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


Memorandum by The British Chambers of Commerce (IT 111)

INTEGRATED TRANSPORT

  1.1 The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) represents, through its network of 60 Approved and Accredited Chambers, more than 110,000 businesses of all sizes and sectors of the British economy. An efficient transport system is essential to business competitiveness. Business needs to move both goods and people, and attract customers. Without efficient transport the creation of wealth and jobs will suffer. The BCC therefore welcomes the Government's commitment to overhaul the transport system and as such welcomes the opportunity to submit this memorandum on the Integrated Transport White Paper. Our evidence is based on responses we received from our members to the Government's White Paper and from the extensive consultation we undertook with business to develop a BCC transport policy in our recent publication Transport That Works.

  1.2 The BCC believes that the current transport system falls short in meeting the changing needs of business. Commerce requires a transport system that meets the following tests:

    —  Fast and predictable journey times.

    —  Flexibility and choice across different modes of transport and different routes.

    —  Ease and speed of transfer between modes for goods and people.

    —  Environmental standards in transport use that are high but appropriate to business operations and which do not impede competitiveness.

OVERVIEW

  2.1 Overall, business believes that the White Paper represents a good framework for transport planning and delivery over the short, medium and long-term. The lack of detail though represents a major challenge to understanding the true impact of measures on the business community and on competitiveness more generally. The BCC calls for the Government to rectify this situation as soon as possible with the publication of further documents related to the White Paper. Without understanding the detail of Government thinking we cannot comment in detail on many of the proposals. However, a number of key issues have been raised by our members:

    —  The need for business representation on the Commission for Integrated Transport.

    —  Stronger recognition of the joint role of public and private funding in transport investment.


    —  The necessity of strong relationships between business and local authorities to ensure business is treated fairly in car park and road charging schemes.

    —  The importance of not discriminating against rural businesses, which often have a greater dependency on the transport system due to their geographical isolation from markets.

    —  The need to focus on airports, ports and rail links, which form the key access points to international markets.

    —  The need not to delay important legislation on key proposals such as the Strategic Rail Authority and congestion charging. We believe that these policies in particular are central to improving the transport system and the lead-in times to improvements on the rail and local road infrastructure are significant enough to make them a clear priority for legislative time in the next session.

LEVELS OF RESPONSIBILITY

(Ref: Chapter 4 Making it Happen—sections on UK Action, Regional Action and Local Action)

  3.1 To achieve a better deal for transport users, we believe that national Government must provide focus, regulation and guidance to the transport industry, and to local government and regional agencies, in order to enhance the transport system and improve integration.

  3.2 The development of a more efficient transport system that relies less on the road network will take time to achieve. The role of planning and strategic thinking is therefore paramount, as is ensuring that there is coherence across local and regional boundaries. It is proposed that the Regional Development Agencies (RDAs) be key partners in the preparation of Regional Planning Guidance. The BCC agrees that the role of RDAs should be that of achieving better integration between national policies and local delivery and we would welcome further detail on how such integration might be achieved, both in terms of transport and in the wider context of economic regeneration.

  3.3 The effective delivery of Government policy at the local level will be the true test of this White Paper. Road charging, car park charging and local transport plans will require the support of business and communities. Whilst we support a non-prescriptive approach to local dialogue between business and local authorities, Government should go further than simply expecting authorities to engage with their communities and transport operators. The BCC and the Local Government Association are running the Listening to Business seminars with the hope of identifying more effective local dialogue. The results of these seminars would contribute well to the development of best practice guidance for local consultation.

  3.4 Along with their duty to consult effectively, the BCC supports the following responsibilities for local authorities to ensure local transport is tailored to local needs:

    —  Developing local transport strategies.

    —  Developing and maintaining local infrastructure.

    —  Introducing town centre access charges with hypothecation to increase transport investment at the local level.

  3.5 The BCC supports the introduction of local transport plans to help create a more coherent transport strategy at the local level, particularly when hypothecation is involved and spending priorities need to be set. Whilst the White Paper indicates that the Government will need to be satisfied that transport strategies have the backing of local business and communities, we await confirmation on how the process of community consultation and Government verification might occur. The BCC believes that local transport plans must incorporate:

    —  The integration of land-use and transport plans.

    —  The management of car parks.

    —  The identification of funding priorities.

