England’s Economic Heartland (EEH) is a transport and economic development body that includes local authorities and business-led local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) from Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire, Milton Keynes, Northamptonshire, Oxfordshire and Swindon.
The document outlining the proposal says that putting the EEH region’s existing collaborative arrangements, which were set up in 2015, on a statutory footing would enable the region to “directly inform and influence critical investment decisions” by the government and its agencies, including Network Rail and Highways England.
Statutory status for the proposed transport body would also allow EEH to prepare a transport strategy for the area and ensure implementation of the strategy to 2050.
It would further mean the secretary of state would have to have regard to its advice and the proposals in its transport strategy.
If it receives the go-ahead from the government, the mooted EEH statutory sub-national transport body would follow in the footsteps of Transport for the North, the UK's first such body that covers the North West, North East and Yorkshire and the Humber.
David Bainbridge, planning partner at consultancy Savills, said that if EEH becomes a statutory transport body it will secure “elevated status” as a consultee both for major planning applications and in the local plan process. Meanwhile, its transport strategy would be a consideration for constituent authorities' emerging local plans, he added.
Such a move would also, said Bainbridge, enable the region’s authorities to speak more effectively with a “single voice” to central government about strategic transport infrastructure priorities that cross individual council boundaries and to channel funding for transport projects to "facilitate an increase in the pace and scale of development across the Oxford-Cambridge arc".
Bainbridge added: "Infrastructure provision, especially transport, is a big development cost and a driver behind development. It therefore needs to be taken into account for emerging local plans."
EEH is made up of 11 local authorities, four public-private LEPs, and the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authoritiy.
According to the consultation document, the power to establish sub-national transport bodies on a statutory basis was introduced through the Cities and Local Devolution Act 2016.
In the Budget earlier this year, the government gave the go-ahead for a spatial framework in the Oxford-Cambridge arc and for four new development corporations in the area.