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West Midands Combined Authority CEO Laura Shoaf talks to Future Cities Forum

Chief Executive of the West Midlands Combined Authority, Laura Shoaf (Courtesy WMCA)

Future Cities Forum was delighted to speak to the Chief Executive of West Midlands Combined Authority, Laura Shoaf, this week on future transport projects being planned for this region of the country over the next two decades.

'When did you last see the PM or a senior minister pictured on a bus? Public transport has been stigmatized during Covid-19', Laura remarked during our conversation on how public transport has been put at a disadvantage during the pandemic.

Laura remarked on how more needs to be happen on creating devolutionary powers for the regions.

'During the pandemic bus recovery funding from government went straight to the bus companies. It would have been better if it had been distributed via us, as a regional authority, as we have an overall view of where the needs are, where the vulnerable areas are, and because we are best placed to specify where the funding needs to go on routes. Instead the bus companies made their own choices - not necessarily helpful ones when there might be a route which has a strong rail alternative, where buses are not needed. There have been some good things to come out of the pandemic, however - people travelling less is good for the environment.'

'Funding for development of brownfield sites has also been important, so it is good news that we now have a dedicated brownfield fund. We hope developers will work with us on these sites in a collaborative way.

'It is difficult for pension funds and institutional investors to engage on UK transport projects, as there are no capital receipts. However projects can work if they are packaged up with housing and offices, potentially. We also do hope that investors will engage with opportunities to develop more business parks with mixed-use assets across the region.'

This week, the WMCA announced that the public are to have their say on a far-reaching strategy laying out how the authority can de-carbonise the region's transport system and improve services over the next two decades.

The draft West Midlands Local Transport Plan (LTP) called 'Reimagining Transport in the West Midlands', shows how the region's transport bosses can meet the challenges of tackling climate change, reducing traffic congestion and improving access to transport while supporting the post-Covid19 economic recovery.

The plan drawn up by Transport for West Midlands (TfWM) also builds on changes in travel behaviour seen during the coronavirus pandemic such as increases in cycling, walking and scooting and a reduction in five days per week commuting.

The WMCA states that it was developed following the publication of an open 'green paper' discussion document on the future of transport last year which drew almost 700 responses across the region. Five motives for change were set out for the new plan to consider; tackling the climate emergency, making streets safer, fairer access to transport, supporting the economy and encouraging more active travel.

The draft LTP Core Strategy it says highlights how plans to further expand the Metro tram network, open new railway stations and invest in cleaner zero-emission buses through programmes such as the 'Coventry All Electric Bus City' will make a difference. However, the authority states that these measures can take time to deliver and more also needs to be done quickly by using existing infrastructure in a better way to support behaviour change such as developing bus priority lanes and safe cycle routes.

Key to delivering the first phase of the plan over the next five years will be the £1.3 billion City Region Sustainable Transport Settlement investment announced last month.


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