The history of Wider Economic Benefits (WEBs)

Paul Buchanan started WEBs, secured the original approval of WEBs by government and has continued to develop the techniques and spread the application of WEBs ever since.

This series of blogs looks at some of the key changes and innovations that were introduced over time. They range from the original work on Crossrail, through early applications in Dublin, Auckland, Toronto and Melbourne. WEBs and HSR provide a different angle both in UK and Australia. Hyperloop related WEBs potentially raise the bar further.

WEBs History

I ran the economics team for Crossrail, and during my time there, I kicked off an intense 18 month project focused on how Crossrail would change the real economic performance of London. In essence the approach came down to capacity – if every rail line into central London is packed across the morning peak period how can central London continue to grow?

Extensive analysis of rail crowding using cordons and select link analysis highlighted the most congested areas but the capacity problem was, and is, a general one affecting all of central London.

The outcome derived from two critical factors:

  • Without additional transport capacity central London’s growth will be severely constrained and the London Plan could not deliver the expected growth;
  • Central London has a dramatic productivity differential from the rest of London and the rest of the UK. It is a location in which it is worth investing because of that productivity differential.

My findings were put to the Wider Benefits Working Group (WBWG). It was a fascinating exercise.  The transport bodies all fundamentally disagreed with our approach. Transport is valued by time savings and that is how transport works was the common view. Out of all the many organisations in the room the only one that supported my analysis was HM Treasury. Thankfully HMT were important enough to at least persuade the group to let me carry on. Within a year the WBWG concluded that WEBs were both entirely additional to the user benefits on which all transport economic appraisal had been reliant and significant in terms of the scale of value created.

The Crossrail analysis suggested that WEBs added at least 50%^ to the Benefit: Cost ratio and it did that not in user time savings which have little hard economic value but in productivity and job growth, things that government and politicians understand and value highly.

That was 14 years ago now and things have moved on. Volterra has worked on WEBs in countries including Finland, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Sweden and Eire. We have applied WEBs to rail, metro, high speed rail, light rail, Hyperloop and highways. We have advised High Speed Two, Crossrail 2 and numerous UK cities on the role of WEBs and how to maximise those benefits.


Image: Commuters by Danny Hope is licensed under CC by 2.0

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t: +44 020 8878 6333

Alex O’Byrne, Associate at Volterra, is an experienced economic consultant specialising in economic, health and social impact, economic strategy, project appraisal and socio-economic planning matters.

Alex has led the socio-economic and health assessments of some of the most high profile developments across the UK, including Battersea Power Station, Olympia London, London Resort, MSG Sphere and Westfield. He has significant experience inputting to EIAs and s106 discussions as well as drafting economic statements, employment and skills strategies and affordable workspace strategies.

Alex is also experienced at economic appraisal for infrastructure. He was project manager of the economic appraisal for the City Centre to Mangere Light Rail in Auckland. He also led the economic and financial appraisals of the third tranche of the Transport Access Program for Transport for New South Wales, in which Alex developed and employed innovative methodological approaches to better capture benefits for individuals with reduced mobility.

He is interested in the limitations of current appraisal methodologies and ways of improving economic and health analysis to ensure it is accessible to as many people as possible. To this end, Alex recognises the importance of transparent and simple to understand analysis and ensuring all work is supported by a robust narrative.

Alex holds a BSc (Hons) in Economics from the University of Manchester and he was a member of the first cohort of the Mayor’s Infrastructure Young Professionals Panel.


Senior Partner

t: +44 020 8878 6333

Ellie is a partner at Volterra, specialising in the economic impact of developments and proposals, and manages many of the company’s projects on economic impact, regeneration, transport and development.

With thirteen years experience at Volterra delivering high quality projects to clients across the public and private sector, Ellie has expertise in developing methods of estimating economic impact where complex issues exist with regards to deadweight, displacement and additionality.

Ellie has significant experience in estimating the economic impact across all types of property development including residential, leisure, office and mixed use schemes.

Project management of recent high profile schemes include the luxury hotel London Peninsula, Battersea Power Station and the Nova scheme at London Victoria. Ellie has also led studies across the country estimating the economic and regeneration impact of proposed transport investments, including studies on HS2 and Crossrail.

Ellie holds a degree in Mathematics and Economics from the University of Cambridge.