The Forest's Smart Rural Leadership Update

rural leadershipThree of FEP’s projects combine in this latest rural leadership update which also goes to the core of the Transport and Infrastructure Sub-Group objective. That is “The District Plan guides future development that gives us the space to work, live and play. Once those uses are known we can consider the transport routes in the District to enable them to become fit for purpose”.

As part of its activities the Sub-group has always been keen to conduct Transport Studies of inhabitants and businesses. The first of these were conducted earlier this year as part of a Mobility as a Service Project in collaboration with Rural Techs. That collaboration with the team Rural Techs brought together has meant achievement of some of the Smart Rural Leadership project’s aims.

Smart Rural Leadership

The third project aim is to create relationships with Universities to promote the district’s approach to finding digital solutions. Participants in Rural Tech’s MERGeS project included not only FEP, but also the Countryside and Community Research Institute of the University of Gloucestershire and WMG, part of the University of Warwick, advising on leading edge developments in cyber-security. The CCRI research was submitted to the OECD’s Working Group on Innovative Mobility for the Periphery which will be issuing its report later in 2021. The Warwick is currently under peer review for academic publication.

Both Warwick and the CCRI are part of the recently created National Innovation Centre for Rural Enterprise. NICRE is publishing regular short State of the Art Reviews on rural matters. Bryonny Goodwin-Hawkins, part of the MERGeS CCRI team led by John Powell, summarises in the latest Review some of the issues related to rural transport.

Changing and Challenging Landscape

Rural public transport provision is challenging, and services across the UK, have long been in decline. Stopping the slide matters for three reasons:

  • Shared transport is more efficient than private cars. Transport contributes over 25% of the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions. How we get from A to B plays a big part in our progress towards net zero. Although electric vehicles have had plenty of press, they are not a magic bullet. EV infrastructure and affordability will pose real issues for rural areas.
  • Public transport particularly matters for those without other options. In rural communities, younger people may rely on the bus to get to college; while older people need to get out to shop and socialise. Without adequate public transport services, we risk widening gaps between the ‘transport rich’ and ‘transport poor’. The ‘poor’ can become isolated. The danger is we limit who can live a good life in rural areas and thus who lives in and maintains our rural communities.
  • Public transport is an essential part of the fabric that connects people and helps rural communities thrive. We need to change our understanding of its role. We can’t keep on begrudging the bus as a slow substitute for private cars; nor as just for concessionary card holders. This is why real transformation in rural public transport must begin with innovation.

State of the Art Review

In NICRE’s State of the Art Review Future Innovation for Rural Public Transport, the inspiration comes from Mobility as a Service. There are many different definitions, but the most common elements are:

  • Integrating multimodal services and multiple service providers.
  • Using digital technology and GPS for real-time information and simplified payment.
  • Taking a user-centric approach that enables choice, flexibility and seamless service.

For NICRE, the big question is always: how can rural enterprise and innovation help? Bryonny explains: “Rural Techs is a good example with its work on a MaaS feasibility study in the Forest of Dean, and the inspiring, innovative solutions being developed for rural areas generally. The advice for planners in rural transport is to be radical. Think system-wide for the future potential of the technology-enabled world in which we all live both rural and urban.”

For FEP's smart rural leadership ambition, it’s clear that the District has been seen by NICRE, the dedicated UK national universities research centre; the Geospatial Commission, part of the Government’s Cabinet Office; and a Working Group of the international Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Not bad for a rural district on the edge of Gloucestershire!