The case for change
This section provides a summary of the key challenges that this strategy is intended to address. It is informed by national, regional and local priorities and by how the city’s transport system is operating currently, as set out in sections 2 and 3.
In summary, we have identified seven specific challenges which this strategy is intended to address, and which are discussed below.
4.1 Tackling climate change
As noted in section 2, the UK Government has set itself a legally binding target to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050, while as a region the West Midlands is currently aiming to reach this milestone nine years earlier. Coventry City Council’s new Sustainability and Climate Change Strategy will set out our own plans to initially achieve an interim target of a 55 per cent reduction in emissions, relative to 1990 levels, by 2030.
To achieve these targets it is clear that a major change is needed in the way in which we travel. Midlands Connect estimate that in Coventry in 2019 384,000 tonnes of CO2 (or equivalent amounts of other greenhouse gases) were generated from transport. This is roughly equivalent to around 1 tonne of CO2 for every person who lives in the city. By far the largest share of these emissions is generated by car travel.
“The overriding message of the strategy should be about climate change. Everything should be focused towards reducing the amount of carbon (and related) emissions in the city”
Let’s Talk survey respondent
Current levels of car travel will simply not be sustainable in the future. This is true, even though a shift towards electric and other forms of zero emission vehicles is expected to make car travel more environmentally sustainable. Policymakers at both a national and regional level are clear that this alone will not be enough to meet current carbon reduction targets. In practice this will require both a significant reduction in the total number of vehicles, and distance travelled by them, on the city’s roads and a shift towards zero emission vehicles for those journeys which are still made by car.
Furthermore, action will also be required to address emissions from other kinds of vehicles, such as heavy and light goods vehicles, buses, and trains. This will require leadership at a regional and national level, with investment in, for example, the electrification of the rail network being dependent upon nationally decided investment programmes.
4.2 Improving health outcomes for local people
Life expectancy has been rising in Coventry over the long-term but remains below both national and regional averages. Furthermore, there are substantial variations between different parts of the city, with women in the most prosperous parts of the city living on average for 8.4 years longer than those in the most deprived parts. For men this rises to 10.7 years.
Health inequalities are strongly linked to both economic inequality and levels of physical inactivity. Higher levels of walking and cycling and improved public transport options, which enable those on the lowest incomes to easily access major employment centres and transport hubs, will be essential to address these issues.
Air pollution is also a significant concern. Diesel, and to a lesser extent petrol, vehicles are major producers of both NO2 and PM2.5. Prolonged exposure to high concentrations of these pollutants can be very serious and can include, for example, increased risk of asthma, heart disease, strokes, lung disease and dementia. In 2014 Public Health England estimated that in Coventry the equivalent of 168 deaths per year could be attributed to exposure to PM2.5.
“(I am) hugely concerned about air quality as a result of congestion”
Let’s Talk survey respondents
At present there are a number of air pollution hotspots across the city where average annual concentrations of NO2 currently exceed the legal limit (40µg/m3). Coventry was designated as an Air Quality Management Area in 2009 and in 2021 a Ministerial Direction was issued which legally requires the Council to implement an Action Plan to reduce NO2 levels below this legal limit. The Council’s approved Local Air Quality Action Plan sets out a package of measures to reduce concentrations of air pollution in these areas, and to bring them below the legal limit in the shortest possible time. However, achieving a more general, long-term improvement across the city as a whole will require further action.
4.3 Improving road safety
As noted in section 3, at present around 600-700 casualties occur each year as a result of incidents on Coventry’s roads. While this has reduced significantly over the longer-term, these numbers had remained more consistent in the years leading up to the Covid-19 pandemic, indicating a flattening of the previous downward trend. The number of serious and fatal incidents fluctuates from year to year, however in 2019 there were 100 serious injuries and 3 deaths resulting from collisions on the road network.
Furthermore, some types of road users are at greater risk than others. For example, in 2019 approximately one third of serious and fatal incidents involved either a cyclist or a motorcyclist, despite these groups making up a small proportion of all traffic on our roads.
