The rail sector has faced significant challenges, with disruption from storm damage, cost over-runs, curtailment on the GWR electrification programme and difficulty in attracting investment for new rail routes.
The good news is that the new electrification and signalling programmes have increased services throughout the South West along with new rolling stock and new rail lines receiving investment. Progress on smart ticketing and rail company reform is ongoing with the Government due to respond to the Williams Review.
Resilience is still an issue, as it is with roads, given the limited number of main routes through the South West peninsula. A major accident or storm event could see many thousands of passengers stranded.
In terms of decarbonisation, rail is a net contributor to net zero.
The impact of the Covid-19 virus cannot be understated; with rail franchises nationalised for at least six months, at least the railways are still operating…just!
Aviation is particularly challenged by the demands of the Covid-19 restrictions and the industry will require significant support to return to normal.
This is unlikely to be the ‘old’ normal and there is a question as to what the new normal will be. It does present an opportunity for the regional airports to consider how they will serve the new aviation sector, while addressing changed travel demands and the needs of decarbonisation.
There will always be a need for aviation as a sector – the big question is how it will look ten years from now.
The road network in the South West can be divided into:
1. The strategic highway routes under the management of Highways England.
The strategic road network has the benefit of a forward looking plan and funding although new investment is limited in the South West by comparison with many other parts of the country. A challenge is the high number of visitors who holiday in the South West which causes problems on both the national and local networks.
2. Local roads under the management of the relevant local authorities.
The local road network has been underfunded for many years and increasingly wet and sometime cold winters has seen a significant increase in the number of potholes.
Strategically, the management of the South West’s highways networks is at a crossroads. Many years of underfunding on the local network, combined with the necessity to deliver net zero carbon emissions, demands a different approach to accommodate low carbon vehicles and continuity of connectivity in the more rural areas.
Providing construction is allowed to continue under the Covid-19 restrictions, the lack of traffic on local roads could be an opportunity to efficiently achieve some of the maintenance backlog, reduce the economic impact and enable some construction workers to retain their jobs.
Shipping is vital to the UK’s economy with the Port of Dover being used to import a significant amount of the UK’s imports from the continent.
The Port of Bristol sees opportunity post Brexit as a strategic port serving the new trade deals with Canada, the US, Africa and Mid and South America. It is located close to major urban conurbation and can contribute to reducing carbon through reduced travel distances.
However, many ships are high carbon emitters and although the shipping sector is conscious of the need to convert their fleets to lower carbon fuel sources, there is a challenge as to how this can be achieved on a, by necessity, global basis.
Other ports in the South West are smaller, but see both opportunity, like Bristol, as hubs for offshore wind and other marine renewable construction as well as for more conventional freight services.