PLANNING

(Ref: Chapter 4 Making it Happen—section on Better Planning)

  4.1 The BCC welcomes the Government's recognition of the need for a more sympathetic planning system that looks to integrate more fully road, rail, air and sea facilities. We are particularly pleased to see the White Paper commitment to require local authorities to consider the appropriateness for rail links at new and existing distribution and manufacturing sites. However, we wish to see details of how that consideration will be undertaken and monitored.

  4.2 Guidance from the Government on planning, together with regional co-ordination on large-scale transport and infrastructure projects geared towards improving access to different modes, is essential for the rapid delivery of an integrated transport system that is less reliant on roads. The BCC therefore looks forward to commenting on the revised planning policy guidance for development plans, and land use and transport, and on new Regional Planning Guidance.

INVESTMENT

(Ref: Chapter 4 Making it Happen—section on UK Action)

  5.1 The European Centre for Infrastructure Studies estimate that a 30 to 50 per cent increase in transport investment is needed to bring the UK average transport expenditure per head up to the annual average per capita in the European Union. Despite the increase of £1.8 billion spread over three years that was announced following the Comprehensive Spending Review, more is needed. Whilst we accept the limitations on the public purse, the Government must not expect all new investment to come from the private sector as pump-priming will be needed in many instances. We also believe that there are a number of options to secure current and extra investment. These include:

    —  An assessment of the effectiveness of existing subsidies to transport providers.

    —  Some reallocation of funds to pump prime research and development into transport technology.

    —  A full assessment of the availability of European Funds to finance transport infrastructure development.

  5.2 In general we support moves by the Government to increase the extent of private finance in transport provision through such tools as the Private Finance Initiative and Design Build Finance Operate. The BCC is concerned about the extent to which such schemes are restricted by process and bureaucracy. The innovation and expertise of the private sector is already benefiting rail investment programmes and we believe that further investment schemes, such as the issuing of asset-backed bonds on transport projects, will be forthcoming once a fairer allocation of risk is achieved between public and private investment.

CONGESTION CHARGING

(Ref: Chapter 4 Making it Happen—sections on Changing Travel Habits and Sending the Right Signals)

  6.1 The BCC believes that congestion can no longer be ignored and supports the reconciliation of the demand and supply of road space through price mechanisms, namely road charging. Charging motorists in town centres is unacceptable if investment in the transport system is not forthcoming. The BCC is pleased to see the introduction of hypothecation alongside road charging policy although we await further details on any restrictions applied to spending.

  6.2 We also support the use of enabling legislation to allow local authorities to introduce road pricing only when justified by local needs. Road pricing will only be appropriate where congestion and traffic levels are significant. Further detail on road charging policy is crucial if business support is to be forthcoming.

  6.3 In the White Paper the Government committed itself to further research on the effects of road charging and on methods of implementation. The BCC fully supports this approach, particularly on motorway tolling, which we are concerned may lead to traffic displacement onto unsuitable roads.

  6.4 The BCC believes that charging measures should not restrict essential vehicles from gaining access to town centre areas. We believe that essential users should be defined as the emergency services, disabled people and delivery vehicles where the delivery cannot be easily undertaken by other means.

  6.5 It is vital that charges and spending priorities are set according to the wishes of local residents and business. The BCC feels that combining hypothecation with increased local democracy, possibly via a system of elected mayors, would greatly improve the quality of local decision-making. In general though, we recognise that the strength and quality of links between business and local authorities must improve, particularly with the possible introduction of the local levy on the business rate.

  6.6 Whilst spending priorities must be set at the local level, the BCC identified four areas where expenditure should ideally occur:

    —  Provision of appropriate priority routes for public transport, the emergency services, delivery vehicles and disabled people.

    —  Provision of infrastructure, such as car parks, to enable transfer between different modes.

    —  Provision of public transport information.

    —  Provision of school transport.

  6.7 Despite our support for urban road charging, the BCC believes strongly that fiscal measures must be used sparingly and sensitively in order to avoid damaging business competitiveness. Fuel duties should not rise by more than the 6 per cent year on year increase to which the Government is already committed. We see further increases in fuel as a blunt instrument that would have a disproportionate impact upon rural businesses and rural communities. However, measures to differentiate Vehicle Excise Duty according to environmental cleanliness are broadly welcomed.

