Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by the Civic Trust (IT 96)


  We are pleased to have the opportunity to submit our comments to the Select Committee on transport issues. First, we must say that we wholeheartedly support the broad and integrated approach of the government's Transport White Paper, published in July but, along with others, are concerned that its laudable intentions are in danger of remaining just that. Indeed we cannot stress this point enough; although the Paper sets out excellent proposals for change it will be essential to see clear timescales set out for their achievement. Our general comments and concerns are set out below.


1.1 Open Letter

  Together with eight other organisations, we have written an open letter to the Prime Minister to express our deep concern that the legislation relating to the Strategic Rail Authority, charges on traffic congestion and workplace parking and bus quality partnerships might be postponed. A copy of the letter is attached. However, this point goes deeper than the specific transport policies mentioned.

1.2 White Paper as a statement and commitment

  The White Paper is a comprehensive review of the current transport situation, as set in the context of Government commitment to both an Urban Renaissance and a gradual evolution towards more sustainable living patterns. The proposals are a key initial step towards a sustainable transport system. Though disappointing in specific areas, it was seen to be an encouraging shift away from acceptance of the status quo. It therefore drew the support of most transport and environment campaign organisations. Government must recognise that the White Paper represents a commitment and statement of intent and action. A failure to legislate this year in the necessary areas, will seriously undermine the credibility of the whole White Paper, the wider process of policy development and the Government's Sustainable Development Strategy. We notice recent press reports suggesting that Mr Prescott may be seeking to introduce an element of legislative provision for parking charges in London as part of the Greater London Authority Bill. Whilst this in itself would be welcome, it is a poor substitute for the wider legislation that is urgently needed. There is also a danger in focusing on London as if it were typical rather than atypical of the wider national problem.

1.3 Commission for Integrated Transport

  The Trust asks the Select Committee to establish the date for setting up the new commission, an initiative we strongly support.

1.4 Leadership

  It is essential that government leads in a practical manner on these matters. The Government is a very substantial employer and a very substantial purchaser of goods. It could make an immediate start on implementation of the White Paper, by establishing internal codes of practice which will foster development of green commuter plans and appropriate purchasing and development policies within all spheres of central Government. Despite a number of claims to this effect in the past, such measures have not previously been effectively introduced.

1.5 National/Regional Co-ordination

  We are also concerned that the White Paper places a great emphasis on local action rather than action by central Government and at the regional level. Although local action is vital and important, there will be occasions when it will be essential that a wider lead is given and a degree of consistency is achieved across a region or nationally. An example is the issue of parking charges in relation to shopping centres within a given region. If one authority acts unilaterally to abandon all charges on parking in a centre, then this may attract business away from other towns, undermining their efforts to raise funds for central area improvements. This would run counter to wider Government policy. A degree or ring-fencing and co-ordination by Government and by the new regional agencies will therefore be essential. Regional assemblies and the new Regional Development Agencies will need to help to play this role.


3.1 New Transport Hierarchy

  2.1.1 We reiterate the point we made in our response to the Green Paper that a radical change in attitude and practice of transport users is needed. Pedestrians must come first, followed by cyclists, public transport, goods and services vehicles, car sharing and finally the private car. The White Paper recognises this but does not make its consequences sufficient clear. This point must be emphasised to road users, if necessary by giving pedestrians, cyclists and public transport extended rights of way over private vehicular traffic. The White Paper mentioned increased priority at junctions for pedestrians and for cyclists, for example, reduced waiting times at traffic lights and a reallocation of road space. We await the early introduction of these and other measures.

  2.1.2 If bus and rail system improvements and traffic congestion charging are delayed it will become that much harder for Government to achieve a change in travel habits. Essentially, this means that people will continue to use their cars. Government policies on encouraging walking and cycling will thus also be delayed, since traffic volume, which is the most important factor in discouraging would-be pedestrians and cyclists, will remain the same or, more likely, worsen.

2.2 Company Cars

  The White Paper quotes some disturbing statistics relating to company car use and purchases. Half of all new cars are purchased by companies and company cars account for 20 per cent of all car mileage. This is quite simply unsustainable and must be addressed without delay. This means that further measures to discourage the purchase of company cars, which are not used in the daily course of an employee's work, should be introduced with some urgency. All tax incentives for unessential car use and mileage should be removed as soon as possible. Neither the White Paper nor the Treasury have adequately addressed this issue.

