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


Memorandum by the Green Party (IT 113)

TRANSPORT WHITE PAPER

  The Green Party welcomes the Integrated Transport Strategy White Paper published recently but feels that it does not go far enough or fast enough.

  It is not sufficiently radical and it is vague about timescales—some measures may not be introduced for many years. People are facing transport problems now and they need to be addressed urgently. The proposals do not do enough to move away from dominance by the car and shift towards less environmentally damaging alternatives such as public transport, walking and cycling. Pressure from business and the road lobby seems to have watered down the original proposals.

  We do welcome some initiatives, for example, a comprehensive public transport information system, better enforcement of bus lanes and safe routes to school.

TARGETS

  The Green Party is disappointed that there is no commitment to targets for road traffic reduction. In opposition the Labour Party promised, if elected, to "reduce and then reverse" traffic growth. The proposals in the White Paper will not deliver on this promise.

  The Green Party wants real targets for traffic reduction, 5 per cent reduction by 2005 and 10 per cent reduction by 2010 on 1990 levels, as originally proposed in the Road Traffic Reduction Bill, now the Road Traffic Reduction (National Targets) Act 1998, by the Green Party, Friends of the Earth and Plaid Cymru. The setting of targets is proposed to be left to a commission to be set up at some time in the future. This is not good enough. Such a commission may take several years to be set up and to report and even then there is no commitment from the government to implement the commission's recommendations.

TIMESCALES

  There needs to be a commitment to bring forward legislation in the next session of Parliament (1998-99) to enable the proposals made in the White Paper, limited as they are, to be implemented as soon as possible. For everyone the transport problem is an urgent one, whether they be drivers concerned about traffic jams, bus and train passengers concerned about punctuality and reliability, cyclists and pedestrians concerned about road safety or businesses waiting for deliveries. Legislation urgently needs to be brought forward to create the Strategic Rail Authority and to enable councils to tax workplace parking.

PARKING TAXES

  Leaving local authorities to decide about charging for workplace parking is a cop-out. Local authorities might be afraid to implement it in their area for fear of losing jobs to neighbouring areas. It should apply everywhere and should have been extended to car parking at supermarkets and out of town shopping centres.

LORRIES

  To encourage transfer of freight from road to rail there should have been new charges for lorries related to weight carried and distance travelled. This would provide a more level playing field with rail.

ROADS

  The expensive and highly destructive Trunk Roads programme should be scrapped—no new roads or motorway widening. The White Paper is silent on this issue but the Roads Review gave the go ahead to 37 schemes. The money used to build roads cannot be spent twice. It should be diverted to investment in public transport.

RAIL

  We welcome the Strategic Rail Authority but it needs to be more pro-active and have more funding to increase the capacity of the rail network, remove bottlenecks and re-open disused lines and stations.

POLICY AND EXPENDITURE

  In 1995 the UK government was committed to the building of 500 new road schemes. In 1997 this was reduced to 140 and in July 1998 reduced yet again so that now only 37 schemes remain in the pipeline. This particular indicator of sustainable transport might well have a claim to represent one of the most dramatic reversals of any government policy in any area in recent years. More interestingly the reversal is associated with a great deal of rhetoric about the need to reduce car dependency. One well-known national transport campaigning organisation welcomed the change in policy with the phrase "The White Paper marks a welcome end to 30 years of car-based transport policies". So is this all as good as it looks and should we in the UK be out celebrating the success of 25 years hard work in turning around the super-tanker of a land greedy,energy greedy, socially irresponsible transport system?

  Sadly the answer is in the negative. The steep reduction in new road schemes (the Roads Review) and the policy change in the White Paper still miss the main points and carefully avoid the most effective things that government could do if it really wanted to reduce traffic.

