Transport Funding for Local Authorities Reliant upon New Era Local Transport Plans
26 July 2022

Transport Funding for Local Authorities Reliant upon New Era Local Transport Plans

5 key takeaways from the ‘New Era of Local Transport Plans’ conference. Author: James Walker

At the recent conference titled ‘New Era of Local Transport Plans’ , an early-stage outreach for the Department of Transport [DfT] in preparation of its new Local Transport Plan [LTP] guidance, it was clear that once more, Local Transport Plans will be the cornerstone of the dialogue between local and central government on local transport funding and investment strategy.

This should come as no surprise, it follows commitments made in the Transport Decarbonisation Plan, Levelling Up White Paper and Bus Back Better to support all LAs to deliver updated plans by the end of this parliament.

Whilst there was a consensus that a closer link between transport policy and local plans is essential, there was plenty of debate on what should be included in LTP4 and whether there should be a set of standardised national targets. Given that the political and transport agenda has changed considerably since 2009, when the last guidance was produced, the focus was on re-imagining LTPs and understanding how the key policy drivers have evolved over the past 13 years.

I attended the conference on behalf of SYSTRA, and these are my five key takeaways:

1. Decarbonisation & achieving net-zero plays a core role in local transport strategy.

It should come as no surprise that a dominant theme across the programme was transport decarbonisation plan, with the department reiterating that they see the issue as sitting at the heart of future LTPs. The UK is legally bound to climate change targets and transport plays an integral role in progressing towards them, given it is the largest domestic carbon emitter, with cars accounting for the majority of this.

Central to future local transport planning and funding will be Quantifiable Carbon Reductions [QCR], utilised to drive decarbonisation and transport improvements at a local level. Mode-specific support, such as a Transport Decarbonisation Toolkit, will be provided to assist Local Authorities with this.

To establish how a carbon reduction in line with carbon budgets and net-zero for transport will be achieved, estimations on current and future emissions through modelling tools will be vital, again the DfT acknowledged support in terms of funding and resources will be required.

Learn more about low carbon transport strategies at SYSTRA

2. Significant new transport policy drivers need to be taken in to account

The new generation of LTPs will focus on a framework of priority outcomes for local authority transport based on the Government’s wider political agenda. That framework will focus on the need to grow and level up the economy, improve transport for the user and reduce environmental impacts.

Levelling Up Fund for Transport

The current government’s flagship policy revolves around ‘Levelling Up’, enabling inclusive economic and social development. Naturally it will be central in upcoming Local Transport Plans with an emphasis on sustainable growth when detailing proposed interventions, networks, and investments.

The DfT drew attention to upcoming improvements to previous guidance and new tools such as the Levelling up Toolkit to include place-based analysis. This is alongside proposed upgrades to the option framework filter in the Green Book and Theory of Change approach to evaluation.

Linking Transport and Wider Planning Issues

Not only will promoting sustainable transport through planning provisions be prominent in the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill and the subsequent update to the National Planning Policy Framework, but it will also feature heavily in LTP4.

Speakers from local government emphasised some fundamental and cultural shifts in terminology and policy since LTPs were last developed, including the concept of 20-minute neighbourhoods. Such new spatial strategy themes and policies will be integral to planning for new developments, for instance promoting higher densities closer to transport hubs with the aim of reducing the reliance on car trips.

This exemplifies the goal of multisector collaboration. Embedding the consideration of decarbonisation into the planning process alongside other objectives to establish effective links between the health and transport policy spheres is effectively joining up policy. Cross-sector planning will be essential to deliver wider environmental, social and economic ambitions.

3. Plans for different modes of transport will be integral to supporting LTPs

The plans were explicit in asserting that existing model plans [Bus Service Improvement Plans (BSIP) and Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plans (LCWIP) will become part of a suite of support documents to the LTP. Where this does not already occur, authorities will have to ensure that their Bus Service Improvement Plans, amongst other plans, are aligned with LTPs.

Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure Strategy

In addition to this, an EV Charging Strategy will be required to be published as a detailed supporting document to every LTP. Coinciding with the push for achieving net-zero carbon emissions is the drive and transition to zero emission vehicles [ZEVS].

It was appreciated there would need to be funding and support if local authorities are to produce a suitable strategy for uptake, with bold commitments to the scale and type of ChargePoint deployment.

Learn more about EV Strategy Development

4. The Local Transport Plan will play a key role in local transport and environmental funding

Funding

Improving and simplifying the funding landscape is certainly something the Government see LTPs as contributing towards. The DfT wants local authorities to be ambitious in their plans as this will impact securing funding in the future.

Funding will be made available for all Local Transport Authorities to support implementing the guidance and to create more capacity. There will also be additional funding to accelerate LTP development facilitated through the highest-tier devolution deals.

Devolution / Dissolved Power

Speakers highlighted the need for ensuring the balance between national direction and local decision making and that devolution needs to be real, playing a central role. This could imply that there will be a continuation of devolving power and if governments are joined up nationally then they can be locally.

Further Requirements

Further debates indicated that LTP guidance will be very outcome (not output) focussed. LTPs should be short and strategic allowing local authorities to illustrate through a logic map that details clear expectations, timespans and visions.

5. Spring 2024 is the target date for delivery of the new Local Transport Plan (LTP4)

As previously stated, Government’s aim is for updated Plans to be produced by the end of this parliament. It’s the DfTs intention that LTP4s will provide a strong evidence base and case ahead of the next spending review. Spring 2024 is the target date for LTPs incorporating the new guidance to be in place; this includes BSIP (Bus Service Improvement Plan) , LCWIP (Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plans) and EV (Electric Vehicle) strategies, to provide a nationwide pipeline of interventions. The clearest indication was that the guidance will be available in Autumn and by the end of the year at the latest. Work is still ongoing, and the conference also acted as a listening exercise for the department to gather opinions from the local authorities who will be delivering the LTPs on what should be included in any guidance.

Following on from LTP4 the funding relationship will be transformed with Local Transport Plans focusing engagement between central and local government about future transport funding. The commitment around Quantifiable Carbon Reductions and future funding is expected to be phased in following further development work from 2025/2026 onwards.

Summary

Undeniably asking all Local Transport Authorities to develop and update LTPs to a centrally set timeline will be challenging, though it should hopefully create a level playing field ahead of future funding decisions, as well as providing a focus of activity around decarbonisation with transport – arguably the most important tasks of our generation.

If considered, and implemented well, the next generation of LTPs have the potential to underpin holistic, place-based approach to local transport strategy which will deliver a lasting legacy, with the power to transform communities and economies and create a place to thrive.

SYSTRA will play an integral role throughout this process and use its expertise and experience to be able to support Local Authorities at every stage of the process of delivering LTP4s.

Find out more about our transport planning services at SYSTRA

Author: James Walker

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