2.3 Town Centres

  The decision to omit from the White Paper the proposal for a charge on parking at out of town shopping centres was very disappointing. As charges by contrast could be levied in town centres, the effect of this differential might be to reduce the relative competitiveness of town centres at the very time when wider government policy is aimed at fostering such centres rather than out of town locations. We are unsure of any justification for this apparent aberration of policy and would ask the Select Committee to press Ministers for a full explanation.

2.4 Incentives for Green Travel

  Although the White Paper recognises the need to encourage environmentally friendly forms of travel, it mentions only interest free loans for season tickets and tax incentives for company buses. A wider range of incentives should be piloted to encourage people to walk or cycle to work, funded by the increase in car tax already announced and the other levies and charges in the White Paper.

2.5 Target Investments

  2.5.1 The large reduction in the road building programme should provide Government with significant funds with which to pursue its transport initiatives. The Trust believes that a transparent process of reallocation to environmentally friendly forms of transport now needs to be pursued. The funds released should not be diverted to other government programmes. Our local environment is often poor because of under investment or a fundamental lack of investment in alternative transport modes. We believe that the CBI and others are also right to point out that there can be economic disadvantages in our present investment approach to transport.

  2.5.2 A particular example are local bypasses. Although we strongly support the general reduction of the programme and particularly the reduction in the Trunk Road programme, we believe that there are often significant environmental and quite often economic gains to be achieved by local bypasses. There are still many settlements which would benefit from the bypass programme, provided it is not used, as has been the case in the past, as an excuse for a much larger scale upgrading of an entire route. There is however danger that under current plans an effective bypass programme will be severely restricted. We agree that new and rigorous criteria for local bypasses should be established, but we believe that such a programme would prove popular. We therefore invite the Select Committee to re-examine this issue and determine whether a more extensive programme of local bypasses could be justified.

2.6 Planning and Land Use

  We are encouraged by the links drawn by the White Paper between transport and the drive for urban regeneration and recycling of land and buildings in cities for new housing. The careful location of new housing developments and the sensitive regeneration of existing town centres will, over time, play a key role in the reduction of car use. It will be essential to ensure that new developments are close to existing public transport facilities or that these are provided by the developer. Government should therefore begin work on a White Paper on Urban Regeneration as soon as possible, as recommended by the Select Committee in their recent Housing Inquiry. In the meantime, several Planning Policy Guidance Notes should be revised with some urgency to give stronger guidance to local authorities about the transport and land use interface.

2.7 Health

  2.7.1 Health should be one of the foremost influences in a review of the transport system. The Department of Health's own figures suggest that up to 24,000 people die each year from traffic pollution. Being hit by a car is the most common cause of death for children between the ages of one and 14. Road deaths of 3,500 and serious injuries, disability and disfigurement of 44,000 are a reduction on past numbers, but have been achieved by forcing pedestrians and cyclists off the road. There are significant links between benzene and leukaemia, stress and traffic noise and social disconnectedness and traffic volume. Diesel fuel, it has been discovered, contains two of the most carcinogenic substances in the world which have been linked to the increase in lung cancer in urban areas. These problems are a mere fraction of a long list of the harmful effects of petrol and diesel powered traffic and its consequent pollution.

  2.7.2 The Trust's recent research with the RAC and The University of Westminster "Civilising Cities" has relevance here. The project places emphasis on the assessment of transport projects in terms of their contribution to health and other dimensions of quality of life. We enclose copies of the summary leaflet which accompanied the full report and we shall be glad to supply further copies or details on request. We are now developing phase 2 of the programme, a set of pilot projects with local authorities and their partners.

2.8 Pilot Projects and Testing

  We recognise the wide-ranging changes of attitude and behaviour proposed in the White Paper cannot be introduced overnight. We are nevertheless already concerned, as above, at the delay in implementation of fundamental aspects. It is all the more essential therefore that an expanded and rigorous programme of pilot schemes and testing of new initiatives is undertaken without further delay. In the past we have been too slow to experiment in this country and have done so in a piecemeal and faint hearted manner. Now is the time for a co-ordinated programme of action research. Through projects such as Civilising Cities, the Trust will be glad to play its part.

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