  The new roads will cost the tax payer approximately £1.5 billion compared with the £1.1 billion that has been allocated to everything else (public transport support, pedestrian facilities, cycle facilities). The allocation of cash is at sharp variance with the language and the rhetoric and every government official and politician knows that cash "means business" and words don't really amount to very much at all. In very crude terms about 60 per cent of the cash the government is willing to allocate to transport has been allocated to a particular form of transport (mainly the car) which we have been told must be reduced. This will ensure that the car continues to dominate the choices that people make about how to travel and will continue to act as a deterrent to a large mass of potential bike and foot journeys which are there to be revealed but are suppressed because the road, walking and cycling environment are so irredeemably awful.

  The White Paper skilfully avoids any commitment to reduce traffic levels in spite of considerable popular and parliamentary support for new laws in this area. It ducks a national approach to parking standards and does not require local authorities to reduce generous parking provision for places of employment and out of town shopping centres. In short it offers nothing that will turn off the engine driving the upward trajectory of car use. It does nothing at all to ensure that small locally accessible services (shops, doctors, post offices, schools) are well funded and plentiful so that in rural areas especially there is less need to travel longer distances.

  It does nothing to give tax incentives to employers and employees to switch away from car use for their commuter trips and it leaves in place a historically complex but generous system of incentives for using cars. It does nothing to curb excessive speeds of vehicles and offers nothing to all those who are victims of road traffic "accidents" and also victims of the everyday discourtesies and stresses of trying to live alongside polluting, speeding and irresponsibly driven vehicles. The White Paper offers no relief for a countryside that will continue to receive higher levels of traffic and towns that will continue to breathe polluted air in a noisy and dangerous environment.

  The roads left in the much reduced list of 37 schemes ring lots of alarm bells. There are widening schemes on the busiest section of the M25 motorway in precisely those circumstances where transport science, common sense and political acumen call for serious road traffic reduction measures and an absolute ban on more road space. Widening the M25 will encourage more cars to use the increased road space in a neat and depressing demonstration that the politicians have understood nothing of the transport debate and not even understood their own rhetoric. Other road schemes have gone ahead on grounds of boosting the economy and aiding job creation when once again there is ample evidence that either this does not happen at all or if it does its so weak and expensive that numerous other policies would win out over roads if we really wanted to target taxpayers money to create jobs.

  Government has made much of the word "integration" and yet has offered nothing to make sure it happens. Government policies themselves are not integrated. The tax system encourages car use and penalises cyclists. New hospitals (built with public money) are built in locations which are inaccessible by public transport, foot and bicycle. They are then provided with over 1000 car parking places to send the very clear signal that car use is what is expected. Smaller hospitals closer to where people live are rejected but they ought to be encouraged. Similar perverse principles apply to schools.

  Out of town shopping centres are still being built (and multiplex cinema sites and huge leisure complexes) and the White Paper excluded retailing completely from the discussion about car parking taxes. Retailing is such an important pressure for more car travel that it more than merits a national tax on every car parking place, imposed immediately and the income stream recycled to help public transport and small, rural and urban, community based shops and post offices.

  Integration means making sure that everything government does pulls in the same direction to achieve government policy objectives. It means the money follows the policy and it means that we get to grips with traffic reduction. On this criteria the White Paper is a monumental failure.

  The acid test of a genuine government commitment to solve transport problems in this country is immediate action (this year) on three fronts:

  1. Full support for the Road Traffic Reduction Bill and its 10 per cent reduction target when this is introduced in the Commons later this year.

  2. Change the tax system so that company transport plans can offer staff season tickets, commuter cards, bicycle loans etc., without tax penalties.

  3. Set national and regional parking norms as part of a revised PPG13. These norms will set maximum levels of car parking provision for every kind of development.

  Failure to deliver on any one of these three "pillars" of a sustainable transport policy will show that we have a government that is very long on the rhetoric of sustainable transport but a dramatic failure on delivery.

Alan Francis and John Whitelegg

Green Party Transport Policy Working Group

24 September 1998


 
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