However, Birmingham’s city transport network is far from perfect. As more and more people and business are attracted to Birmingham, congestion is becoming a major issue in the city centre. New Street station is the busiest outside of London and, with the road network almost at breaking point, getting around Birmingham and the West Midlands can be a real challenge.
The future of transport mobility in Birmingham
Fast forward ten years, and Birmingham could be a very different place. As a region, we understand what needs to change if Birmingham and the wider region is to fulfil its ‘Midlands Engine’ potential. Being able to boost our regional productivity relies on a fully functioning transport system, and plans are already very much in place to transform our region. With a regional connectivity programme, metro extension and Midlands Connect plans all underway, the blueprint is on the table.
But unfortunately it’s not as simple as that. While we have billions of pounds of new transport improvements planned, along with enhancements and new schemes all in the pipeline, the real question is whether we actually have the capability and capacity to deliver?
Delivering transport improvements
Let’s be clear; this isn’t about funding. Thanks to the devolution deal we have the money in place for connectivity plans. Network Rail has major investment plans for the region, Highways England has significant funding, and delivery plans for the HS2 Curzon Street station are all in place. There is a clear line of sight to the cash.
The bigger issue is how we can realise all of this potential. The shortage of labour and skills is a very real problem and there needs to be a much better join-up between new sources of funding and skills development. The education system has to be better aligned to our vision for Birmingham’s transport future. There is a pipeline of work for many years to come and, if the skills agenda is better aligned to demand, this will give people a clear view towards a long-term, genuinely rewarding career path.
Keeping Birmingham’s transport network moving
With all of the transport and mobility improvements planned in and around Birmingham and the West Midlands region, one of the biggest priorities needs to be ensuring that the network doesn’t freeze up.
The city currently hangs on a knife-edge of congestion. Any disruption brings with it the potential for the whole of the West Midlands to become gridlocked. With HS2 carving through many existing road networks, the delivery of new transport infrastructure needs to be very carefully managed to make sure our region keeps moving.
The key lies in co-ordination. Highways England, the Local Authority, Combined Authorities and highways and transport providers all need to be better and more closely co-ordinated. Individually these groups are doing amazing things for transport in our region. However, by acting in relative silo’s the risk is that regional transport systems could still come grinding to a halt simply as a result of ongoing construction and engineering works, despite best efforts to achieve the exact opposite result in the longer term.
Ultimately, if we can solve the delivery challenge then the opportunity for Birmingham is there for the taking. We have a chance to do things differently and improve our public transport and mobility networks not only for the benefit of the community, but in a way that will see Birmingham become a major national and international economic player well into the future.