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


Memorandum by the National Association of Local Councils (IT 125)

A NEW DEAL FOR TRANSPORT—BETTER FOR EVERYONE
GOVERNMENT'S WHITE PAPER ON INTEGRATED TRANSPORT

INTRODUCTION

  1. The National Association of Local Councils is the national voice for Town, Parish and Community Councils. It is a federation of 50 County Associations of Local Councils in England and Wales with 7,500 Town, Parish and Community Councils in membership. It provides a desktop legal, financial, technical and policy advisory service to member councils free at the point of delivery.

  2. The Association is therefore pleased to be able to respond to the Government's White Paper on Integrated Transport; a long awaited and much needed review of the transport system in the UK.

  3. The Association's response to the White Paper is rooted in the following factors:

    —  That Local Councils as the first tier of local government and most closely representative of the local community, have a detailed, in-depth and acute knowledge of the needs and requirements of the local transport system;

    —  That Local Councils are largely located in rural areas where the provision of public transport has been neglected and the reliance on cars has necessarily increased.

    —  That the transport needs of those rural areas are fundamentally different from the needs and requirements of urban areas.

    —  That the transport policy in rural areas must necessarily arise from a careful balance between social inclusion of rural communities and preservation of the rural environment.

  4. Whilst the Association welcomes many of the principles and ideas on which the Transport White Paper is based, the Association believes that it does not go far enough in terms of what is needed in the way of public transport and road infrastructure in rural England and Wales.

A NEW DEAL FOR TRANSPORT

  5. The Association agrees that there is a need for a new approach to transport. This Association has long advocated for measures to be put in place to reduce CO2 levels, improve public transport, lower traffic speeds and make better use of the land and the environment in which we live. The Association welcomes many of the aims and objectives set out in Chapter 1 of the White Paper.

  6. However insufficient recognition and awareness has been made of the decline and disregard of public transport in rural areas. Although the Government advocates "better buses" and "better trains", it is not significantly acknowledged that where urban areas now need quality, rural areas are often in need of quantity.

  7. Whilst the Government gives detail as to how buses and trains in urban areas are to be improved, there is little indication as to how the equivalent, often non-existent service, is to improve in rural areas.

Local Transport Plans

  8. The Association welcomes the principle of local transport plans. It supports the idea that local government in co-ordination with national government guidance is best placed to interpret and provide the transport needs of local people. The Association strongly urges however, that Local Authorities shall have a statutory duty to consult Town, Parish and Community Councils in the creation, development, and approval of these plans. It is essential that principal authorities ensure that all areas of the authority receive attention and not just the main towns and villages.

  9. A stronger consultative relationship between principal authorities and Town Parish Councils would not only make the local transport plans subject to wider consultation with increased involvement of the local community, it would also make transport more accountable to the local people. The Association strongly believes that in order to gain more socially inclusive and sustainable society all tiers of local government should be consulted and their views considered.

SUSTAINABLE TRANSPORT

  10. This Association welcomes the principle of sustainability. In particular, we welcome the Government's recognition that an efficient and far reaching infrastructure is vital for a prosperous economy. It is important that industry is encouraged into rural areas in order to alleviate rural poverty. This can only be achieved with an efficient and effective rail and road infrastructure. This Association supports investment in rail infrastructure and hopes that the Government places this investment as one of its top priorities. Improved infrastructure in the countryside would bring industry, employment, skills and prosperity to some of the most rural areas in England and Wales, currently suffering from agricultural decline and industrial closure.

  11. This Association also supports the use of technology in improving the transport system.

INTEGRATED TRANSPORT

  12. The Association welcomes the initiatives proposed in this chapter and in view of the "regional" nature of the Government's proposals, urges the Government to consult Local Councils widely on all aspects of the integrated transport system.

  13. We are pleased to note the proposals for a National Strategic Rail Authority. In our response to the Green Paper we expressed a wish that the residual rural services should be at least maintained at their present level, since in more remote areas, they provide an essential link, particularly during inclement weather. These rural services would be better used if the concept of the "seamless journey" was given the highest priority, and feeder services were co-ordinated more effectively with the mainlines services. In this context the more flexible bus services described above, the better, since the more scheduled fixed time services expected to co-ordinate with each other, the more likely it is that the chain of co-ordination will break down. An element of flexibility early in the chain can more readily cope with failures elsewhere.

