2020: A year of growth

Our Strategic Director, Andrew Summers, looks back at our achievements this year.

As we come to the end of 2020, we can reflect on a very challenging year, in which our Transport East partnership has needed to both adapt and grow to ensure we provide a single voice for transport in our unique region.  

Driven forward by the Transport Forum and Officer Group, we’ve had several successes – we appointed our first full-time staff members, secured our first grant funding from the Department for Transport and have made substantial progress on developing the first regional Transport Strategy. 

I started my role as Strategic Director in April 2020 and it has proved to be an incredibly exciting anmotivating challenge. Together, our partnership reviewed the direction we should be taking, setting four key areas to focus on; starting the work on our Transport Strategy, identifying our immediate investment priorities, building awareness, reputation and influence, and setting up a functioning organisation. We weren’t starting from scratch, but building on the fantastic work already done by all of the partner authorities and the officers who support our day to day work. 

Over the last nine months we’ve had some notable achievements as we continue to grow our single voice. 

Strategy and Investment

We appointed our consultant support team of Jacobs, Cambridge Econometrics and Copper in October to help us research, engage and craft the eventual transport strategy. Transport is an enabler; people travel and goods move for a reason. So, the team has worked closely with our districts, LEPs and Chambers of Commerce to review over 50 plans, strategies and documents to make sure our strategy will help deliver the region’s ambitions and priorities. We’ve also had many enlightening conversations with a range of representatives and experts across the region, for example with port and airport operators as part of the Strategy’s focus on supporting their post-Brexit role in UK trade and economic growth. These insights will help us develop plans for future transport investment that really delivers for everyone.  

Wdrafted an initial Investment and Delivery Plan to strengthen our message to Government. This identifies the current priorities from across the region, along six main transport corridors. It includes upgrades to the A47, A14, A127 and A12, connecting our energy coast, ports and airports, improvements to rail links particularly east-west across the region and increasing investment in greener and healthier ways to travel.

COVID-19 has rightly shifted the focus of government funding right now but securing ongoing transport investment is a long-term campaign. We submitted our proposals to the autumn Comprehensive Spending Review, and a letter of support from our Forum to make the case for sustained funding for our local authority partners, Network Rail and Highways England to continue their investment in essential schemes.

National role

During this year there has also been a definite shift in national policy, and we are leading the way on responding to this regionally. The 10 point plan for a green industrial revolution, the National Infrastructure Strategy, Gear Change (the government’s vision for walking and cycling) and our discussions with the Department of Transport (DfT) on emerging strategies for buses and rural transport – all point towards greener, more sustainable ways of travelling and a broader view of how transport investment can support successful communities and economic recovery. Bringing forward alternative fuels, improving access to our ports and airports, increasing walking and cycling, and rethinking the way passenger transport operates to make it easier and more attractive for users are all higher up the national agenda. Our work will take these national strategies and put them through an East of England prism, to make sure we are identifying the right solutions for our diverse region.

We’ve already looked into how we can clean and green transport in the region with our Decarbonisation Report. This will be a substantial challenge, as transport creates 40% of emissions in the east – higher than most other parts of England. We’ve also got a specific piece of work looking at the challenges for passenger transport resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, and we will soon be initiating work on an investigation into the best ways of helping people to walk and cycle more.

At a national level, we are now firmly established as one of seven Sub-national Transport Bodies (STBs) that cover all of England (outside of London). Our seven Chairs met this autumn with DfT Minister, Baroness Vere, at which she endorsed the approach we are taking. Transport East is subsequently leading strategic elements of the national STB joint work programme, including taking the national lead role on rural mobility.

Looking forward

So, 2021 is shaping up to be a busy one too. Our priority for the first half of the year will be drawing together all our evidence and thinking into a draft transport strategy and set of investment priorities, then consulting widely on it. This approach, agreed with government, will put us in a strong position to robustly make the case for greater and faster transport investment to support economic growth, maximise the role of our international ports and airports, reduce carbon emissions and support our urban, rural and coastal communities.

Finally, I would like to thank everyone who has worked with us this year. Particularly the Transport East Forum members for their support and guidance and our partner officer group whose expertise we rely so heavily on. Also, to everyone who has participated in our engagement process so far, and lastly the Transport East team – Esme, Rebecca and Adam.