25 March 2019

​England's Economic Heartland's Strategic Transport Forum meets on Friday March 29 in Milton Keynes.

Here's what's on the agenda:

Oxford to Cambridge Arc Vision

The Forum has been asked to note the Oxford-Cambridge Arc Vision which was published alongside the Spring Statement. 

England’s Economic Heartland is identified throughout the publication as a key body for delivering the aims of the Oxford-Cambridge Arc - providing leadership on strategic infrastructure (the 'connectivity' work stream) across the Arc and beyond its boundaries.

Of particular note is the emphasis placed by the Government on the protection and enhancement of the natural environment. The report suggests this should be wholeheartedly welcomed and supported by the Strategic Transport Forum.

East West Rail

The Forum has been asked to endorse the East West Rail Consortium's response to the consultation on the scheme's Central Section between Bedford and Cambridge.

It has also been asked to note progress on the public inquiry into the Transport and Works Act Order for East West Rail's Western Section between Oxford and Bedford. Programme Director Martin Tugwell appeared before the inquiry on February 13 to present the supporting submission from the East West Rail Consortium/England’s Economic Heartland. The inquiry is expected to conclude hearing submissions next month and it is anticipated that the Inspector’s report will be prepared and submitted later this year. The ambition is to see works on site start at the end of the year/early 2020, subject to the Inspector confirming the Order.

The Forum will also hear about the East West Rail Consortium's Eastern Prospectus, which makes the case for the East West Rail scheme to operate in full at the earliest oppportunity, ie with direct services from Norwich and Ipswich to Oxford.

Rail operator for East West Rail

Chiltern Railways will provide the Forum with a presentation on lessons learnt from its current experience of running the Chiltern Franchise. It will also use the session to reinforce the case for initial services on East West Rail being introduced by an existing operator.

Our report to the Forum states: "As a new strategic rail link – one that will fundamentally change travel patterns – it is important to gain experience before determining how best to put in place an operator for the longer-term. Such an approach has the added attraction of enabling the opportunity to consider the case for incorporating changes to existing services on the rest of the national network: East West Rail services must not be isolated from the rest of the services on the network."

Transformational growth schemes

The Forum will receive presentations on two strategically important transport interventions in the Heartland - Luton Airport and released capacity on the West Coast Mainline.

London Luton Airport is a major growth generator, recognised by its Enterprise Zone status. Alongside growth of the airport itself, a number of key projects are being developed including New Century Park and the Direct Air-Rail Transpit System (Luton DART).

A key strategic priority for the Heartland is developing north-south rail services on the Northampton-Milton Keynes- Aylesbury-High Wycombe – Old Oak Common axis. The opportunity to realise this ambition occurs through a combination of the opening of East West Rail and the first phase of HS2. England's Economic Heartland is taking part in a Network Rail review and workshop looking at future capacity on the West Coast Mainline, to ensure the region's needs are reflected.

Business Plan

The Forum will hear about EEH's key areas of work over the coming year. These include:

  • Overarching Transport Strategy – the initial framework for the Strategy is scheduled for publication in the summer 2019. This will mark the start of a wider engagement with residents, businesses and potential investors before the final version of the Strategy is prepared for publication in summer 2020
  • Investment Prospectus – reflecting the vision and priorities set out in the overarching Transport Strategy, and taking advantage of the potential of the National Policy Statement for Strategic Infrastructure, the Prospectus will set out EEH’s medium and long term strategic infrastructure requirements ahead of the Spending Review
  • Major Road Network and Large Local Majors – meeting our commitment for the Sub-national Transport Bodies to put forward their submission for the first 5-year investment programme in July 2019
  • Commissioning Connectivity Studies – taking forward the work in association with the proposed expressway between Oxford and Milton Keynes, and extending the approach to the rest of the Heartland area (working with partners to the east of the M1 to co-commission the studies): using the output from these studies (along with work undertaken by Highways England) to make the case for investment in the Major Road Network (including Large Local Majors)
  • Regional Evidence Base – continuing to develop and maintain the Regional Evidence Base in order to provide an evidential basis for the work of the EEH Business Unit – as well as continuing to make the Regional Evidence Base available to all local partners Government and its agencies and companies
  • Innovation and Technology – using the Innovation Working Group to develop proposals to secure funding, and using the Memorandum of Understanding with the Transport Systems Catapult to engage with the entrepreneur/SME community to encourage innovation in transport services
  • Integrated Ticketing – working with the Heartland Bus Operators Association and Transport Systems Catapult to explore options for expanding integrated ticketing models across wider parts of the Heartland
  • Freight and Logistics – building on the technical work commissioned in 2018/19, there is a need to develop the business case for investment in network capacity and facilities that enable the freight and logistics sector to support the level of planned growth, including the construction requirements of planned growth
  • Strategic Rail – continuing to support the delivery of the East West Rail project so that it meets the needs of the local partners, in particular working to ensure the potential of both the Central and Eastern Sections are realised; ensuring that the Heartland’s requirements are reflected in the recommendations of the Williams Rail Review; engaging with passenger franchise competitions as and when they come forward.
  • Strategic Capability to Accelerate Delivery – working with Heartland partners during 2019/ 20 to develop the business case that will enable the establishment of a ‘centre of excellence’ that will provide additional support to partners as they deliver the agreed programme of strategic investment
  • Statutory status - EEH has been consistent that the proposal for statutory status would be developed in parallel with the overarching Transport Strategy to ensure that the proposed roles and responsibilities sought for the Body are aligned with the Strategy. The ambition remains to have the new statutory Body formally established in the latter part of 2020/21.