It is our ambition both to reduce the number of incidents overall and to reduce the number of fatal incidents to zero. We recognise that this is an ambitious target but every fatality has a significant impact on the local community, and we believe it is right to be ambitious in seeking to minimise the number of people who are killed or injured when using the city’s transport network.
Initiatives such as the introduction of Average Speed Enforcement on main routes into the city have been highly successful in reducing casualties on these corridors and making further improvements to road safety will remain a high priority for this strategy.
In addition, it is important that people feel secure when using the transport network, whatever mode of travel they are using. The design of public transport interchanges, the public realm and the vehicles themselves need to ensure that security issues are addressed at source so that people can use them with minimal risk to their safety. This will include the design of the planned Coventry Very Light Rail system.
4.4 Supporting the city’s economic recovery and reducing levels of economic inequality
There are currently 161,000 people employed in Coventry. The Council has ambitious plans to increase this further and, as noted in section 2, there is potential for investment in green businesses, including zero emission transport, to help support the city’s economy to recover from Covid-19.
Current plans to create new jobs in the city include:
- delivering a major regeneration of the South side of the city centre. This will include improved leisure and retail facilities, as well as new homes
- creating a new business district at Friargate, where one new office building has already been constructed and work is currently underway on a second office building and a new boutique hotel
- a further expansion of Ansty Park
- plans to establish a Gigafactory in the South of the city. This would complement the recently established UK Battery Industrialisation Centre, making the city a centre for both research and development and manufacturing relating to battery technology for zero emission vehicles
- working with several major employers to facilitate their plans to expand, this includes Coventry University, the University of Warwick and Jaguar Land Rover.
While creating new jobs and supporting the city’s recovery from Covid-19, these developments will also create additional travel demand, which will need to be met in a sustainable and equitable way. It is also vital that the benefits of these developments are inclusive and that residents in all parts of the city share in them.
At present there are substantial inequalities between different parts of the city. While some areas are affluent, there are also significant concentrations of deprivation. For example, according to the Government’s Index of Multiple Deprivation, in 2019 there were 28 (out of 195) neighbourhoods in Coventry in the 10 per cent most deprived in the country. This rises to 50 amongst the most deprived 20 per cent.
It is therefore essential that, as well as providing the necessary infrastructure to help create new jobs, we also improve transport links to and from the most deprived parts of our city. Enabling a more general shift towards public transport and walking and cycling will also help to address this, given that car ownership and car travel is expensive, and that these are more affordable and inclusive forms of transport.
4.5 Maximising the benefits of planned strategic transport improvements
It has now been confirmed that phases 1 (London – Birmingham) and 2a (Birmingham – North West of England) of HS2 will go ahead as planned, with the first phase currently due to complete between 2029 and 2033 and construction underway. The route will pass close to the south side of Coventry, with the planned interchange in Solihull improving connectivity by rail between Coventry and northern England and Scotland. The HS2 scheme is expected to bring substantial economic benefits to the West Midlands, including Coventry, through the creation of jobs during and after construction of the route, and regeneration projects associated with the HS2 route.
The planned interchange is also located close to Birmingham Airport and the National Exhibition Centre (NEC) and forms part of ‘UK Central’. This is expected to become both a major transport hub, with national and international connections, and a significant employment centre in its own right. Connectivity between Coventry and UK Central is therefore a key consideration for this strategy.
HS2 is also significant because it is expected to alleviate some of the pressure on existing rail services. This will enable other improvements to be brought forward.
At the same time, the Government is also continuing to invest in the region’s Strategic Road Network through a series of planned improvements set out in National Highways’ Road Investment Strategy, including the improvement of the Binley and Walsgrave Junctions on the A46 Coventry Eastern Bypass. These will bring benefits for Coventry through reduced congestion on this key strategic route, improving accessibility to key employment sites at Ansty Park, Binley and Coventry Airport, as well as to the University Hospital Coventry and Warwickshire.
