Here at Localise West Midlands we’ve been having a bit of a deep dive into priority policy areas and thinking strategically about what localisation means in different contexts. Our first session was focused on transport and our initial thoughts are below.

We chose transport, or rather ‘the future of mobility’ because it’s one of the four ‘opportunity’ areas laid out in the West Midlands Local Industrial Strategy. We want all policy and strategy to localise prosperity as much as possible, and here are some thoughts about how this focus area could be leveraged. The current Industrial Strategy pulls out a few key ideas: HS2 and big infrastructure are there but it also covers autonomous vehicles and developing the West Midlands as an advanced manufacturing hub.

While we know this is a strategic rather than a detailed document, we are concerned it misses some of the key points. Having HS2 come into central Birmingham will not really bring benefits to other, particularly rural, areas across the West Midlands unless there is some serious thought and investment put into local public transport. Cycling in rural areas provides different challenges than in urban ones. For those in rural settings, not being able to drive can be isolating. We need the economy to allow people and communities to participate fully in society. Often, but not always, people’s ability or confidence to drive can be curtailed in older age. We’ve previously looked at the economic and social benefits of localising social care, but improvements to transport that would allow people to remain active members of society, adds another dimension to the social care debate.

Birmingham is known for being a car city, and recent news has focused around poor air quality, in particular around schools. With driving to school still being the default for many, we wonder whether more could be done to change attitudes towards supporting walking paths and crocodiles. Mode Shift STARS supports schools for free, and businesses, to develop sustainable travel plans. Data shows that kids who live within a mile of their school are most likely to walk, so ensuring people have local schools is going to form part of their sustainable travel plans. Data also shows that commuting distances have got longer, but commutes are less frequent. Business policies encouraging more frequent working from home policies, or using local co-working spaces, has the potential to reduce travel times and help support people’s local businesses, as well as potentially bringing about cross-fertilisation of ideas. But again, this solution might be more applicable to those already living in urban areas, and policy design should take into consideration different types of people and their circumstances.

While London has embraced public transport and cycling, we wonder whether there should be more focus on Car Sharing in Birmingham? One of LWM’s key beliefs is that top-down solutions are never going to be as effective as local decision making about the best way to solve problems around air quality and traffic. Car-sharing clubs such as co-wheels make driving comparable to public transport – by paying a rate when you need the car, you don’t cover the sunk costs of owning and insuring a car which makes the individual journeys very cheap. Across Europe, there is much more enthusiasm for car-sharing, and again we wonder what might be needed to change attitudes in the UK? One aspect is making it normal for younger drivers, who might not yet own a car. The University of Birmingham is considering providing insurance options for their students, and we’d like to support the development of additional options for young people to become engaged in car-sharing early on.

LWM is also interested in the development of electric cars. A local project renting to minicab drivers features in our video, but we wonder now whether the phase-out of Amey’s contract in Birmingham means there will be delays in the further roll-out of charging points? Building on ideas supporting the social care agenda, we wonder whether we could work with organisations like Bourneville Extra Care Trust to facilitate solar charging canopies?

Returning to the issues around cycling, those lucky enough to be able to use the new cycle routes to get into the city centre seem to really love the new cycle infrastructure. But it is based on the arterial model of the city, following the road and bus routes. This might mean that it’s easier to for people to get into the city centre than it is to a local high street and further centralises business opportunities. We’d like to see improved cycle routes across the whole city with more consideration given to how anyone could access local areas by bike.

With the Combined Authority making a commitment to autonomous vehicles in time for the Commonwealth Games, we wonder, which businesses are looking at driverless technologies? Over the past few years, we have seen that the big tech companies do not necessarily have our best interests at heart, and we wonder whether a joint commitment between government, businesses, and citizens could lead this innovation in a way that truly benefits our communities. With driverless technology regulation likely to sit at a country level, we wonder if the council’s remit to on taxi firms could be used to target the type of outcomes we want to see. Another important area of regulation is around drones. With amazon promising speedy drone deliveries, local shops will continue to struggle to compete with stock and prices. Could councils decide that drone delivers provide safety risks and damage local jobs, and refuse to licence them? Both of these examples remove people from jobs and while I don’t advocate maintaining jobs artificially, as a society we should consider how people are retrained and kept on as valued members of society – these could be people programming or maintaining the new types of equipment, but a transition won’t happen without careful planning.

At a higher level, we want to make sure that great transport links (like HS2 to London) don’t become a substitute for providing good local services. By encouraging smaller local hospitals, schools, and other services people have to travel less. We know there are some good examples of other places attempting to create more radical solutions, including Frieburg in Germany, and Bologna’s last-mile delivery solutions in Italy. We know a one size fits all approach doesn’t work, and we believe that some of the localised solutions needed will be embedded in the existing data about the different places in the West Midlands. We don’t know who (apart from the existing delivery companies themselves) has data about deliveries being carried out – is this something local councils and the Combined Authority could collate or commission?

With the declared Climate Emergency, new targets to improve sustainability are going to have to, in part, focus on transport, and now is a great time to shape the agenda. Some of this could be through the deliberate attempts of funding organisations like the Aston Trust, who provide great support for local businesses, to shape the agenda towards more sustainable living. We also think that Civil Society, following on from our work last year with them on their role in Inclusive Growth, could help ensure the focus is on inclusivity and making sure the poorest aren’t most disadvantaged by the effects of, and our response to, climate change.

If you have more thoughts on where the localised agenda should influence this strategic priority, let us know. We’re aiming to think about the other areas of the Industrial Strategy over the coming months, to ensure we ready to leverage the biggest changes in the West Midlands, so watch this space for further areas.

Photo by _M_V_ on Unsplash