High-density transport networks key to city growth, say experts

High-density transport networks between and within cities are vital for successful urban growth, experts told the Institute of Economic Development (IED) Annual Conference.

Ian Birch, Transport for London, speaking at the IED Conference
Ian Birch, Transport for London, speaking at the IED Conference

Ian Birch, transport economist at mayoral agency Transport for London, speaking at the conference yesterday, described the lessons other UK cities could learn from the capital.

What has made London "so successful", he said, was its high employment density, pointing out that 30 per cent of London’s jobs were to be found on just 2 per cent of its land.

This employment density was "considerably higher" in London than other UK cities, said Birch.

He said: "That’s all about rail networks.

"London had a pre-existing, very dense rail network that it’s built on to create its success.

"That’s the key to how other UK cities can start to respond to this opportunity.

"They have a lot of the economic potential that London has got but they need to get more integrated to so they actually get this density. And they can do that by planning things like High Speed Two and High Speed Three and local transport networks."

At an earlier session, Zach Wilcox, analyst at think tank the Centre for Cities, also said that dense transport networks were key to "unlock the homes and businesses that a city needs to grow".

He said: "Transport between major cities is incredibly important for economic growth and increases the ‘effective density’ of these cities - this idea that more people can come together and collaborate in one place.

"That’s important for generating new ideas and increasing productivity."

Wilcox said that it was also vital to focus on improving transport connections within cities to benefit from the effects of major projects like HS2.

At the later session, Ciaran Gunne-Jones, economics director at consultancy Nathaniel Lichfield and Partners (NLP), revealed that almost two-thirds of the projects involved indentified in Local Growth Deals negotiated between the government and local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) involved transport.

The deals, conducted earlier this year, involve Whitehall agreeing to devolve transport, housing and skills funding to local areas in return for promises on how to boost growth.

Gunne-Jones unveiled a new report by NLP, The Road to Growth, that analysed all 474 projects in the 39 deals. It showed that 63 per cent of the projects involved were transport-related, of which 73 per cent were road-related.

The report emphasises that, to be most effective for growth, LEPs should focus on both long-term, larger transport projects as well as short-term, minor improvements.

Transport infrastructure funding was "fundamental" to the 160,000 new homes and 290,000 new jobs that LEPs have promised to deliver in their deals by 2020/21, said Gunne-Jones.

Also speaking was Marianne Kilpatrick, director of consultancy Interfleet Transport Advisory, who expressed concerns about whether LEPs were equipped to plan for the funding of longer-term transport projects.

"The localism agenda forces people to think somewhat more narrowly," she said.

The NLP report can be found here.

The IED Annual Conference was staged in association with Planning and Placemaking Resource. It was sponsored by Nathaniel Lichfield & Partners, Grant Thornton, YKTO Group, Tractivity and WECD.


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