National Highways are currently preparing for the third Roads Investment Strategy covering the five-year period beyond 2027, and further improvements to the A46, focussing on Stivichall Interchange and M6 Junction 2 have been identified in studies undertaken by Midlands Connect as potential future projects for consideration. M6 Junction 3 is also the subject of work jointly commissioned by National Highways, Warwickshire County Council and the City Council to identify potential improvements.
4.6 Meeting travel demand arising from new homes
As noted in section 2, Coventry is a rapidly growing city, with plans to build 25,000 new homes to be built over the period 2011 – 2031. This figure was based on an Objectively Assessed Need of 42,400 new homes, with Warwickshire authorities providing those that cannot be delivered within the city. Since the adoption of the current Local Plan, the Government has introduced a new way of calculating housing need (the Standard Methodology), which delivers a similar estimate for the number of new homes required. Current plans include several large-scale developments, most notably Sustainable Urban Extensions (SUEs) in Keresley (allocated for 3,100 new homes) and Eastern Green (allocated for 2,250).
Travel demand will also be generated by planned development in neighbouring areas. For example, a further planned SUE in Kings Hill (initially 2,500 homes) lies within Warwickshire but is located right upon the boundary with Coventry and will therefore also have a significant impact on the city’s transport network. Furthermore, Stratford-Upon-Avon and Warwick District Councils are currently in the process of developing a new, joint South Warwickshire Local Plan. This is expected to cover the period up to 2050 and will set out the areas in which further growth will be accommodated.
In many cases, planned developments are directly dependent on new transport infrastructure being delivered. More generally, the increase in the city’s population, and that of neighbouring areas such as Warwickshire, will generate additional travel demand. It is essential that this demand is met in a sustainable way, without exacerbating existing problems with congestion, air pollution and the city’s carbon footprint.
4.7 Adapting to changes in the way that people live, work and travel
It is possible that we may be on the cusp of a fundamental change to people’s travel habits. For more than half a century, fossil fuel powered cars have been the dominant form of travel in the UK and, as noted in section 3, these remain by far the most common form of transport in Coventry today.
However, new technology means that this may be beginning to change. Electric vehicles are already becoming a ‘mainstream’ technology and accounted for 15 per cent of all new cars sold in 2021. This is highly likely to rise much further in the near future, but this may only be one part of a much more fundamental change to the way that people and goods travel.
Other emerging technologies, which could have a major impact include:
- Coventry Very Light Rail (CVLR), a new form of urban mass transit, similar to existing tram systems but suitable for smaller cities such as Coventry, which is why the City Council has invested significantly in the development of this new innovative technology
- driverless cars, or Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CAVs), which can be tested in real-life conditions within Coventry utilising the CAV Testbed being installed in partnership with TfWM
- the use of electric Vertical Take-Off and Landing (eVTOL) vehicles, or drones, for deliveries and/or to transport passengers
- micromobility. This describes small, lightweight forms of transport like e-scooters, currently being piloted within the southern area of the city
- Mobility as a Service (Maas). This describes a change in the way that people travel, away from privately owned vehicles and towards a system where a variety of different travel options can be easily accessed on demand. In practice this would most likely see residents using a single integrated platform (such as a mobile phone app) to plan, book and pay for journeys across a range of different modes
- Demand Responsive Transit (DRT) services, like the WM On Demand service currently being piloted in Coventry.
The precise impact of these emerging forms of transport is difficult to predict but it is highly likely that we will witness some dramatic changes in the ways in which people and goods travel over the next 15 or so years.
As described in section 2, Covid-19 has also brought about substantial changes to the way that people travel. However, its longer-term implications are difficult to predict. The trends that we have observed over the last few years may continue into the future. Alternatively, most people may eventually revert to their previous travel habits, or there may be further changes which cannot yet be anticipated.
In response to this, we will seek to actively shape the future wherever possible, for example by proactively seeking to trial and to roll out new modes of transport. More generally, we will also remain flexible and adapt our strategy to any changes in residents’ travel habits, as these become clearer. When considering the benefits of individual schemes, we will also use sensitivity testing to understand how the scheme would perform in different future scenarios.