27 February 2024

It’s time to press the accelerator pedal on delivering sustainable transportation in the UK. Transport is one of our biggest sources of pollution, greenhouse gases and social inequality. To identify what’s needed to supercharge the journey towards a cleaner, more efficient and more equitable transport system in the UK, we have launched a series of roundtables, assembling leading sector experts and stakeholders.

In January’s inaugural session, participants discussed the pivotal role of funding. We also posed the question: how do you proceed when there’s no blueprint for unlocking funding on the scale required for timely and meaningful progress? The debate was encouraging and constructive. There were many valuable insights and inspiring - occasionally surprising - examples of viable solutions. Overall, participants’ experience mirrors our own: funding is available. However, navigating and unlocking it relies upon a deep understanding of how to exploit existing supply and demand or - in extreme cases - how to create that demand, leveraging the quality, expertise and creativity of your trusted advisors.

It was generally agreed that successfully securing funding right now hinges on answering one (or more) of four key questions:

1. Does the political vision exist?

Transportation is public sector-dominated - which means the involvement of politicians. It is our experience that politicians (both at national and local level) do want to engage when it comes to helping source funding. The challenge is usually identifying who is the right sponsor. Much can be attributed to timing (and luck!): speaking to exactly the right person at the most opportune moment.

Another driver can be the courage of a specific individual or organisation to implement an effective but unwelcome initiative. A recent example is the highly unpopular expansion of London’s ULEZ zones by Mayor Sadiq Khan, incentivising people to choose less polluting modes of transport. As a result, London’s roads are less congested and pollution levels in central London have nearly halved in the year since rollout.

2. Is there public support for it?

If an initiative to deliver more sustainable transport has significant public support, it’s easier to find the funding and the political will to fund it.

Harnessing public support for transportation projects is not always a given, especially if a proposed initiative is going to negatively impact livelihoods or hard-squeezed wallets. However, if your project has the potential to be transformative (as well as decarbonising), then support will be more forthcoming.

Our work with Cardiff Parkway – building a new railway connection for a business park – will not only ease local congestion but improve sustainable connectivity, particularly to the city centre, significantly opening up local people’s access to career or educational opportunities.

Another example is the recent flagship Weavers Cross transport hub project in Northern Ireland. Backed by considerable public support, it has benefitted from smooth progress through the various planning hoops. This is a once in a generation opportunity to increase connectivity with the ambition to regenerate not just a city, but an entire region – and sustainable transportation will be the driver.

3. Who will drive the initiative forward?

When there is no blueprint, someone needs to take the reins. We’ve all experienced the dynamic, transformative impact of a driven person or organisation who takes the plunge into uncharted territory; they create the blueprint for others to follow that funding route.

Setting these pathfinders apart is:

  • Vision/Foresight;
  • Courage;
  • Impeccable timing (and/or luck?); or
  • Political capital (or politically suicidal determination).

Examples discussed included entrepreneurial figures from both the public and private side of the fence. Like the particularly resourceful consultant who helped secure funding towards a new UK station project. They unlocked public award funding through their own initiative by bringing together key figures from rail industry, local council and Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEP).

Our expertise has often been pivotal to driving progress, ensuring sustainable transport projects get over the finish line. This can be seen in our strategic advice to Transport for Wales (TfW) and the Welsh Government on the successful transfer from Network Rail to TfW of all the track, signals and rail infrastructure for the Core Valley Lines railway network. This ground-breaking project was a critical element of the Welsh Government’s £738m South Wales Metro, an ambitious scheme to provide a modern, sustainable travel network for South Wales, and reduce the environmental impact of the region’s transport network.

4. Who should fund the infrastructure?

One of the recurring questions is: who should be funding the infrastructure without which there can be no great leap forward for sustainable transportation? This is somewhat of a chicken/egg scenario.

Should national/local government:

a. Provide infrastructure and then force the public to use it by making it harder or cost prohibitive to use unsustainable transportation? The advantage being that, as uptake is forced to increase, the infrastructure will already be in place. But who will bear the initial cost of the infrastructure without demand?


b. Wait until there is sufficient demand and then build the infrastructure. The disadvantage here is that progress may not be rapid enough to meet the vital net zero targets. For example: creating incentives around electric vehicles, reducing them in price to create demand – and onlythen address the issue of providing charging points.

Or is the answer a hybrid “third way”, fusing public initiatives and private funding at the same time? (Chicken and egg!)

We recently advised on SolarCatcher. Capitalising on the government incentives for electric vehicles (EV) offered in recent years, in this project, private funding will be used to construct parking canopies with integrated photovoltaic (PV) and EV infrastructure on public land, enabling employees and visitors to charge their electric vehicles. The panels will also generate clean energy for supply to the host public body. The aim is threefold:

  • Enabling and encouraging electric vehicle use;
  • Providing a source of clean energy for the public body host, helping it decarbonise; and
  • Providing a return to the infrastructure developer.

So where do we go from here?

To get funding from government sponsors, rather than just demonstrating need, traditionally you needed to show a real return for voters; either as an increased quality of life and/or value for money. In the private sector, the return is traditionally measured in profits earned. It was the view of the roundtable that, to secure the funding needed to supercharge the UK towards more sustainable transportation, a new test is evolving: will there be sustainable return on investment?

Our next steps in this informed discussion

We’re holding two further roundtables at the Interchange Conference in Manchester on 28 February. The first, on the topic of strengthening collaboration between energy and transport sectors, will be led by Charlotte Robinson. The second will discuss incentivising investment in sustainable transport projects and will be led by Partner and head of our Infrastructure Sector Group, Stuart McMillan. 

If you would like to discuss how we can support you in this space, please do get in touch.

Interested in attending our future roundtables? Email our Events team to register your interest.

Look out for further articles from these discussions coming soon or sign up to our Transport mailing list to receive our latest updates.

Key contact

Colin Ligman

Colin Ligman Partner

  • Real Estate
  • Banking and Finance
  • Corporate Restructuring and Insolvency

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