It can seem at times that having begun to make progress with one set of issues, those concerned with local transport will almost inevitably have another batch dropped in their lap. Traffic management, accessibility, maintaining roads and public transport, encouraging sustainable travel, regulating new modes and technologies, embracing shared mobility, addressing air quality, managing parking, supporting economic development, and planning transport for new housing are just a few of the topics on a transport authority’s ‘to do’ list – and needing decisions by both chief officers and elected members alike.
Balancing an approach to all of them, allocating resources and setting a framework for their overall coordination is a constant challenge – and, frustratingly, not one about which there’s space for a lot of collective exchange or problem sharing amongst those with that responsibility.
Three years ago, a group led by the Local Transport Today team proposed that there should be an opportunity at least once a year for those grappling with the broader agendas and choices to come together and take stock of the local transport landscape, and identify both current and future challenges and how professionals can best get into shape to address them.
This was the birth of the Local Transport Summit, a 24-hour residential ‘Chatham House Rules’ discussion in a relaxed environment, firstly held in Oxfordshire in autumn 2016, then in Greater Manchester last autumn and now set for Letchworth in Hertfordshire at the end of November. This year’s event is in partnership with Hertfordshire County Council and England’s Economic Heartland, and with support again from the Department for Transport and a growing number of specialist transport consultants and professional bodies, including lead sponsor Steer for the third year. The annual gathering has now become a keenly looked-forward to event.
After a hard look at conurbation transport and mobility planning in Manchester last year, this year will focus on non-metropolitan Britain, and issues affecting medium sized and smaller towns, lower density suburban and rural areas, and regional connectivity and the links between transport and economic and housing development and sustainable mobility provision for such locations.
It should thus appeal particularly to those with senior transport roles at shire counties, unitaries and districts, and those involved in setting up the new government-supported Strategic Regional Transport Bodies.
This year’s Summit will also continue to explore the latest thinking on broader local transport planning and decision-making professional issues including the implications of behavioural and technological change, appropriate public and political engagement, the right forms of appraisal and evaluation, plus addressing uncertainty and the impact of new business models for transport service delivery.
The outline programme appears opposite. Key speakers and discussion leaders will include Patricia Hayes (Director-General, Roads Devolution & Motoring, Department for Transport), Benjamin Smith (Director, Regions, Cities and Devolution, Department for Transport), Martin Tugwell (Programme Director, England’s Economic Heartland), David Williams (Leader, Hertfordshire County Council), Mark Kemp (Director of Highways & Infrastructure, Hertfordshire County Council), Professor Glenn Lyons (Professor of Future Mobility, University of the West of England), Steven Bishop (Head of Transport Strategy & Economics Steer) and Elaine Seagriff (Director of Transport Planning, Jacobs).
A key role in helping set the framework for discussion and capturing outcomes will be played this year by Professor Phil Goodwin, well known for his perceptive observation of the transport scene, and his important interventions on emerging new issues through his regular column in LTT over many years.
“We are delighted to have another fantastic line up of participants, and in particular the special insight of Phil Goodwin this year,” says LTT Editorial Director Peter Stonham. “This has become a must-attend event for those at the cutting edge of Local Transport thinking, and the limited one hundred places will be quickly taken up,” he added. “There’s a special allocation for LTT readers, and anyone interested in being involved is urged to sign up fast!”
Thoughts welcomed from young professionals
The Summit intention is to bring together not only the seasoned professionals in local transport, but those from other disciplines and perspectives who are much affected by (and have impacts on) the transport equation, and also those newly joining this discussion as the next generation of practitioners.
Amongst those who’ve been involved with all three Summits to date is Glenn Lyons, Mott MacDonald Professor of Future Mobility at the Centre for Transport and Society, UWE, who has now reached a very successful mid-career point, but acknowledges how much change there has been since he began his personal journey in the sector, and took an early lead in establishing a young professionals network.
“I was once a ‘pup’ – an early career professional who, with a network of others, was given a voice to be able to contribute to the debate at the start of the Millennium about the future of transport,” he recalls. He also notes how much change was in the air then, and how much more has happened since.
“The digital age was just warming up then,” he says. “In my mid-career years as a ‘dolphin’ I bore witness to an unfolding of digital age innovation that started to change society and travel – and I had the agency to be able to play a part in shaping the agenda – something fostered by early career mentoring and encouragement from senior colleagues.”
“I’ve now just turned into an ‘owl’,” Lyons acknowledges, as another age milestone passes for him. “I would like to think I still have an eye for thinking about the future – one which I find deeply uncertain. However, I also realise how important it is to see today’s early career professionals have the sort of opportunities to contribute that I was afforded.”
Lyons is helping put together a specific session at the Summit that will provide a ‘voice’ for those who are bringing a new approach to this important subject. It’s not that there won’t be an opportunity throughout the event for young professionals to contribute, but that a clear moment provided to challenge ‘the establishment’ may unlock new insight about the need for change.
