The Transport Knowledge Hub (TKH) is currently holding a series of events across the UK on the topic of how sustainable transport can unlock the benefits of new housing which has been attended by experts across the housing and transport sector, in addition to representatives from local and national government. Given the scale and challenge of the housing crisis, these events have been a timely intervention and generated insightful discussions about the importance of having a more integrated approach between housing and transport.
At all the events held to date, panellists and delegates have been keen to identify tangible solutions of how we can achieve a more holistic approach to transport and housing investment. Several clear themes have emerged from discussions which have the potential to have a positive impact in this area. Calls for further devolution to strengthen local authorities’ ability to deliver more integrated strategies is a suggestion that has often come to the forefront. Another common theme has been to examine examples of best practice in the past, and how some of these models may influence and strengthen the approaches already in trend.
The devolution agenda has been effective in unlocking the ability for local areas to step up into a leadership role to deliver and implement their strategies across a range of policy areas. Crucially, devolution has allowed for a more holistic, longer-term approach when it comes to funding integrated transport and housing. The benefits of devolution have been widely agreed, but devolution needs to go further in order to allow local authorities to properly tackle the housing crisis in a sustainable way.
For example, Laura Shoaf, the Managing Director for Transport for the West Midlands, agrees that one of the advantages of devolution has been certainty and clarity regarding long-term funding which in turn has built political stability. However, she says that further devolution would be beneficial. Devolution of rail has allowed for the West Midlands Combined Authority to specify services in a better way, something that other local services could also benefit from. The calls for more devolution have also been echoed by the Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham, who says there is a need for “significant new powers devolved to local bodies to intervene in the market and build the homes for social rent that are sorely needed.”
To achieve the joined-up thinking needed to address the housing crisis in a sustainable way, it would also be useful to explore examples of best practice from the past. During the recent TKH meeting in Liverpool, a suggestion was made that it would be worth examining the model of the Urban Development Corporations (UDC), which were set up by Lord Heseltine in the 1980s to deliver wide-ranging regeneration in areas which suffered from decline and dereliction.
Although UDCs were controversial, they did allow for a more integrated approach to housing developments and transport infrastructure by bringing together the key stakeholders needed to deliver an integrated strategy. The London Docklands Development Corporation is a powerful example of this, having delivered 24,086 new homes, 144km of improved roads, the construction of the Docklands Light Railway and harnessed £7.7bn of private sector investment.
The UDC model may provide some of the answers in how we can bring the crucial issue of transport and housing together, which includes harnessing agreement across various stakeholders and departments to address the housing crisis with haste and certainty. It will be important to create collaborative models at different levels and across a variety of stakeholders if we are to be successful in ensuring transport can unlock the full benefits of new housing.