The UK shouldn’t be looking to cities overseas for answers to problems such as congestion and air quality, according to the chief executive of Transport for the West Midlands.

Speaking at the Freight in the City Spring Summit, Martin Reeves (pictured) told delegates that industry must “test things, try things. Or we’ll be back in this room in five years with nothing different”.

He said: “We should not just address these issues, but we should be a beacon. Why is it that we find ourselves having to go to other European countries – to North America, to Scandinavia – and other parts of the world to understand best practice? We should be generating the international standards on best practice.”

On the day’s theme of improving the last mile, Reeves said that congestion around UK cities was “intolerable” to the detriment of final mile deliveries.

He said: “We are woefully behind our European counterparts in congestion. It’s a challenge to our economy. Every day you see the congestion on the network, which then affects last mile in our city centres. That is intolerable.”

Reeves also urged delegates to think of the air quality issues as an opportunity for change.

He said: “Rather than seeing air quality as a public health challenge, let’s see as it as a challenge and an opportunity to think fundamentally differently about disruptive technologies and how people live their lives. We have got to change the dynamic.”

The West Midlands, he added, will “never ever get the chance again to reimagine physically, socially, economically, environmentally, practically rebuild our cities.

“We have a choice,” he said. We can do it well, and future proof it as best as we possibly can and grab the opportunity, not despite the challenges that we face but because of them. Or we do it badly.

“You’ve got to be leaders yourselves, you can’t be self-interested. Understand the power that you offer to future cities and future communities.”

Another speaker at the event agreed that urban freight challenges were an opportunity for creative thinking.

Helen Smith, head of logistics, environment and active travel at Transport for Greater Manchester, said vehicle design in particular was an area that could use more joined up thinking.

Helen Smith TfGM

She said: “We could be more creative in our solutions. One basic example is there is a lot of work happening with schemes like Clocs, and the manufacturers are coming forward. But actually is there a programme that combines all these things?

Are we having the right conversations? Are we tackling this in a combined way, or looking in isolation at different problems and coming up with solutions that run parallel?”