The National Infrastructure Commission makes the case for improving intra-city transport

A Transpennine Express train leaves Manchester Piccadilly. Image: MattBuck/Wikimedia Commons.

It is a fact of life that the debate about big infrastructure projects in the UK is often focused on major inter-city connections that make it easier for people to travel between major conurbations. Projects such as High Speed 2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail regularly hit the headlines – usually with much celebration of their purported productivity impacts.

But in a recent speech to the UK Infrastructure Show in Birmingham, National Infrastructure Commission chief executive Phil Graham pointed to intra-city transport as an area of major underinvestment for cities outside of London. Drawing a contrast with the “genuine devolution and long-term funding” of London’s transport system, Graham highlighted the “fragmented and piecemeal system of funding” that other cities are subjected to as a key obstacle in the way of achieving their economic potential.

The Centre for Cities endorses his call for a three-part approach to redressing this skew towards inter-city and international transport infrastructure. It consists of proper funding devolution with long-term settlements, a significant increase in capital funding for infrastructure in cities, and new powers and duties for city authorities to make the most of this funding.


These reforms must come as a package, with any one alone not sufficient to achieve the infrastructure that cities need. Provided these powers and funds are devolved to genuine economic areas, then Graham is right in suggesting that cities of all sizes should have the opportunity to benefit.

Our support for this course of action is based on our previous work on this topic. Our research into the Northern Powerhouse, based on comparisons with European urban agglomerations, highlighted that commuting overwhelmingly occurs within city regions, rather than between them, and indicated that poor city economic performance is more likely to be caused by weak intra-city connectivity than weak inter-city connectivity. Our earlier work on making transport work for cities outlined a plan for improving urban transport, including devolution of regulatory powers, long-term capital settlements for cities, devolution of fundraising powers, integrated management of urban transport networks, and targeting transport interventions where they will support economic growth.

Pushing for a greater focus on intra-urban journeys for infrastructure is not about defunding committed inter-city schemes, or suggesting that inter-city journeys do not matter. Improving inter-city connectivity is popular, and indeed, helps workers moving to agglomeration economies to remain connected to their friends and families.

But the problem is that, for too long, intra-city improvements outside of London have not been prioritised in national infrastructure planning. And ultimately, it is in intra-urban contexts where transport can make a real difference to productivity. In eroding the barriers between workers and jobs in agglomeration economies, intra-city infrastructure improvements can help to ensure that workers are matched to jobs as efficiently as possible, and in doing so, drive productivity growth.

Matt Whearty is a researcher at the Centre for Cities, on whose blog this article first appeared.

 
 
 
 

17 things the proposed “Tulip” skyscraper that London mayor Sadiq Khan just scrapped definitely resembled

Artist's impression. See if you can guess which one The Tulip is. Image: Foster + Partners.

Sadiq Khan has scrapped plans to build a massive glass thing in the City of London, on the grounds it would knacker London’s skyline. The “Tulip” would have been a narrow, 300m skyscraper, designed by Norman Foster’s Foster & Partners, with a viewing platform at the top. Following the mayor’s intervention, it now won’t be anything of the sort.

This may be no bad thing. For one thing, a lot of very important and clever people have been noisily unconvinced by the design. Take this statement from Duncan Wilson, the chief executive of Historic England, from earlier this year: “This building, a lift shaft with a bulge on top, would damage the very thing its developers claim they will deliver – tourism and views of London’s extraordinary heritage.”

More to the point, the design was just bloody silly. Here are some other things that, if it had been built, the Tulip would definitely have looked like.

1. A matchstick.

2. A drumstick.

3. A cotton ear bud.

4. A mystical staff, of the sort that might be wielded by Gandalf the Grey.

5. A giant spring onion.

6. A can of deodorant, from one of the brands whose cans are seemingly deliberately designed in such a way so as to remind male shoppers of the fact that they have a penis.

7. A device for unblocking a drain.

8. One of those lights that’s meant to resemble a candle.

9. A swab stick, of the sort sometimes used at sexual health clinics, in close proximity to somebody’s penis.

10.  A nearly finished lollipop.

11. Something a child would make from a pipe cleaner in art class, which you then have to pretend to be impressed by and keep on show for the next six months.

12. An arcology, of the sort seen in classic video game SimCity 2000.

13. Something you would order online and then pray will arrive in unmarked packaging.

14. The part of the male anatomy that the thing you are ordering online is meant to be a more impressive replica of.

15. A building that appears on the London skyline in the Star Trek franchise, in an attempt to communicate that we are looking at the FUTURE.


14a. Sorry, the one before last was a bit vague. What I actually meant was: a penis.

16. A long thin tube with a confusing bulbous bit on the end.

17. A stamen. Which, for avoidance of doubt, is a plant’s penis.

One thing it definitely does not resemble:

A sodding tulip.

Anyway, it’s bad, and it’s good the mayor has blocked it.

That’s it, that’s the take.

(Thanks to Anoosh Chakelian, Jasper Jackson, Patrick Maguire for helping me get to 17.)

Jonn Elledge is editor of CityMetric and the assistant editor of the New Statesman. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

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