For centuries, some of the world's most successful settlements have been built around critical linear infrastructure – rivers, canals, roads and railway lines. London's growth along the Thames; the emergence of railroad towns like Fresno and Reno on the American frontier; access to transport has fostered trade, immigration and economic growth throughout history. Since 2013, a corridor approach to economic development has emerged once again. Accelerating development, promoting industrial clusters and attracting untapped inward investment, corridor schemes will be instrumental to the UK forging a strong place for itself in a post-Brexit world.
The UK's ground-breaking strategic corridor proposals are symptomatic of a step change in transport planning. They connect our coasts and cross-city and county boundaries, bringing together local, national and international infrastructure pathways. In a climate of ongoing austerity, economic corridor approaches catalyse development over large geographical areas, making the case for slow incremental improvement schemes to be accelerated into more ambitious transformative initiatives. Backed by detailed evidence, economic corridors boast strong benefit-cost ratios, highlight specific growth opportunities and maximise industrial strengths, enabling the realisation of inclusive development which supports housing, schools and leisure facilities, as well as traditional businesses.
The M4 corridor is a shining example of such development in action. Since its birth in the 1980s, the UK's largest regional tech cluster, 'Silicon Alley', has become home to, amongst others, China's Huawei, Korea's LG, and America's Amazon, Microsoft and Dell. Defined by its proximity to major motorway and rail links, the M4 corridor continues to attract the pool of talent needed for its high-tech, research-led industries to flourish.
It's not just here in the UK. Economic corridors are now connecting regions in Singapore, India, China and Pakistan. The Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC) demonstrates the scale these projects can reach. One of the world's largest and most ambitious schemes, it will link India's capital city and financial centre via a swathe of development along a 1,500km long freight corridor, including two international airports, eight smart cities and two logistics hubs. The $90billion project is supported by Japanese investors and promises to quadruple the region's exports following its completion in 2037.
Looking to the future, England's new Sub-national Transport Bodies (STBs) are making the case for the development of corridors linking the Irish Sea and North Sea, the world's two most recognisable universities, and ports in the Bristol Channel and the Humber. Manufacturing, logistics, distribution, agri-food and agri-tech business are all found on the A46; they all rely on the route to prosper. Midlands Connect is proposing a corridor approach to the A46 which will accelerate a route-wide upgrade of this vital east-west pathway, opening up access to labour, supply chains and domestic markets, as well as maximising the corridor's potential as a major export centre. 22% of everything made along the A46 is exported – almost 50% more than the national export average. Improving the speed and reliability of access to international gateways like Birmingham and East Midlands airports, as well as the Humber and Bristol ports, will create a globally-competitive economic corridor, allowing businesses to further exploit the international marketplaces they already serve so effectively.
Midlands Connect's fellow STBs, England's Economic Heartland (EEH) and Transport for the North (TfN), are following the same theory. EEH is leading plans to link Oxford and Cambridge by rail and the nearby A34 and A14 with a new expressway. TfN is bringing forward plans for Northern Powerhouse Rail, a high frequency rail corridor running from Liverpool to Hull via Manchester and Leeds, while upgrading the A66 between Carlisle and Newcastle will connect northern England's "energy coasts".
The centuries-old relationship between infrastructure and prosperity is based on a tried and tested notion – create the means to move people and goods, and commerce will thrive. By reimagining this formula in the 21st Century, we can maximise the industrial strengths of our existing towns and cities, unleashing their untapped potential and creating new opportunities. Economic corridors focus on movement patterns and infrastructure that cross civic boundaries, demonstrating why the sort of collaboration, partnership working and pan-regional thinking that can only be found amongst STBs, is an essential new ingredient to public life.
Maria Machancoses is Director of Sub-national Transport Body Midlands Connect