Walking and Cycling

  14. The Association welcomes in particular the promotion and prioritisation of walking and cycling. Town and Parish Councils have considerable interest and involvement in the maintenance, repair and lighting of public footpaths and bridleways and welcome the Government's recognition of their importance to the local community. However, once again it seems that the White Paper focuses on the existence of footpaths in urban areas and not rural areas. In many rural areas whilst the provision and maintenance of footpaths and cycleways is desirable, it is difficult to provide a footpath on a local road, not wide enough to warrant a centre line and where verges are covered in bracken and nettles. It is essential that Government recognises such difficulties faced in rural areas and addresses them in legislation.

  15. Similarly with regard to cycle lanes and cycle paths, their provision and maintenance in the countryside is much more difficult than in urban areas. Furthermore statistics show that there are more accidents in the countryside than in urban areas, possibly due to the difficulty and expense of providing such cycle lanes. The Association would also welcome the opportunity to be represented on the National Cycling Forum.

  16. The Association is aware of the dangers of pedestrians and cyclists sharing the same facilities. Often there is little room to divide a footpath into pedestrian and cyclist use. This is particularly concerning in view of the fact that it is often impossible for visually impaired and blind people to distinguish between the two areas, and concerning that elderly pedestrians are often intimidated by cyclists haring past them. The Association urges that proper guidelines be put in place in order to address these problems.

Buses

  17. This Association believes that bus deregulation has to some extent eliminated the passenger base in those areas which would permit the reintroduction of a viable bus service running to fixed schedule, even with a generous subsidy. We urge the Government to investigate new schemes which are flexible and on request, targeted at sectors of the community and society that are in need of bus services.

  18. The Association supports the principle behind quality partnerships and urges that Best Practice guidance be produced based on models such as the work done by Norfolk County Council and Edinburgh Council who have demonstrated that both urban and rural areas are able to receive cost effective and efficient public transport.

  19. The Association also believes that principal authorities in co-ordination with Local Councils and private organisations should look into a flexible approach to funding services on demand. In areas of Norway, a concessionary bus service is provided which is aimed specifically at young people. It picks up people in villages and takes them to the local town for a Friday or Saturday night. A similar services is provided for Saturday shopping trips, targeted at elderly people and those without private transport. This Association urges the Government to investigate similar projects and research their applicability in the UK.

  20. The Association hopes that the Countryside Commission will consult widely in its management strategy for the countryside and urges the Government to ensure that Local Councils have a statutory right to consultation and are represented in some form on the Rural Traffic Advisory Services.

Use of the Car

  21. The Association believes that the Government is not fully aware of how reliant people are on their car in the countryside. In the absence of good, effective, safe and regular public transport in rural areas, local people must necessarily use their car. It is not a luxury and should not therefore be taxed as a luxury good. Again, the Association is concerned to note in this context that the White Paper is clearly more focused on urban problems and solutions rather than rural problems and solutions.

Traffic Calming

  22. The Association welcomes the Governments proposals to reduce speed, an issue which has been constantly on this Association's agenda. However, it is essential that these measures are implemented in conjunction with a review of the enforcement of traffic regulations.

  23. In this context we draw attention to our proposals for a thorough going and radical national review of the system of road classification on a basis of usage and capacity to handle such usage. At the same time we would expect to see some of the inappropriate residual central bureaucracy dispersed to the local level. A typical example of this is the continued requirement to refer to the Secretary of State any proposal to change the siting of individual "Stop" signs, which is surely a decision best taken at the local level in light of local experience. We would expect that Parish, Town and Community Councils would be given a substantial role in drawing up of Local Transport plans in their own locality particularly in light of the recent allocation of new powers to Local Councils in this area of activity.

MAKING IT HAPPEN

  24. In response to the Government's proposals to implement the integrated transport system, the National Association wishes to make it clear that it is essential that principal authorities consult Local Councils as of right. It is also vital that Local Councils are represented on the Commission for Integrated Transport, the Strategic Rail Authority and at Regional Planning Conferences.

CONCLUSION

  25. The National Association of Local Councils believes that the principle underlying integrated transport has potential to reform the infrastructure of England and Wales for the better. However, the Association is concerned to note that the White Paper has considered only the problems and solutions of transport in urban areas in some detail. Whilst the paper recognises that integrated transport and the idea of the "seamless" journey necessarily implies the consideration of rural transport, this paper does not go far enough. The transport needs of the rural countryside, its current problems and much needed solutions have not been fully recognised by the Government. It is therefore essential that in drafting the legislation and corresponding regulations, national government, principal authorities, regional development agencies and any other national or regional agency set up to discuss transport, consult Local Councils fully.


 
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Prepared 28 April 1999