The Autumn Statement confirmed that we would have to get used to less capital funding available to build new things and renew what we have. We must, instead, make best use of existing roads, railways, and other transport infrastructure.

Subject to where the cuts in resource expenditure land (the support the government provides to providing things like local bus services), the cuts will negatively impact the provision and financial viability of transport services and the ability to develop and administer strong infrastructure pipelines.

Any glimmers of hope in the South? Re-commitment to East West Rail was very welcome across England’s Economic Heartland geography, but the extent of this commitment is unclear. The full route to Cambridge (and beyond)? An Aylesbury link?

The government remains committed to net zero carbon by 2050 but has sent contradictory messages with changes like the end of the Vehicle Excise Duty and Expensive Car exemptions on zero emission vehicles from 2025. Such measures show the legal requirement for net zero remains, but financial help to get us there may be limited.

Surprisingly, there seemed to be no mention of walking and cycling despite being easy wins in getting less people to drive, but Jesse Norman MP later confirmed that Active Travel England was busy recruiting and the commitment to spend £200 million was secure.

Government continues to seek out local authority reform incentivising the formation of mayoral combined authorities and unitisation through ‘deals’. In the South, Cornwall, Norfolk and Suffolk were namechecked, along with £1.7 billion nationally for Round 2 of the Levelling Up Fund. However, reallocation of dwindling central government budgets to local government alone and jam spreading £1.7 billion will not support the South significantly – either as an economic net contributor to the Exchequer at a time when productivity gains are much needed, nor the severely deprived areas within its regions.

Weathering the storm requires ingenuity

“More for less” and “invest to save” mantras will undoubtedly abound and require serious thought and application, not only to make best use of what we have but to reduce costs and carbon. Going forward there are three other areas to make the most of what is available:

  1. A robust and resilient set of strategies to ensure what is done has a clear vision and a plan tested against future scenarios so investment and policy decisions can be aligned and demonstrated to those with funding pots. For England’s Economic Heartland, Steer is leading the development of its Connectivity Studies programme to deliver plans for investment across key corridors and areas. At a local level, we support authorities with Local Transport Plans, supporting four authorities ranging from densely populated unitary to large shire and combined authorities.
  2. A strong and prioritised pipeline of investment and change priorities to everyone is clear on what can be done with limited investment when limited funding becomes available. Steer has supported Transport for the South East in developing its draft Strategic Investment Plan. It will be essential to have prospectuses like this demonstrating an “open for business” mentality with a set of investable schemes or to bank contributions against, and a willingness to pilot new ideas.

    Strategic prioritisation in uncertain times bringing in scenario planning and multi-criteria assessment is key. This has been applied to recent strategic prioritisation exercises with Local Enterprise Partnerships and authorities in receipt of Towns Funds and Community Renewal Funds.
  3. Early stage business case development will need to be done directly as central government will unlikely fund the development of (pre-)Strategic Outline Business Cases. Funding will more likely be available for mid- and later-stage scheme development and capital. Steer recently helped Oxfordshire secure over £300 million from the Housing Infrastructure Fund and a successful ZEBRA bid in Oxford. Work is now underway in both Oxford and Cambridge for complex programmes of demand management allied with sustainable transport investment.
Steven Bishop contact



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