It is traditional at the time of the Annual General Meeting to spend a few minutes reflecting on the preceding 12 months.
In selecting ‘Shaping Tomorrow Today’ as my Presidential theme I wanted to celebrate the contribution that each and every one of us makes on a daily basis: whether you are maintaining an existing asset, delivering a new piece of infrastructure or planning for the future, what we do makes a difference: what we do is shaping the world around us.
One of my first visits was to the Yorkshire and Humber region. Here I got to meet the new intake of Transport Planning apprentices as they started their course at the Leeds College of Building. The energy, the enthusiasm, the ideas that these young professionals have is in itself inspiring and uplifting: and with CIHT an end point assessor for the Transport Planning apprenticeship it was a timely reminder of how the support we provide our members lies at the very heart of CIHT.
As someone who started out as a transport modeller I was delighted when the Transport Planning Professional qualification became a Chartered qualification awarded by CIHT. More recently we’ve seen the launch of CIHT’s Professional Development Framework: a means by which employers and employees can work together to enable each individual realise their potential. Having listened to the webinar launch of the Professional Development Framework it is clear that its introduction is widely welcomed.
Whilst in Yorkshire and Humber I had the opportunity to visit Highways England’s Regional Control Centre, from where they monitor and manage a large part of the Strategic Road Network. We should never underestimate the importance of monitoring and managing the network, nor the role such centres have to play in ensuring that individuals and businesses are able to use the network with confidence. Talking with a couple of Highways England Traffic Officers I was impressed by how their role has evolved over the years. The knowledge and experience held by the Traffic Officers is very obvious and allows them to help deal with disruptions quickly and efficiently.
Over the course of the year the importance of investing in maintaining and managing local roads was reinforced with the publication of CIHT’s Local Highways Review. Reaction to the review has been extremely positive, and its recommendations provide CIHT with a solid foundation on which to pursue the changes needed if we are to ensure our local roads have the investment they need moving forward.
As we moved into the latter half of autumn I had headed north to Scotland. And here I was blown away by the transformation of Glasgow Queen Street station. What had once been a somewhat cramped, uninviting station as a consequence of a 1970s scheme was being turned into a space filled with light and air. Although work on the concourse had yet to be completed when I visited, it was clear how the new station will be a welcoming gateway through which passengers will pass as they go about their daily life.
And talking about transformational projects, I was equally impressed by the work in Sauchiehall Street. What was previously a city street where the car was king has been transformed into one where the space for pedestrians has been increased, provision made for cyclists, and seating areas nestle beneath newly planted trees, all the while still maintaining access for vehicles.
In recent weeks there’s been renewed attention being given to the need to repurpose our urban road space. In Sauchiehall Street there’s an example of what we can achieve when we apply ourselves and turn vision and ambition into reality.
I was further reminded of the role that investment has to play in delivering wider benefits on my visit to Northern Ireland. I had been looking forward to seeing first-hand the award-winning Glider service and I was not to be disappointed. Here is an outstanding example of the benefit of taking a whole system approach: from the distinctive and welcoming stops, to the vehicles, right through to the all-embracing branding, the user experience is first-class.
And it is an experience that more and more people are choosing. Indeed when estate agents start to include proximity to a Glider stop as one of the benefits of a property then we truly have made an impact. But it’s the wider benefits of the scheme that are even more impressive. Here is a service that for the first time connects parts one part of the city with another. The social, economic and environmental benefits that flow from improved connectivity cannot be underestimated. And in the Glider the city of Belfast has a transport project that is making a difference.
A constant theme throughout the year has been the need for our profession to respond to the climate change challenge. What would once be called extreme weather events are increasingly becoming the norm and increasingly we see our infrastructure being tested to its limits, if not beyond them. The annual dinner in Cardiff came towards the end of a particularly intense period of extreme wet weather: the river levels and flows experienced during this period were at times terrifying in their intensity. Indeed for some, getting to Cardiff was made all the more difficult by a succession of rail and road closures. Investing in the measures that will help us adapt our infrastructure to these new challenges is increasingly important.
At the same time we need to make real progress in the task of meeting the requirement for our transport system to meet the requirement to be net zero carbon. This requirement hasn’t gone away and we know that delays in making real progress in the short term will serve only to make the scale of change required in later years all the greater.
There is clear evidence of growing public support of the need to decarbonise our transport system. And with many people rediscovering the benefits of active travel in recent months we possibly have a moment in time to effect change in ways that we might not have envisaged a few weeks ago. Investing in solutions that improve connectivity that also reduce its environmental footprint will create new business opportunities that can form part of a green recovery.
The requirement to get to net zero carbon will require investment in our transport system. And it requires that investment to be aligned with investment in digital infrastructure and indeed power generation and distribution networks: the latter being essential in order to support electrification of our transport system.
A year ago at my inauguration I highlighted three issues on which our profession should focus: the importance of having a vision-led approach to the planning and development of our transport system; the need to renew our commitment for a more diverse and inclusive profession, one that better reflects the society we serve; and the need to make the case for investment in our transport system.
Twelve months on these three issues remain just as pertinent to our profession.
What we have in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic is the opportunity to accelerate our response to them.
We need to be bold in our vision for the transport system of the future. We need to encourage infrastructure owners and service providers to reimagine and repurpose our transport system. And we need to encourage and enable new models of delivery, ones that put the user at the heart of all that we do.
In all of this we must ensure that our approach better reflects the diversity of our society. As a profession the insight that comes with a more diverse and representative membership will help ensure our solutions reflect the needs of our society. But just as important is the need to recognise that putting the user at the heart of our transport system requires us to understand and plan for the needs of a diverse society.
Over the course of the last 12 months I have been reminded time and again of the outstanding contribution that our members make on a daily basis.
Truly can it be said that as a profession we are ‘Shaping Tomorrow Today’. And it has been an honour and privilege to the CIHT President for 2019-20.