By Ojay McDonald
Written for the Transport Knowledge Hub (transportknowledgehub.org.uk)
When it comes to productivity, the UK is underperforming. It has been underperforming for years.
The problem has been acknowledged by the UK Government. In the Green Paper ‘Building Our Industrial Strategy’, workers in France, Germany and the US can produce in just 4 days, what UK workers can produce in 5. There are few that challenge our productivity issues, but the consensus quickly dissipates when we begin to explore how we overcome the problem.
Investment in our physical connectivity is critical. We are a growing nation experiencing capacity issues across our transport network. But, at a time of limited public spending, where do we start? Airport capacity? Relieving our congested, strategic roads? Repairing the pot holes on our local roads? Upgrading our Victorian rail infrastructure? Within each of these there are more questions. Which parts of the country need to be given priority? What modernisation for each mode of transport will deliver the greatest benefits? And how do we deliver this investment with the least amount of disruption and within constrained budgets?
These tensions are all too obvious. Take a recent article in the Financial Times (21st August 2017) where Bent Flyvbjerg, Professor at the Saïd Business School at Oxford University, referred to the constant cancellation of potentially very important smaller schemes in favour the big projects, as ‘monument building’. That’s not to say that the larger projects do not have their own merits.
For ATCM, the issue lies, not in the decisions made, but the actual decision-making process. Town and city management schemes that are the guardians of many of our economic clusters, have a responsibility for coordinating various strands of activity. This gives them excellent local intelligence and the ability to identify, at a local and regional level, the infrastructure investment that will work best. In particular, Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) give a voice to the business community through a geographic lens rather than a sector specific one, and this is ideal for those who want to work with the private sector to identify the transport projects that will bring the greatest benefits to the UK’s productivity. There are so many examples to point to.
Camden Town Unlimited (CTU) identified flaws in the surface option for the HS2-HS1 Link Proposed Scheme with a detrimental and significant impact on Camden’s creative economy and world famous markets. CTU commissioned BOP Consulting to quantify the potential disruption, concluding that the impact of HS2 on Camden’s creative economy would be between £317 million and £631 million up to 2031. This amounts to between 5,350 and 9,100 potential job losses over the same period, equivalent to 315 to 535 jobs per year. The impact of the single-track link on the markets expected to lose £92 million over a 5 year period.
Instead, CTU supported, and lobbied for, a fully tunnelled twin-track solution from Old Oak Common to Agar Grove. While this alternative option increased the initial construction costs of HS2, CTU clearly demonstrated that the single-track option was insufficient for managing the projected increases in passenger and freight traffic, necessitating a twin tunnel in the near future regardless. CTU’s proposals would, in fact, save money and disruption in the long-term by getting HS2 right first time.
Manchester BID and CityCo (the city centre company for Manchester and Salford) with Transport for Greater Manchester, Manchester and Salford City Councils, MIDAS, the Manchester China Forum, Visit Manchester and Visit Salford have launched a new cycle hire scheme to help tackle congestion and pollution. Mobike, a Beijing-based firm that operates across China and Singapore offer high tech aluminium machines with airless tyres, a GPS tracker, built-in locker and a cashless smartphone app.
Just across the Pennines, LeedsBID is exploring the possibility of improving connectivity within the city centre for its users. On behalf of its 1,000 businesses it is assessing demand for the creation of a free shuttle bus service for commuters and shoppers to link key areas of economic activity including Eastgate, Park Row, East Parade and Wellington Street.
Colmore Business District, one of Birmingham city centre’s five BIDs, which covers the business quarter of the city centre, invested in the Snowhill Interchange Plan with Birmingham City Council and regional transport body, Centro. This led to a successful application to the Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP for local growth fund monies to deliver further public realm works in the district. Colmore BID’s investment of £1.4 million has enabled it to leverage £4.66 million from the LEP, and just under £4 million from private sector investment, Birmingham City Council and Centro.
Collectively, BIDs are also starting to flex their muscle. Through the Cross River Partnership, a public-private collaboration that includes BIDs, local authorities, TfL, Network Rail and other key agencies that cover central London, there is a collective effort to tackle air pollution through more sustainable transport. This includes fostering international conversations to share learning and best practice on reducing the impact of urban freight transport. It includes the introduction of electric freight vehicles. It includes coordinating the activity of delivery and service vehicles to reduce emissions with the Heart of London and the delivery of the first business-led Air Quality Strategy on behalf of the New West End Company.
If we want to deliver a better transport system that works for everyone, yes, we need the voice of business to be heard loud and clear, but the way we involve business in this debate is just as important. Place-based partnerships offer an important dimension, especially when geography is a critical element to transport. It means more meaningful conversations on delivery and impact can be had. BIDs can help policy-makers and transport bodies shape transport investment of national significance. They can lead on the delivery of local and regional projects that modernise Britain, bringing real boosts to productivity and overcoming some of our productivity challenges. They must play a role in the future of the UK’s transport network. Just ask members of Camden’s creative economy.
Ojay McDonald is Acting Chief Executive of the Association of Town & City Management. He works with Government Ministers, parliamentarians, economic development professionals, business leaders and place-makers across the UK and Ireland to support town and city centres. He works on a range of policy issues including tax reform, local government finance, the EU and UN Urban Agenda, devolution, the Northern Powerhouse, transport, housing, planning, retail and urban regeneration.
Ojay has sat on the retail policy group for the Federation of Small Businesses, the Top Issues Council of the International Downtown Association, has contributed to the outputs of both the Portas Review and the Future High Street Forum, was lead author of the non-judicial parliamentary inquiry ‘High Street Britain 2015’, coordinates the secretariat for the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Town Centres, lectures at the Manchester Metropolitan University, is a former Director of the Institute of Place Management and has a Masters Degree in Politics.