Institution urges huge devolution of infrastructure powers to city regions in new report

Control over urban road and rail networks should be devolved from central government to powerful urban transport authorities, according to the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE).

A new report, published by the ICE this week (Thursday), calls for the next government to accelerate the devolution of transport powers to England’s big cities after the next election.

It recommends the creation of fully integrated city-region transport authorities with much greater responsibility over the local road infrastructure and public transport. In some cases, it says this responsibility should be extended to the national rail and road networks, including those routes currently managed by the Highways Agency. As an example, it recommends that a Greater Manchester authority should have control over all the roads inside the M60 orbital motorway.

It says city-regional control over the rail network will be particularly suitable in cities like Liverpool and London, which have well-developed suburban train networks.

These powers would exceed those currently exercised by the passenger transport executives, which currently oversee bus and local rail services in England’s major conurbations.

The ICE also urges less competitive bidding for one-off central government funds and an end to annual Whitehall funding allocations.

It suggests minimum three year funding settlements, which will be less tightly tied to Whitehall-led themes and more tailored to local priorities. For major projects, the report says the government should award funding on a five year basis.

The institution calls for these city-regional blueprints to be underpinned by an overarching national strategy for England.

However the ICE says a “one-size fits all” structure will not work for each city region because many parts of the country are not yet ready to take on the greater level of responsibility outlined in the report.

Jonathan Spruce, of the ICE transport expert panel, said: “It is important therefore that any future government resists the desire for standardisation and bureaucratic neatness, and is instead guided by the needs, ambition and capacity of each area.”