REDUCING THE RELIANCE ON THE CAR

(Ref: Chapter 3 Integrated Transport, Chapter 4 Making it Happen and Chapter 5 Sharing Responsibility)

  7.1 A major barrier to public transport use is information and we fully support the Government intention to introduce a centrally prescribed formula for the collection of public transport information across all modes. We would however wish to see a quick transition from a service simply offering timetable information towards the inclusion of details regarding such things as car parking facilities at transport interchanges, prices and the ability to transfer between modes. (Ref: Chapter 3 Integrated Transport—section on More Integrated Public Transport)

  7.2 A major obstacle to achieving such an integrated information service is the currently fragmented bus industry. If buses are to play a key role in an integrated transport system then the quality and level of service must increase. Whilst we believe an element of re-regulation may be required to facilitate these improvements, the introduction of Quality Bus Partnerships at the local level is very much supported by the BCC as a step in the right direction. (Ref: Chapter 3 Integrated Transport—section on More Choice).

  7.3 The rail industry must also improve the speed and reliability of journeys if business is to see rail as an attractive alternative to the car. The development of the high-speed West Coast Mainline is very much supported by the BCC and we look to the Strategic Rail Authority to encourage similar schemes. (Ref: Chapter 4 Making it Happen—section on UK Action).

  7.4 The congestion caused by school-related journeys has been raised as a concern by many businesses. The BCC supports the Government initiative Safer Routes to School but we also want to see the introduction of school transport to help meet the concerns of parents regarding the safety of children. To fund school transport we suggest that hypothecated revenue from road and car parking charges is channelled towards appropriate schemes. We also believe that private sector sponsorship of school transport might also have a role to play. (Ref: Chapter 5 Sharing Responsibility—section on Partnership for Action).

  7.5 The BCC is concerned over proposals to tax non-domestic car parking although we support the general principle of reducing commuter traffic. These concerns are focused on the damage to competitiveness and the lack of alternatives to car travel in some areas of the country. We look forward to further details in order that business might thoroughly assess the implications of proposals for competitiveness. (Ref: Chapter 4 Making it Happen—section on Changing Travel Habits).

A FAIR DEAL FOR FREIGHT

(Ref: Chapter 3 Integrated Transport—section on Delivering the Goods)

  8.1 To concentrate activity on improving the non-road options available to business, and to ensure that the Government commitment to freight stays on track, the BCC supports the development of a National Freight Strategy. Such a strategy would aim to direct investment and offer businesses improved information in order to increase the attractiveness of rail, air and waterborne transport for all, or part of their freight journeys. The components of the strategy should include:

    —  The identification of priority routes and infrastructure for investment.

    —  The wider provision of freight grants to kick-start modal shift.

    —  Broadening the options available to business for freight carriage by non-road means, most particularly by influencing rail investment to accommodate the needs of freight.

    —  Providing quality information to business to encourage modal shift and efficiency.

  Whilst we recognise that many of these are proposed in the Strategic Rail Authority, the BCC believes that the wider framework provided by a National Freight Strategy is still required to ensure the freight issue is brought to the fore in the integrated transport debate.

  8.2 We support the announcement to encourage Quality Freight Partnerships as a means of developing a mutual understanding of distribution issues and community well-being between freight hauliers, business and local authorities. The process must be very much a two-way process and our endorsement of the Quality Freight Partnership concept will depend on seeing more details of the shape that the partnerships will be encouraged to take.

THE STRATEGIC RAIL AUTHORITY

(Ref: Chapter 4 Making it Happen—UK Action)

  9.1 The BCC supports the concept of the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) as a way of bringing together freight and passenger interests in a more integrated and better planned rail system. In particular we look to the SRA to:

    —  Identify solutions to the more pressing capacity constraints on the network as a matter of urgency.

    —  Develop future passenger franchises to include a rigid framework of investment requirements on each concession.

    —  Develop investment relationships and greater co-operation between Railtrack, the train operating companies, freight operators, rolling stock leasing companies and the regulators. This will be encouraged by changes to franchises.

    —  Develop access to the network for freight through investment in terminal facilities and more efficient loading and transfer techniques.

