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Local Transport Summit: Discussing the future in a time of unprecedented uncertainty

Later this month senior local transport professionals will meet for the seventh year at the Local Transport Summit, being held this time in Sheffield. It is arguably time of the greatest uncertainty - political, economic, and social, and creates a challenging environment in which to discuss the way forward. Peter Stonham and Arman Farahmand-Razavi consider the landscape and the topics that are going to be examined, followed by contributions from the event’s major partners with their own take on

04 October 2023

 

As we approach the Local Transport Summit 2023, back in the North and benefitting from the hospitality of South Yorkshire, it is increasingly evident that this is probably not the year for us to indulge ourselves with a long hard and careful look at perfecting an idealised future strategy for transport. 

Whilst that would be satisfying and professionally engaging, it would be a conversation rather detached from the reality of the current political landscape. We might conveniently argue that those in authority and leadership ought indeed to themselves be thoughtfully addressing the challenges facing the sector. But that would overlook a significant reality. Those in such decision making positions have something else on their minds: an impending General Election. They do not seem to be either in the mood, or with the mindset, to look at things with a long-term perspective. They are preoccupied with much shorter term considerations.

Any unwelcome advice with a strategic view to the fore looks set at worst to be ignored, and at best put to one side, and in the run up to the forthcoming Election. Whether it be input from official bodies like the Climate Change Committee, or the National Infrastructure Commission, or from professional organisations in the transport planning and delivery world giving their considered judgement on both what is important and necessary, those with a more political agenda will happily turn a deaf ear to such input.

There are still a few places available at the Summit! To book your place visit: https://tinyurl.com/3dwh2j4v

So what should the Summit aim to achieve in this context?

Perhaps the most useful pragmatic and flexible discussion can be about the relationship between where we are now and how we, as professionals, expect things to be developing in the next few years and beyond. 

A waiting game in some ways, but a useful opportunity to get ready for what is likely to be required once the political shenanigans are over — hopefully in around 12 month’s time.

A good awareness of the political mood is very helpful in that context. 

We are therefore fortunate to be having the considerable insight into how things will be looking from inside Government and the political parties by the presence of former transport minister Norman Baker -a candid and energetic observer and campaigner on the political scene.

The absence of the long-awaited new Local Transport Plan guidance from the DfT has been very frustrating, but maybe it would actually be better now for that to be left to the next Government. 

If something were to be issued now, it might be too contaminated by recent political position-taking — on matters ranging from Net Zero to rail and bus policy — and at risk of soon being changed by an incoming administration.

Local Transport Plan horizons should address issues of importance for the next 20 years or so. But the future must inevitably be cloudy in the current unstable climate — both literally and metaphorically — and many of the current relevant policy conversations amount really

to only a set of tactics, hopefully not mutually excluding a longer-term strategic view.

Perhaps the best we can hope for from the Summit discussion this year, is to weather the current storm, make the best short-term decisions possible — without precluding any longer-term further review — and prepare helpful insights into processes, actions and their consequences, for the benefit of the next group of decision makers and the wider public interest.

In the contributions by our key Summit event partners over the next few pages, some of the key visioning and engagement processes and related supporting tools are explored. And elsewhere in this issue, Professor Peter Jones sets out in more depth than hitherto his ideas of ‘Vision and Validate’ as a robust way of exploring transport future options in a much more open-minded and inclusive way than the old ‘Predict and Provide’ basis.

Nicola Kane, who has led the Summit programme development this year, meanwhile offers her thoughts on building consensus for change in polarised times, and how we might move beyond culture wars and slogan exchanges by creating an environment that finds common ground by accepting modifications to purist positions, and thus help build majority support for sometimes difficult trade-offs.

Against this background, it is good to recognise that some positive pathways are still in place and offering examples to be shared in our discussions ,and perhaps replicated.

They include the reshaping of public transport in Greater Manchester to hopefully to a considerable extent deliver what has been achieved in London; the pioneering new approach to a range of transport issues in Wales we heard about at the Summit in Cardiff last year; the rollout of a new generation of buses built on clean electric technology; creative thinking about parking policy and charging in London boroughs and some other local authority areas; and the simple but effective implementation of the £2 English maximum bus fare, which has opened up a new perspective on buses amongst both users, operators and at government level.

Whilst there are undeniable areas of tension in policy at national and local level, for example on ULEZ/CAZs, Low Traffic Neighbourhoods and speed limits, there is learning going on , and alternative thinking on achieving broadly similar objectives in new ways. 

The Summit offers a unique opportunity for conversations and interactions about how all these issues can be considered together in shaping overall transport strategy at local and regional level , and support progress being made in different ways and at different speeds as local circumstances allow.

The context this year may be slightly different, but the value of the get-together and the important contributions of speakers and discussion panellists will be just the same: informative, stimulating, rewarding and enjoyable.

There are still a few places available at the Summit! To book your place visit: https://tinyurl.com/3dwh2j4v

The Local Transport Summit 2023

Day One: Wednesday 18 October

Walking Tour - arranged via Sheffield City Council

Summit starts: 13.30

Welcome to South Yorkshire

Pat Beijer, Executive Director of Transport, SYMCA

Introduction to the event

Peter Stonham, Editorial Director & Chairman, Local Transport Today, and Richard Walker, Transport Planning & Policy Adviser, Department for Transport

13.45

A review of the local transport landscape: Where are we now?

Chaired by Nicola Kane, Director, Steer

Panellists include:

  • Jason Prince, Director, Urban Transport Group
  • Professor Greg Marsden, Institute for Transport Studies
  • Kris Beuret, Director, Social Research Associates
  • Martin Tugwell, Chief Executive, Transport for the North

15.30

Breakout Sessions (4 topics)

  • How do practitioners work effectively with local, regional and national elected members to deliver better outcomes? Facilitator - Mark Frost, Transport Planning Society
  • From plan to delivery – what are the challenges and opportunities in developing and implementing more vision-led and integrated Local Transport Plans (LTPs)? Facilitators: Nicola Kane and Simon Statham, Directors, Steer
  • Where should we focus our efforts to deliver a just transition to a decarbonised system – what do we need to do to increase the impact of the next round of LTPs?
  • How do we inspire the next generation of Transport Planners?

17.00

South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority Showcase

18.30

Networking reception and dinner

Guest speaker - Norman Baker, Former Minister for Local Transport

Day Two: Thursday 19 October 

Summit start: 9.15

Reflections from Day One

Steve Bishop, Associate Director, Steer

Keynote presentation: Engaging with communities to increasing levels of active travel

Eve Holt, Director, GM Moving

09.50

An in-depth look at current issues

  • 15-minute cities and the denial(s) of auto freedom - Loader - 2023 - IPPR Progressive Review - Wiley Online Library – Professor Ian Loader, University of Oxford
  • Tackling Transport Related Social Exclusion in the North – Katie Day, Transport for the North
  • Scaling up active travel delivery – building capacity and capability in the profession – Graham Grant, Director of Planning and Development, Active Travel England

11.30

Professional practice next steps: How we can incorporate themes from the summit into our activities at national, regional and local level?

Panel will include:

  • Pat Beijer, Executive Director of Transport, SYMCA
  • Rebecca Fuller, Assistant Director, Urban Transport Group
  • Keith Mitchell, Senior Consultant, Stantec
  • Clara Davies, Head of Local Infrastructure Policy Team, Department for Transport
  • Stephen Wood, Formerly with Northern Ireland Transport Directorate

12.30

Summing up and event close

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