Planning and Implementation of Major Transport Projects in the European Union

Planning and Implementation of Major Transport Projects in the European Union


A Pedler, TRL Limited, UK



This paper summarises work carried out for the European Parliament. Each EU Member State has its own planning procedures and the paper compares the planning and implementation procedures of each EU Member State, commenting on differences and efficiencies within the systems and how planning procedures have affected the implementation of transport projects. In particular, the paper focuses on the implementation of major infrastructure projects ? those projects of regional and national significance - and identifies the key requirements for effective planning and development of these large-scale transport developments. The paper will contribute to the current debate on how best to implement major infrastructure projects.

It was evident from the literature studied that planning systems in the EU are undergoing continuous change, responding to political, economic and social forces. A number of major trends were discernible although these tended to be more advanced in Member States with a long history of spatial planning. There is a growing awareness that spatial planning is one component in a much wider variety of issues. Transport is increasingly recognised as one issue related to spatial planning. Therefore, a more comprehensive and complex form of spatial planning is evolving, which moves away from purely physical matters of location and land use to a wider concern for social, economic, environmental and political matters. A streamlining of procedures in some member states is also occurring as well as the decentralisation of responsibilities to the regional and local levels of government [CEC, 1994]. These changes are positive except in the delay that it can cause in the implementation of national planning policies and projects, especially major transport projects that are of national significance.

Implementing Major Infrastructure Projects

A literature review identified that debate surrounding how to plan and implement major infrastructure projects in the most efficient way was occurring in all Member States. There was considerable variation in procedures, reflecting the very different constitutional, legal, cultural and other conditions in each country or region. In addition, major infrastructure projects are unique and therefore many of the barriers to implementation were also unique to each project. Although the formal process of approval in some countries appeared to follow a similar course the reality was that there was much negotiation going on outside the formal system.

Fourteen major infrastructure projects were studied from five EU Member States:
1. TGV Eastern - France
2. TGV Méditerranée - France
3. TGV Lyon-Turin 'La Transalpine' - France
4. Orléans' Tramway - France
5. High-Speed Train Link: Cologne-Rhine/Main - Germany
6. Athens Metro ? Greece
7. Attiki Odos Road ? Greece.
8. Egnatia-Odos Highway ? Greece
9. Rio-Antirrio Bridge ? Greece.
10. Vasco de Gama Bridge - Portugal
11. Manchester Metrolink - UK
12. Midlands Metro - UK
13. Croydon Tramlink - UK
14. Channel Tunnel Rail Link - UK

The major infrastructure projects were generally subject to the land use planning procedure of each Member State. Often, but not always, the transport development was initiated by national government. Part of the decision making process for municipalities was to establish whether the project could be permitted against the spatial plans and then to carry out an Environmental Assessment and public consultation before being given permission to develop. The increased decentralisation of planning (where local levels of government are responsible for planning and particularly for the granting of development permits) generally helps the planning process except in the delay it can cause in the implementation of national planning policies and projects. The implementation of the major infrastructure projects were further complicated due to their size and influence on a large number of local authorities, their costs and their significance to countries and regions. This often resulted in the planning and decision processes being lengthy and costly.

Identifying Best Practice in Implementing Major Infrastructure Projects

The paper will highlight the difficulties of identifying best practice when planning and implementing major infrastructure ? particularly with regard to the balance between economic, social and environmental costs. Current policies generally take account of sustainability objectives and therefore a fast decision-making process which is cost effective and time efficient cannot in itself be considered best practice if social and environmental concerns are not taken into account.

Two distinct phases were evident when implementing a major infrastructure project - the ?Planning? and the ?Implementation? phase. No single country or case study was identified which carried out best practice in both phases but some case studies highlighted best practice within the separate components. Therefore, a best practice approach was developed through the lessons learnt from the different case studies.

Best practice in the planning phase is defined in the paper as ?a project that achieves a thorough environmental appraisal and public and political support within an efficient timescale?. There were a number of factors to success identified that needed to be present in the planning phase to achieve this. Most countries in the EU operated a top-down approach where major infrastructure projects were part of national plans. This helped to ensure political acceptance was in place at the start of the project. This occurred with the case studies in France and Germany. However, political will was not the only requirement. The Greek case studies showed that this phase of the planning process was often lengthy. This would appear to be because, although political will was strong, the means to implement the project ? such as financial arrangements, environmental circumstances, construction skills and political drive ? was not always available to drive the project forward.

In addition, the strong top-down approach did not always generate public support for the proposals. The approach adopted by Croydon Tramlink meant that the public was consulted about their preferences for solving the transport problems in Croydon. 80% of those consulted supported the tram. This level of support ensured less public opposition and therefore fewer delays throughout the planning process. Croydon had also arranged the finance for the project and although the Tramlink was compatible with the UK government?s transport policy the use of private finance meant that Croydon did not have to persuade the government to provide all the funding.

The planning phase included environmental impact assessment, public consultation and public inquiries. In general, the more complex the project the longer this phase took as it was this stage which highlighted environmental difficulties and differences in opinion amongst stakeholders (Cologne-Reinemain and Egnatia Odos, Channel Tunnel Rail Link). However, if there was political will and public support and few environmental difficulties, then this phase was efficient in terms of time. The Croydon Tramlink completed the planning phase in a comparatively short time scale, including a thorough environmental assessment. This could be part contributed to the public support for the Tramlink received from the inception of the project. If political will, public support and environmental issues were delaying a project, the process relied heavily on a key actor to mediate and manage the issues which were arising.

Therefore, to achieve best practice during the planning phase political will and drive, public support and financial arrangements needed to be present. Absence of any of these factors resulted in delays within the planning phase or subsequent implementation phase.

Best practice in the implementation phase is defined in the paper as the ?construction of the project within a short timescale and to a good quality?. The case studies that achieved successful implementation often involved private companies. The time taken to construct a project depended on the size of the project. However, many of the projects such as Athens Metro, Croydon Tramlink and Manchester Metrolink had short lead times between gaining consent and beginning construction which brought forward the completion of the project by several years. This was because financing of the project was already established before consent was given and because these private companies were keen to get the system into operation to recoup some of the funding already given. In comparison other case studies in France and Germany took longer to begin construction and this could be due to the provision of public sector funding. However, caution is needed as the Midland Metro case study shows that difficulties can arise when private companies are involved in the design and construction process.


The paper will therefore provide further details of the package of pre-requisite measures which need to be in place if best practice is to be achieved when implementing major infrastructure projects. These measures include political will and drive, public support, a key actor or actors with good project management and mediation skills and financing.


Association for European Transport