  9.2 The BCC is pleased that the SRA will participate fully in identifying key projects linking ports and airports to the network and in encouraging the development of important regional and feeder rail services. We believe that strengthening links between domestic and international markets, for both business and passengers, is paramount. We also accept that private sector finance will be an essential component of such schemes. However, we urge the Government to acknowledge that there may be the need for public money to pump-prime investment in a range of projects and that the SRA must have the ability to secure funds when necessary. We note that two new funding streams are being introduced, the Infrastructure Investment Fund and the Rail Passenger Partnership Scheme. The BCC believes that to be truly effective in stimulating investment to overcome capacity constraints and encourage modal shift, these schemes must not be short-term gestures. We would welcome more detail on these two funding streams.

  9.3 To facilitate the expansion of the network, we support the participation of the SRA in local and regional land use planning policy to ensure that rail services integrate with these policies. We believe that this is particularly important for the development of rail freight terminals and enhanced road links to such facilities. We await further details on how these planning responsibilities might be achieved.

  9.4 The BCC stresses the need to give freight a fair deal on the railways. The Board membership of the SRA must therefore consist not just of passenger representatives as mentioned in the White Paper, but also business users of the network to ensure their needs are met. The priorities we set for improving the attractiveness to business of transporting freight by rail are as follows:

    —  Investing in track, signalling and rolling stock to provide a more reliable and faster service to business.

    —  Increasing freight access to the network through development of a significantly higher number of terminals suitable for large and small-scale business users of rail.

    —  Safeguarding rail freight access to the network in light of timetable competition from faster passenger services.

    —  Enhancing local road links to terminals to reduce the chance of increasing local congestion levels.

    —  Investigating new methods of enhancing the speed and manner in which goods are transferred from road, air or sea transport to the rail network. This should include piggyback services, and the development of new wagon designs.

    —  Increasing the information available to business both for services and for freight grants to ensure the attractions of the rail alternative are well communicated. This should include attempts to overcome the lasting image of rail as a mode most suitable for bulk goods being carried over long distances.

  9.5 The BCC calls for a number of improvements to the railway network in order that rail becomes a viable mode for a greater proportion of passenger journeys. In particular, we believe that the following recommendations are key:

    —  Rail journey times and reliability must be significantly improved to increase the attractiveness of rail to business and leisure users.

    —  Regular, reliable public transport links to railway stations are essential to complete onward journeys.

    —  The quality of rail information must continue to improve and should include details of public transport links to stations and car parking facilities to enable the planning of a seamless journey.

    —  The security of rail travel must be improved.

  9.6 Without the speedy implementation of the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) these objectives will remain unfulfilled. The BCC calls for further details on the SRA to be forthcoming and that adequate time is given to its establishment in the forthcoming legislative programme.

PRIORITISING INFRASTRUCTURE PROJECTS

(Ref: Chapter 4 Making it Happen—UK Action)

  10.1 The influence of the Strategic Rail Authority in the development of key rail projects is something that we very much support as a way of ensuring that those schemes which are important at a national level come to fruition. The same must therefore happen with other modes, particularly where links to international markets are involved. We suggest that the Commission for Integrated Transport might be involved in the identification of priority infrastructure developments. According to the BCC Business Survey on Transport 1998, those schemes that business deems as essential are:

    —  The Birmingham Northern Relief Road.

    —  Developing rail links from the Channel Tunnel to the North.

    —  The upgrading of the West Coast Mainline.

  10.2 The establishment of the Commission for Integrated Transport to monitor progress against the White Paper framework is very much welcomed by the BCC. We would wish to see strong representation of business on the Commission to ensure business needs and opinions are fed in to the transport debate.

CONCLUSION

  11.1 The BCC supports many of the proposals in the White Paper. Below are summarised our main concerns:

    —  The paper, whilst being a welcome framework for transport development over the short, medium and long-term, lacks detail making any real assessment of the impact of proposals on business competitiveness difficult to assess. The supplementary papers are required without delay and adequate legislative time must be given to transport matters in the next parliamentary session if we are to progress towards an integrated transport system with any speed.

    —  An essential element of key proposals such as car park charging, road charging and hypothecation at the local level will be more effective engagement between business, communities and local authorities. Government has not given enough detailed consideration of improvements to local consultation and decision-making in this White Paper.

    —  Too much emphasis has been placed upon private sector investment sources. Although we recognise the constraints upon public spending and support greater private sector involvement in transport investment, we believe that the public sector will still be required to pump-prime investment and improve the attractiveness of investment on the part of the private sector.

September 1998


 
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