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Planning transport infrastructure: Seven top tips

Buses in London - transport infrastructure

All talk and no action is a perennial problem for politicians but it is anathema to planners, says Kate Dobinson

Although UK transport infrastructure has the ability to open up tracts of previously undevelopable land for housing and catalyse economic growth, it has a “poor” and “historic”  under-spend, according to Matthew Hancock, the minister for skills and enterprise in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. 
For this, Hancock has laid the problem squarely at the feet of planners. “We need to make it faster to get from an infrastructure project proposal to diggers in the ground,” he said.
But an RTPI report, Capturing the Wider Benefits of Investment in Transport Infrastructure, is sharing the solution between policy-makers and planning professionals alike.  
The problem actually lies in the faulty measurement system, the report notes. 
The knock-on economic effect of a transport project on a surrounding area is rarely immediate and so difficult to quantify for a cost-benefit analysis that it mistakenly used as the deciding factor in whether a project is viable. 
This means that transport infrastructure projects that appear unviable at first could proceed if the land values they could unlock were included and represented accurately in appraisals. 
The RTPI believes that projects that could deliver land for housing and employment are being wrongly vetoed because they fail to pass the narrowly focused appraisal system. 
Project appraisals are also too concerned with shortened journey times and miss the big picture. Quicker journey times shouldn’t be the sole or main justification for investment in transport infrastructure, says the report. 
Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne’s 2013 pledge to kick-start infrastructure spending with an extra £3 billion a year from 2015-16 was considered “too little, too late” .
Although financial injections continue to be important, the RTPI makes seven recommendations for how the government, policy-makers and planning professionals can work together to reject limited cost-benefit analysis when deciding on infrastructure investments. These are that:
1. Policy-makers need to deliver a visionary narrative of the real benefits that transport infrastructure-led schemes bring;
2. Governments need to operate in a way that enables transport infrastructure schemes to be integrated with wider policy priorities across different sectors;
3. Individual schemes are integrated into broader strategies for transport at a national, sub-regional and local level
4. There must be greater co-operation among key delivery partners and their stakeholders;
5. Revolving funds, in combination with strong public sector leadership, can help deliver infrastructure-led development;
6. Governments need to devolve funding mechanisms, including better systems of cost recovery, to local areas looking to implement viable transport infrastructure-led schemes; and
7. Policy-makers, including local and national leaders, must only use limited cost-benefit analysis as a guide to infrastructure investment decisions and not as the final arbiter.