The right climate for innovation: Decarbonising transport

Transport Knowledge Hub logo Published on: 14th September 2021 by Hilary Chipping.

Transport is not just about how we get around, it fundamentally shapes our towns, our villages, our countryside, our ability to connect with friends and family, our health, education and our overall quality of life.

As well as defining the areas in which we live, transport is also the largest contributor to UK domestic greenhouse gas emissions (Responsible for 27% in 2019[1]).

Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), of which there are 38 in England, are business led public private partnerships with the aim of delivering sustainable economic growth. Our remit covers the development of skills, providing support for businesses to help them to grow and investing in infrastructure to enable development. As such, transport is a critical element of all that we do, and we work closely with our local transport authorities and the Sub National Transport Body to ensure that strategic planning and investment takes account of the needs of businesses.

Here in the South East Midlands, located at the heart of the Oxford to Cambridge Arc, sustainable transport has been a priority since the LEP formed in 2011. Our 2019 AGM focused on 2020 being the year for innovation, enabling new ideas to flourish and pursuing productivity gains and sustainability in tandem. One of the themes in our Local Industrial Strategy, published in July 2019, was the Future of Mobility highlighting the scope for connecting expertise and capabilities locally, such as at Cranfield University, to address the challenges ahead. Of course, 2020 did not turn out to be the year that any of us had planned and our focus turned to supporting our businesses and shaping a strategy for economic recovery.

Now, two years on, with COP26 around the corner (this November), there has never been a more important time for businesses, government and educators to work closely together to respond to these challenges. It’s our opportunity not only to build back better from the economic impacts of the pandemic, but to build back greener too.

In July, the Government published their commitment to decarbonise the entire transport system in the UK, and the actions needed to achieve this, in the ‘Decarbonising transport: a better, greener Britain’ White Paper. From increasing cycling and walking to accelerating aviation decarbonisation, the plan sets out a route map to making transport across the UK cleaner and greener.

While integrated growth strategies are necessary to provide the route map to decarbonise transport in the UK, we all need to be prepared to change our behaviour. By changing the way we live and work, we can create cleaner, quieter, healthier places. From walking or cycling on shorter journeys to taking public transport to work, these small changes create a ripple effect that can be felt locally, regionally and nationally. Local Enterprise Partnerships can help to shape the area in a way that makes it easier for such behavioural change.

With our enviable track record for generating ideas, innovation, testing and commercialisation, the South East Midlands is home to many Future of Mobility transport solutions trials and major transport innovators. Many of our businesses, particularly those clustered around Silverstone, the home of Formula 1 motor sport, have specialist capabilities and are leading the UK in developing innovative solutions to the challenges of future mobility and clean growth.

For example, with the support of the Local Growth Fund, Cranfield University has built MUEAVI, a purpose-built experimental facility for ground and airborne autonomous solutions. And, over in Millbrook, UTAC’s Variable Temperature Emissions Chamber for HGV’s is testing electric vehicles to determine energy consumption. Across the area, we continue to not only create sustainable transport technologies, but also test and adopt them.

In Milton Keynes, Starship delivery robots are a common sight. The autonomous robots offer residents a way to access local products in a faster, smarter and more environmentally friendly way. And, last year, Northampton joined Milton Keynes as one of the towns trialling e-scooters. Offering a cost-effective, environmentally friendly, quick way to travel across the towns.

One of the key challenges of this area, in order to drive economic growth, is the need to link towns such as Milton Keynes, Northampton, Bedford and Luton with the rural hinterland. Although environmentally diverse, our rural areas tend to have poorer transport connectivity and we are looking at a number of options, including demand responsive transport to improve the situation. We are also looking at first mile last mile solutions to linking into the new East West rail route, which will eventually run from Oxford to Cambridge, including opportunities for Mass Rapid Transit. Significant investment will be needed to improve connectivity and enable us to adopt more sustainable transport methods, such as walking and cycling more safely in rural areas.

As a Local Enterprise Partnership, we have a great opportunity to work with our Local Authority colleagues and business partners to drive strategic planning to connect our current villages and towns and influence the development of new settlements to provide new cycle routes, walking routes and provide improved access to public transport routes.

Working collaboratively across a wider area than individual local authorities is essential if we are going to develop in a greener way. Let’s make taking public transport, cycling and walking the natural first choice for all who can take it. Let’s reduce overall road traffic by encouraging more working from home through providing better digital connectivity, improve public transport and create new safer walking and cycling routes. Local Enterprise Partnerships can lead the way to lower-carbon, lower-emissions and lower-traffic through greater collaboration. It’s time to pull together for our planet.

[1] BEIS (2021). 2019 UK Greenhouse Gas Emissions (online). Available at: final-uk-greenhouse-gas-emissions-national-statistics1990-to-2019

About the Author

This post was written by Hilary Chipping. Hilary Chipping is the CHief Executive of South East Midlands LEP.