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Active Travel England embrace (and resource) public engagement

Article by Andy Mills, tCI Associate

As Local Authorities (or perhaps their commercial partners) sharpen their pencils and prepare their bids to the latest round of funding from Active Travel England (ATE), something seismic is going on too. ATE published their Capability Fund in early January this year; a fund specifically targeted at consultation and engagement skills building in the transport planning sector.

The headlines for this fund sound really promising: £32.9 million to create national network of active travel experts – funding for local authorities to train engineers and planners to conduct high-quality engagement and consultation sessions with local communities.

This is a big investment, but it seeks to address a key issue when adapting existing transport infrastructure to re-prioritise pedestrians and cyclists. Low Traffic Neighbourhoods and Temporary Traffic Schemes developed during the Covid pandemic are two examples of changes which have not been universally welcomed. Indeed these measures may have prompted the then SoS for Transport to write to all Transport Authority leaders in 2020: ‘I want to be absolutely clear: we are not prepared to tolerate hastily introduced schemes which will create sweeping changes to communities without consultation’.

ATE followed up this letter with some great guidance to those applying for funding which states:

Effective engagement with communities is key to achieving a scheme that is accepted, and should form part of the scheme development process from the start. As well as giving communities the opportunity to help shape proposed changes, it allows Local Authorities to understand people’s needs and concerns. This means potential problems can be identified and dealt with before they become substantial obstacles.’Department for Transport, Active Travel Fund Public Opinion Surveys: Good Practice Guidance

However, the guidance doesn’t provide advice and guidance on how to engage (or rather, involve) people effectively, how to use co-production techniques such as Citizens Inquiry to reach consensus, how to undertake equality impact assessments, and how to prepare and conduct consultations.

tCI has recently been commissioned by a Local Authority to do exactly what the ATE Capability Fund is seeking to do: ‘to train engineers and planners to conduct high-quality engagement and consultation sessions with local communities’. Actually, we are also currently adding to this capacity by delivering some of this work on a knowledge transfer basis.

So we’d love to hear from other Authorities considering applying to the ATE for infrastructure change funding, or indeed to their Capability Fund. Or, if you’re looking to develop or refresh your team’s skills in conducting meaningful engagement and consultation, browse our tCI training calendar or get in touch to discuss our bespoke in-house training offerings, tailored to your needs.

About the Author

Andy has held Assistant Director level posts in Public Health and Public Engagement in the North West of England and is an experienced change management specialist.

Read more about Andy

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