

  • the strong support for Sub-national Transport Bodies (STBs) such as Transport for the North
  • the importance the Government is placing on innovation and new technology, which merits half a chapter of the Strategy
  • the move to new funding models, involving the private sector

Four objectives

Transport investment decisions "can and must" seek to:

  • Create a more reliable, less congested, and better connected transport network that works for the users that rely on it
  • Build a stronger, more balanced economy by enhancing productivity and responding to local growth priorities
  • Enhance our global competitiveness by making the UK a more attractive place to trade and invest
  • Support the creation of new housing

Strategic priorities and investment propositions

The Strategy identifies a number of strategic priorities and investment propositions that the government will look at when assessing any new transport infrastructure scheme.  These include:

  • All schemes should be designed to unlock a specific opportunity that targets one or more of the four objectives (e.g. schemes that make specific housing developments viable)
  • A joined-up response across local areas (STBs will be critical to this); and using cross-modal thinking to deliver the best outcome
  • A new assessment standard judging investment programmes on how they contribute to creating a more balanced economy, looking more at the economic impacts of transport schemes
  • Continuing to prioritise value for money and squeezing existing assets first before committing to large-scale investment (e.g. digital signalling on the existing rail network allowing trains to run closer together)
  • Seeking contributions from those who stand to benefit and using private finance where this meets the objectives (see below for more detail)
  • A preference for 'quick fixes' –schemes that deliver quickly for users at lower cost and risk
  • Projects to put the UK at the forefront of adopting future technology (see below for more detail).

Sub-national Transport Bodies and devolved decision making

The government is keen that transport decisions are made at the right level and acknowledges that there has been a gap in transport planning at the regional level, which is where the new STBs, empowered under the Cities and Local Government Act 2016, come in. The Strategy notes that the creation of STBs will significantly change how infrastructure priorities are set and that this is "a fundamental change, opening up central government decision making to ensure that infrastructure investment takes account of regional transport strategies and is targeted at rebalancing the country's economy."

There will be a new Major Roads Network (MRN), covering the busiest and most economically important A roads, sitting between the national Strategic Road Network under Highways England and the rest of the local road network.  A proportion of the National Roads Fund will be allocated to the MRN and there will be a consultation on how best to manage the MRN at a regional level (local authorities will continue to have highway authority responsibility).

Research, Innovation and Technology

Half a chapter of the Strategy is devoted to this, reflecting that it is a core theme of the Industrial Strategy, which the Transport Investment Strategy supports.  The Strategy lists some of the key technologies that the government are working to promote and influence via their investments, including:

  • Technologies that improve user experience (smart ticketing, Wi-Fi and apps)
  • Uptake of Ultra Low Emission Vehicles (including investing in chargepoint infrastructure) and battery technology
  • Connected and autonomous vehicles (both R&D and developing the best regulatory environment to support their take-up)
  • Smart systems and digital solutions (smart motorways, digital signalling on rail)

The government will look to future-proof transport investments and also wants the UK to be world-leading in battery technology and connected and autonomous vehicles.

Funding

The scale of the DfT's ambition for transport investment means they need to look to alternative sources of funding for the cost of infrastructure, in line with the 'beneficiary pays' principle.  An example of where this has been done successfully is Crossrail, where the Mayoral CIL and other developer contributions reduced the overall cost to the taxpayer.

The government expects its delivery partners to obtain third party contributions where possible, although the exact amount will be negotiated.

The government supports the use of PPPs and PF2 and will work with the Infrastructure and Projects Authority to identify projects that meet the PF2 criteria and that contribute to a pipeline of future opportunities.  This is exciting news for the private sector, which up to now has seen little government interest in the use of PF2.

In addition to private finance, the government will continue to promote different ways of unlocking private capital for smaller investments, such as the Residual Value mechanism used in rail franchising.

What to expect over the coming months

There are a number of initiatives mentioned in the Strategy, which we've listed below.

National Infrastructure Commission sets out the first stage of the National Infrastructure Assessment, publishing its 'vision and priorities' – later this summer

Completed National Infrastructure Assessment – 2018

Port Connectivity Study, a detailed review of port connectivity issues across England, assessing the potential need for new capacity or connectivity – later this year

Major Roads Network consultation – later this year

Aviation Strategy, setting out the Government's vision for the wider aviation sector, including surface access, to replace the 2013 Aviation Policy Framework – in development

Infrastructure Efficiency Strategy, focusing on practical steps to help drive efficiencies and provide greater transparency on whole life costs of investments by sharing information about capital projects across the DfT family – in development

The full Transport Investment Strategy is on the DfT website here.