“It matters for career development – they are our emerging leaders,” says Lyons. “But frankly, it also matters because they will have a view on the future that is as legitimate and valuable as those of the older dolphins and owls. In these times of change we need a diversity of views to come together to help chart a course into the future. Sure, there are multiple digital platforms now available to express a view, but it’s really valuable to bring professionals of all career stages into one-to-one face-to-face strategic conversations about the future of local transport and local transport planning, where debate is free-flowing and not just digital ping pong.”
Lyons is happy to hear from any young professionals who would like to be considered as Summit participants.
We need a robust and flexible approach
Being located in Hertfordshire means this year’s Summit will have a great reference point for non-metropolitan Britain, and in particular the elements that make up England’s Economic Heartland, of which the county is part – an area of a dozen local authorities stretching from Swindon, through Oxford and Milton Keynes on to Northamptonshire and Cambridgeshire, and aiming to be the first fully constituted strategic regional transport body.
Martin Tugwell, EEH’s Programme Director, points out that “the National Infrastructure Commission believes our economy could double or even triple in size over the next 30 years.” He believes that economic growth on that scale is “transformational” and needs new approaches to transport provision. Indeed the Commission put infrastructure at the heart of the approach required to enable that potential to be realised.
Connectivity is obviously a key element to facilitating economic activity, and Tugwell’s belief is that delivery of East West Rail and the ‘expressway’ serving the Oxford-Cambridge corridor are a ‘once-in-a-generation’ opportunity. “But for a spine to be successful it has to connect with the wider transport system and so requires complementary investment in that” Tugwell adds, “but also in digital infrastructure, utilities (power, water) and other supporting services.”
“If we look back 10 years, let alone 30 years, then we quickly remind ourselves of how far and how fast our lives have changed and continue to change” Tugwell continues. “The millennial generation has a different outlook when it comes to what’s important – access to wifi is essential for them. There are other fundamental upheavals going on. The rise of on-demand services and the demise of the traditional high-street shopping experience are further examples of how we are changing our lives, of how we need to be looking for different solutions to our needs.”
“We must therefore ensure our investment choices enable the future, rather than solve problems of the past, and not inadvertently force the next generation to adopt our way of doing business when their approach to life is quite different,” Tugwell continues.
Martin Tugwell hopes to see “transformational economic growth” on a major scale but acknowledges that the growth in housing that will come with it inevitably puts pressure on the environment – both natural and built, and urban and rural. “And so another challenge facing England’s Economic Heartland alongside an appropriate transport strategy, is how to enable our economic potential whilst delivering ‘net betterment’.”
Tugwell believes that, as a profession those involved in local transport have a critical role to play in responding to these challenges in a rapidly changing world. “We need to re-learn the skills that enable strategic infrastructure planning; become comfortable in the use of scenario planning as a tool to help shape the direction of travel; and develop an approach to appraisal that is both robust and at the same time has the flexibility required to reflect real-life,” Tugwell asserts. He’s looking forward to sharing these challenges with others at the Summit for the benefit of both England’s Economic Heartland and the rest of the country’s local transport provision.
Day 1 - Thursday 29 November
12:30 Registration with tea and coffee served
13:00 Hosts’ Welcome and Introduction to Event.
Actions Since last year's Summit and introduction to this year's theme, objectives & programme.
13:30 The UK local transport landscape: where are we now
Perspectives from different stakeholders/connected players of how they see local transport issues, opportunities and challenges.
14:45 Refreshments break
15:15 Round-table discussions: Identifying the Key issues
Delegate participations begins with a challenge to assess the first session contributions and add topics that they feel ought to be discussed over the next 24 hours. Each session to identify a different group/area of interest.
16:15 Report back on findings from round tables’ discussions
17:00 England’s Economic Heartland showcase session
The opportunity to explore real issues being tackled by England’s Economic Heartland on a regional level and for England’s Economic Heartland to report on their strategy.
17:45 Hertfordshire County Council showcase session
The opportunity to explore the issues being tackled by Hertfordshire on a county level and to present their local transport plan.
18:30 Panel discussion on the showcase sessions
19:00 Networking reception
19:35 Dinner with guest speakers
21:30 Post dinner drinks
Day 2 - Friday 30 November
08:00 Breakfast for hotel residents
08:30 Registration for new arrivals/non-residents with tea and coffee
09:00 Reflections on Day 1
09:15 Making it happen - short talks on key issues and pragmatic responses
• The current state of thinking and policy on local transport in the DfT, post-2018 Budget and pre-2019 Spending Review.
• Transport, placemaking, strategic spatial planning & economic planning – the challenge in non-metropolitan England
• Understanding demographic and behavioural change and its impacts on local transport.
• Transport Technology and changing supply-side paradigms
• Dealing with uncertainty. What should we do when we can only guess the future?
• Mobility as a Service and New Transport Technology changing supply-side paradigms for local transport
10:15 Panel discussion including above speakers
10:45 Refreshments break
11:10 A new look from a younger generation
Younger professionals and practitioners feedback their thoughts on the discussion so far and errors, omissions and potential disruptive influences.
12:10 Four break-out groups
Audience participation session to discuss what has emerged from Summit
13:00 Summing up and the future of the discussion
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