Navigating the North East’s Future Transport

Meeting in the Hilton Newcastle Gateshead, overlooking the partially scaffolded Tyne Bridge, around 70 delegates gathered for the CIHT Future Transport Event 2024.

The Tyne Bridge renovation was a fitting backdrop for a conference focused on both present endeavours and future solutions to create a better transport system for the North East region.

The event opened with a Welcome Address from CIHT’s Joanne Roberts and Neil Johnstone, highlighting the CIHT’s manifesto and its key priorities. The first priority presented was ‘ensuring transport networks are resilient by, for example, introducing transport resilience assessments and maintaining ageing assets. Over the last several months, CIHT and the DARe Hub have collaborated to better understand resilience in the highways sector in light of extreme weather conditions, involving research among CIHT members, and resulting in a report that will be published later this year.  

The programme moved next to the Royal Town and Planning Institute, and the newly formed North East Combined Authority (North East CA). With the first North East Mayor having been elected only two weeks before, Andrew Dorian’s presentation on the North East CA’s role and remit, and implications for transport, could not have been more timely. Non-surprisingly, there were many questions from the audience, covering issues from pavement parking and subsidised public travel to asset management and rail partnerships. 

Following this, Stelios Rodoulis from the Bus Centre for Excellence (BCoE), which is part of CIHT and funded by the Department for Transport, gave a remote presentation to introduce this initiative. Aimed at enhancing the UK’s bus industry, the BCoE’s objectives are to improve the delivery of bus services and support the sector’s development through a comprehensive program of activities and training. 

Professor Phil Blythe speaking from a podium during the CIHT Future Transport Event 2024
Prof Phil Blythe, DARe Director

Providing an academic perspective, Prof Phil Blythe (Director of the DARe Hub) provided an overview of the transport research projects that he leads at Newcastle University. From studies into the commercialisation of automated and driverless vehicles for logistics (VCAL) and public transport (Cramlington Healthlink), to the National Hub for Decarbonised, Adaptable, Resilient Transport Infrastructures (DARe), developing the knowledge to build the UK’s future transport systems lies at the heart of these projects. 

After a very pleasant networking lunch, event delegates returned to the main room to hear from Alastair Swan, Principal Engineer from Newcastle City Council, about the Tyne Bridge restoration project. With a quick trip back to the 1920’s, Alastair recapped on the bridge’s history, before providing a detailed overview of the journey to secure the funding for the restoration. Showing the inside of the bridge towers, the images presented heavily corroded metal stairwells that looked shockingly akin to the sunken Titanic. Until the works are finished in 2028, traffic flow over the Tyne Bridge will be reduced, Alastair affirmed. Whilst restoration and maintenance work are staples within the transport sector, this is an extremely visible project, and goes beyond refurbishing a physical asset, to preserving a symbol of North East England.  

Moving southward then to the Tees Valley, one of the earliest homes to railway, Alan Weston (Head of Transport, Tees Valley Combined Authority), carried on the theme of restoring North East assets. Alan discussed how the Tees Valley’s transport system had been ‘starved of investment’ for many decades which had knock-on effects for linking places and people together. Now a portfolio of improvements to rail lines and stations, such as adding platforms to Darlington Station, was progressing. Underpinning all these efforts was a desire for greater access to opportunity for local people, by way of enhanced mobility. 

To round-off the day’s memorable and multifarious programme, the final speaker, Rachel Cornfoot offered insights from Arup’s Inclusive Cities Research. Focusing particularly on issues associated with women, Rachel talked through the initiative’s recommendations for designing public spaces that consider the needs of women and girls to feel safer whilst travelling.  

Thank you to CIHT and Milestone Transport Planning for creating an engaging event, packed with examples of Northeastern endeavours focused on improving today’s transport system for a more well-connected and efficient system for tomorrow. The DARe team look forward to next year’s conference.