Vision-led planning: How to reimagine the next generation of Local Transport Plans
Local transport authorities have a statutory responsibility to prepare a Local Transport Plan (LTP) for their communities. However, in recent times many local authorities have let their plans lapse as government reduced its emphasis on the importance of LTPs and as local authority resources have been redirected to nearer term priorities. However, all this is set to change if the long-awaited new DfT LTP guidance is published this autumn.
LTPs are incredibly important documents which can provide greater clarity and funding opportunities for Local Transport Authorities if done well. The COVID-19 pandemic, climate crisis, and the government’s levelling up agenda have all put local transport in the spotlight like never before. The new guidance should enable local transport authorities to navigate these critical challenges more effectively and provide an opportunity to build local consensus over the role of transport in shaping better outcomes.
Over the coming weeks myself and members of our talented Steer team will publish a series of articles on how local authorities can develop best-in-class LTPs. Following this article on vision-led planning, we explore a range of topics, including:
- Making your plans adaptable to future uncertainty using tools such as scenario planning.
- Ensuring your plan is supported by robust and insightful evidence on the needs of local people and places.
- Integrating new modes and technology into your plan.
- Ensuring your plan sets out a deliverable and inclusive pathway to a net zero future.
Vision-led planning for an uncertain future
As a starting point an LTP must be vision-led. Vision-led planning (sometimes referred to as ‘vision and validate’ or ‘decide and provide’) is still gaining traction and represents a paradigm shift away from ‘predict and provide’ by moving from forecasting what we should do in the future based on past trends, towards proactively planning for a future that we collectively want and need.
A vision-led approach can more effectively address the challenges of an uncertain future by:
- Disrupting entrenched challenges: For decades our towns and cities have been designed around the needs of cars, with only limited focus on the importance of creating more sustainable and inclusive places. This has led to a range of unintended consequences such as increased congestion, road danger, community severance, social exclusion, and pollution. A vision-led approach enables us to collectively envision what we want our neighbourhoods and centres to be like and to identify effective solutions which create green, safe and more welcoming places.
- Consensus building for a better future: A vision-led approach enables communities, stakeholders, and planners to open their minds fully to what a better future could look like. It provides an inclusive basis for building consensus across diverse groups, before designing interventions to translate that vision into reality.
- Seizing new opportunities: Having a clear vision of the future makes it much easier to identify opportunities which could fulfil the vision when they arise; and to spot early signs of progress to be built upon. Without a vision such opportunities and good news stories can be missed. Clarity of vision is also important to those who want to invest in your area and will help to secure new public and private funding opportunities.
- A flexible plan for changing times: In recent years we’ve all seen how world events can affect the best laid plans. A vision-led approach provides a proactive way of managing inherent uncertainty about the future. By holding firm to the vision but adjusting course as necessary, continued progress can be made towards shared aspirations even if the prevailing conditions change significantly.
As local authorities gear up to refresh their plans or develop new LTPs, Steer is well placed to advise on how to implement a vision-led approach. From advice on an appropriate evidence base to a deep understanding of the unique challenges and opportunities in your area, through to carefully designed community and stakeholder engagement activities to ensure your vision draws on a variety of perspectives and has strong local support Steer can help.
How to create a shared and powerful vision
Prior to joining Steer, I spent eight years at TfGM working to operationalise a vision-led approach in the development and delivery of Greater Manchester’s fourth LTP. Our starting and reference point throughout was a ‘vision document’ which helped us to define the challenges and opportunities and to establish clear ambition for the City Region.
For a vision to be compelling and effective in shaping future action it needs to represent a broad range of perspectives. This can present both logistical and cultural challenges in terms of how you proactively engage diverse communities and stakeholders in co-designing a long-term vision, particularly if the vision is for a large geography like Greater Manchester.
I would advocate developing a vision which is as broad as possible, which embraces rather than ignores the complexity and interconnectedness of the systems we live and work within. For example, a vision for a local transport plan will need to consider the relationship between travel patterns and behaviour, the wider land use, digital and energy systems and transport’s ability to shape a variety of economic, social, and environmental outcomes.
There is often a challenge in striking the right balance between ambition and reality in a world of constrained resources and local powers. However, we should not constrain a vision to those things which are immediately possible; establishing a clear and ambitious vision will help to identify any additional powers, funding or new working relationships that are needed to achieve the vision.
How to implement a vision-led LTP
Developing a shared and responsible vision is only the first step! Further work will be essential to determine what action needs to be taken to deliver the vision. For example, it may be appropriate to quantify that vision by setting clear targets for the outcomes you want to achieve. In Greater Manchester, we did this through the development of a “Right Mix” set of ambitious but credible mode share targets for different types of journey, together with a proposed pathway for meeting those targets. Traditional modelling tools may not always be appropriate for such vision-led work, and new tools may need to be developed to support decision-makers.
It’s also important to be willing to adapt the pathway to the vision over time in response to changing circumstances. Tools such as scenario planning can be helpful to consider how different external drivers might affect progress towards the vision; and to help identify interventions which are sensible under several different future scenarios. The almost overnight impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on both short and long-term travel behaviours highlighted the importance of planning for uncertain futures. It’s critical that decision-makers establish plans which are as robust and resilient as possible, but which can also be adapted in response to different potential disruptors, whilst still making progress towards the Vision.
Developing a clear and compelling vision is a crucial first step in designing plans, policies or strategy. If it is sufficiently compelling and inclusive, the vision should provide an enduring and motivating “guiding star” for the hard work which then follows to build consensus around the action that is necessary to deliver it.
I hope that those involved in developing the next generation of LTPs will embrace the opportunities that a vision-led approach brings in building a shared ambition for a better future. This will need new skillsets in terms of engagement, communicating through a variety of methods and systems thinking as well as new toolkits to turn the vision into evidence-based plans.
Do get in touch if you’d like to know more about how Steer can help you to develop and deliver a truly vision-led LTP, and we are offering a free facilitated workshop session tailored to help any local transport authority to assess what’s needed for your LTP, regardless of what stage you’re at in the process. To talk through your local transport plan requirements, do not hesitate to get in touch with: Nicola Kane (North), Simon Statham (Midlands) or Steven Bishop (South).