Rethinking the urban experience: transport modes and governance

Paul Lawrence, Executive Director of Place, City of Edinburgh Council

This year's Scottish Transport Summit will bring together key decision-makers, practitioners and thinkers to discuss and debate Scotland's transport needs and future strategy. Held by Transport Times in partnership with Transport Scotland, the Scottish Transport Summit is a must-attend event for anyone who wants to be up to speed with all the latest developments in the transport industry throughout Scotland.

City of Edinburgh Council's Executive Director of Place, Paul Lawrence will be sitting on our panel discussing how to rethink the urban experience: transport modes and governance.

To hear Paul peak alongside a host of speakers from Transport Scotland as well as key industry figures from across the Nation at the Scottish Transport Summit on 13th June - book your place here now.

First, a disclaimer. The views set out here are my own and not those of my employer, the City of Edinburgh Council. Dull, I know, but important to be clear. In local government (or any government for that matter), formal policy has a clear process to go through, concluding in elected representatives coming to a decision. That's how it works.

Second, that title. What does it mean? I'd like to set it in context.

Among the most important challenges of our time is climate change. And among the keys to combatting climate change is where we live and how we live.

Urban planning in the UK over the past decades has resulted in a settlement pattern which has consumed more and more land, increased car dependency, and augmented social division. A wild generalisation I know, but broadly, as people have got richer, they've moved out of urban into (on the whole) poorly designed suburban areas, owned at least one car (which they've driven to school, work and shops), and not seen much of the people who live in social or privately rented housing, who are too often dependent on poor quality public transport.

It wouldn't be easy to describe this model as sustainable, particularly through an environmental or social lens. The question is, can we do something about it, and what role does transport have?

You could argue that the likelihood is that this position will only become accentuated in the immediate future. We have a housing crisis to deal with, and some in the house building community see the answer as the release of more land, with infrastructure funding either coming from the proceeds of development, government grant, or some clever scheme in between.

My contention is this has to change. Here's a few ideas, mostly not new ones, which I'll flesh out at the conference;

1. We need to maximise the potential of existing infrastructure before we start building more. That's means infrastructure headroom will be a key determinant of spatial planning decisions, rather than the desirability of land. So, if there is capacity in a local school, that's where you start looking to build new homes (etc). Oddly, maybe a rallying cry could be to reduce the need for new infrastructure, rather than demanding more.

2. We need transport strategists and land use planners to really (really) work together in an integrated way. This might sound like stating the bleeding obvious, but it's still the exception rather than the rule. We need to respect professional and technical expertise, but it's the 'joiner-uppers' we really need.

3. We need staff employed at local and community level who understand what great placemaking really looks and feels like, and, working with local residents, can help make it happen. Clever people in central governments might be very helpful in creating high level policy, but we need the best people on the 'front line'.

4. We need to be bolder about planning for people and not for the motor vehicle (electric, self-driving or otherwise). Great stuff happens in great places. Those places are not car dominated.

5. Transport is not easy to reconcile with contemporary concepts of flexible and disruptive technology. Most bus routes change very rarely, tram and rail cost a lot. How we can get the benefits of disruptive thinking delivered (a lot) quicker?

6. Social medial has accentuated the divide between producers and users; absolutism reigns. We need many more co-produced solutions. Companies that are open to user experience. How do we deepen that co-operation and co-production?

7. Transport governance cannot sit in isolation from social, economic and environmental policy. What does an integrated, swift, analytical, planning, and decision-making structure really look like?

Hopefully we can discuss these, and other questions. On these, and many other issues, there is little time to delay.


Paul Lawrence is the Executive Director of Place for City of Edinburgh Council