Martin Tugwell's farewell blog: It's never been more important to make the case for change

July 21st 2021

July's Strategic Transport Forum placed on record its thanks to departing EEH programme director Martin Tugwell, who is becoming chief executive officer of Transport for the North in August. For more than 20 years, Martin has played a key role in making the case for and delivering transport infrastructure in our region. He has been EEH’s programme director for more than six years, leading the development of the organisation into what it is today, culminating in the publication of our ambitious transport strategy in February. The process to recruit Martin's successor is underway. Naomi Green will take on the role of interim programme director.

Below is Martin's final blog for EEH:

January 2015 feels like another age, and in some ways it is.

But in other ways the passage of time has not changed the fundamental reason as to why England’s Economic Heartland remains as important now as it was when its political founders chose to work collaboratively on issues of genuine strategic significance.

I am a strong believer in the power of collaborative working. Get it right and collectively we can break down barriers, make real progress in tackling the challenges we face, and most importantly see things being delivered on the ground. And right from my first involvement with (what became) EEH that winter’s day it was clear to me that the foundations of something special were being laid.

This focus on ‘getting things done’ has been at the heart of England’s Economic Heartland from day one – a testament to the vision and leadership of its political leaders, and a reflection of the skills, capability and energy of the team that has served and supported EEH over the last six years.

For people are at the heart of any collective endeavour: it’s they who turn the kernel of an idea into reality.

It takes talented and skilled people to be able to look beyond the challenges of the here and now to paint a picture of the future, to recognise that it is the limits we put on ourselves that too often stops us from realising that future.

It takes a particular outlook to recognise that the complexity of our lives makes the traditional one-dimensional approach to problem solving part of the barrier to realising change. For the myriad of infrastructure and services upon which we rely these days makes it essential to think in terms of systems: we can’t plan for the future of transport without also thinking about the role of digital infrastructure, nor indeed our energy systems.

Herein lies one of the greatest challenges facing the transport profession.

We’ve long recognised the need for change when it comes to our transport system. We’ve set out the evidence as to why we need a different approach to the way we plan for and then deliver investment. We’ve talked at length about the importance of integrating land use and transport planning.

And yet, too often our approach has failed to achieve the change we seek, because we’ve ignored the one simple truth: our transport system is about connecting people and places with services and opportunities.

Which is why EEH continues to place such importance on putting the user at the heart of our approach – by which of course I don’t just mean the individual. We too easily push consideration of the needs of business to the end of our thought process, and yet understanding the future needs of the freight and logistic sector is arguably just as much about putting the ‘user’ first. After all most transport revolutions have come about in response to changes in the needs of industry and business.

And once you truly start putting the user at the heart of our thinking then one starts to realise the limitations of our traditional approach to planning the future of our transport system. For that approach is predicated in the (false) assumption that the patterns of travel, our attitudes to travel and our behaviours will continue as they are for the next 30-60 years.

As our collective experience of the last 18 months has reminded us: there is nothing predetermined or fixed about travel demand. Indeed, change is not only possible, but can happen at pace. And we’ve seen how changes (driven by the choices we make as consumers) to the way we shop, or access services mean that the shape of travel demand continues to change.

Before the pandemic struck the evidence was clear: we could not continue to plan for and use the transport system in the way we’ve done previously. As we emerge from the pandemic the urge to seek a return to ‘normal’ is very human and yet misses the point that change is needed.

All of which makes it all the more important for strategic bodies – such as EEH – to look beyond the here and now, to develop new tools and techniques to inform our understanding what is possible, to challenge received wisdom and make the case for that change.

The publication of our regional transport strategy, Connecting People, Transforming Journeys, in February represented more than the culmination of two years' work. It represented the partners’ ambition to change the way we do things. And it represented the collective knowledge, skill and creativity of the team that prepared it, engaged on it, and published it.

It has been my immense privilege to be part of that team. The vision provided by EEH’s political and business leaders has enabled the talent in the EEH business unit to push boundaries and to prepare a vision-led, evidence-based regional transport strategy of which we can all be proud.

It is with deep satisfaction that I’ve seen everyone within the EEH business unit seize the opportunity to grow professionally. I’ve seen them develop into the most amazing team: one that provides leadership for the Heartland, as well as being leaders within the wider transport profession.

There are undoubtedly many challenges to face in implementing our regional transport strategy. And there will be many difficult choices to make.

What I know is that EEH, supported by the EEH business unit, continues to provide the vision and leadership that ‘gets things done’.

And as such England’s Economic Heartland continues to shape tomorrow today.

It’s been a fantastic six years and to everyone that has made it such – thank you.