South East APPG publishes inquiry report on transport infrastructure

Thursday, 16 May, 2024

The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for the South East has published a report following its inquiry:

“The South East and ‘Global Britain’: what role for transport infrastructure in underpinning Britain’s plan to trade and grow?”

South East Councils is the Secretariat for the South East APPG.

Along three core themes: regional challenges, public-private collaboration and future technologies, the report argues that Government must recognise the scale of the challenge facing the South East of England.

The report calls for a new holistic approach to transport planning, and a consultation on a new target for more freight to travel by rail and sea to reduce road traffic congestion.

The report revealed major challenges with the ability transport infrastructure in the South East to keep pace with the demands of international trade, economic and population growth and support a truly Global Britain.

As the port of entry for over 60% of the nation’s trade, the fastest growing and most populous region of the UK (larger than Scotland and Wales combined), the South East of England is plagued by traffic congestion, fragile road networks, inadequate public transport services, and sluggish East-West connections.

Investment in transport infrastructure in the region has simply not kept up with the region’s evolving needs to prop up a truly ‘Global Britain’.

On governance, the report sheds light on how the state of local government finances and the reluctancy of central Government to devolve to Sub-national Transport Bodies (STBs) and planning authorities has resulted in a worse deal for taxpayers.

Looking to solutions, the report emphasises the incredible potential of thriving public-private partnerships to deliver joint transport (and wider) infrastructure projects from the bottom-up – if we buck the trend of more micromanagement from Whitehall.

Future technologies including state of the art “smart borders”, green fuels, sustainable freight, and seamless “invisible infrastructure” are expected to revolutionise our capability to manage traffic congestion, trade and air quality – the inquiry heard – but this will require further targeted investment in technological innovation from Government.

The report also suggests that when demand management surfaces as a mainstream political issue in the near future, as the impending £30 billion revenue gap from petrol and disesel cars being phased out becomes unavoidable, measures must not unfairly penalise regions with more traffic congestion like the South East, and industries like freight that rely on transport infrastructure must also recieve fair treatment, to best enable their support of the nation’s trade and growth.

Seven recommendations are made in the report:

  • Recommendation 1: Government must recognise, and act on, the scale of the challenge in enabling the South East region to support trade to grow and maintain a truly Global Britain.
  • Recommendation 2: Government should consult on an ambitious new target to increase the amount of freight travelling by rail and sea to reduce road traffic congestion and air pollution to the degree desired at local and regional levels.
  • Recommendation 3: A new holistic, approach to transport planning – informed by local, and sub regional considerations – should be adopted, that promotes greater alignment between the Department for Transport and corresponding cross-departmental priorities including trade, growth, housing, planning and Net Zero.
  • Recommendation 4: The dependence of local authorities on bidding for unpredictable, competitive central Government pots should be eliminated to increase the efficiency of how taxpayers’ money is spent and rebuild trust between local and central government.
  • Recommendation 5: Fiscal powers should be devolved to regional (and local) transport bodies to generate the conditions (certainty and reliability) for thriving public-private partnerships to deliver joint transport infrastructure projects from the bottom-up.
  • Recommendation 6: Government should further invest in and encourage technological innovation to optimise our transport infrastructure.
  • Recommendation 7: When demand management inevitably surfaces at the forefront of the political agenda, it must work for the South East, Industry, and the Nation.

Read the full report here.