In October I wrote to ministers congratulating them on the transport decarbonisation plan and what we as a region can do to turn its ambitions into reality.
I’m delighted that the minister responsible for transport decarbonisation, Trudy Harrison MP, has agreed to meet with me to discuss this in more depth.
England’s Economic Heartland’s transport strategy has an ambition to reach net zero by as early as 2040. As the strategy recognises, a step-change in approach is required, one which puts a place-based approach to decarbonisation front and centre. I therefore plan on focussing my time with Minister Harrison sharing with her the critical importance of regions and places in reducing emissions.
The evidence in our new report on emissions in the Heartland, published today as COP26 meets to discuss transport decarbonisation, is a stark reminder of why ‘place-based’ approaches are so important.
Emissions from surface transport in the Heartland have since 2005 been on average 30% higher than across the rest of the UK. However, there’s a six-fold variance in per capita emissions between the lowest and highest-emitting local authority in the region. We have a far higher than average rural population, and numerous towns and smaller cities providing multiple ‘centres of gravity’ for our residents and businesses.
Clearly, a one size fits all approach to decarbonisation will not work. Nor will it maximise opportunities to harness the journey to net zero as a catalyst for making our cities, towns and villages better environments in which to live.
The transport decarbonisation plan recognises this – but now is the time for us to work with government to understand how local authorities and sub-national transport bodies such as England’s Economic Heartland can deliver it.
So, I will highlight to Minister Harrison that now is the time to empower local authorities and their STBs. Key to this is clarity: on our roles; funding and investment; and the targets we will be expected to meet. We require both the right level of support and the right levers to develop local solutions to decarbonisation.
Government can support us in other ways too, for example by breaking down funding and departmental silos, and leading a national review into the way we all pay for transport. Only central government can have the conversation about the way in which we raise the funding for investment in transport infrastructure and the way users pay for it.
EEH’s work – ensuring consideration of both strategic issues while supporting local authorities identify place-based solutions – is helping the region rise to the challenge of decarbonisation.
Our local authorities are already developing mass transit schemes throughout the region, while East West Rail is being used as a catalyst to improve sustainable first mile, last mile connectivity. Milton Keynes is home to the country’s first electric vehicle experience centre; Central Bedfordshire will have the UK’s first electric vehicle charging station to incorporate wind, solar, energy storage, domestic charging and public transport; Energy Superhub Oxford aims to eliminate 10,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions a year with its battery energy storage system; and Buckinghamshire is trialling a pioneering electric car club with an innovative induction charger.
Indeed, it is the Heartland’s strengths in science and technology innovation which provides the ace up our sleeves.
My final message to Minister Harrison? Just as this region helped the UK emerge from the shadows of COVID-19, with the right support we can play a pivotal role in helping it rise to the challenge of climate change in a way which creates new opportunities for economic growth, Global Britain and levelling-up.
Cllr Richard Wenham
Chair, England's Economic Heartland