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


Memorandum by the Parkman Consultancy Ltd (IT 143)

THE GOVERNMENT'S INTEGRATED TRANPSORT POLICY WHITE PAPER

1. INTRODUCTION

  1.1 Parkman Consultancy Ltd. welcome the Government's White Paper on Integrated Transport Policy in so far as it attempts to formulate policies, which will enhance and promote sustainable solutions to the growing problems of road traffic congestion and pollution. The White Paper covers a number of issues designed to facilitate integration of policies and programmes, assist mobility and economic growth, and widen choice by creating "modern and reliable transport systems". These aims are commendable however, they will require the collective efforts of the various agencies of government, the private sector, businesses and users to identify objectives, secure alternative sources of funding, and enforce regulations which limit the impact of transport on the environment. The need to balance individual choice against the strategic aims of the government, and the extent to which the benefits of an Integrated Transport Policy are shared by the majority, especially non-car owners, will in our view determine the success of the Government's approach.

  1.2 The role of the local authorities in planning and delivering the various proposals in the White Paper is equally endorsed, considering the relationship between their existing responsibilities for planning and land use, education, economic and social development, and transport. Some of the policy proposals such as the promotion of walking and cycling, monitoring air pollution levels, setting targets for traffic reduction and improving facilities for buses are currently being implemented by local authorities. This is evident in the many examples of `best practice' schemes highlighted in the policy document. Nonetheless, it is acknowledged that local authorities differ in their structural make up as well as their experience in dealing with the conflicting demands of people and businesses for increased mobility. In this regard, we acknowledge the need for a better working relationship with the private sector, and the belief that change can only come about through information and education.

  1.3 The present relationship between local authorities and the private sector in the areas of traffic and highway engineering, infrastructure development and the enforcement of parking regulations are a product of the last government's programme of externalisation. The central tenet of this approach was to obtain value for money and create competition between local government and the private sector in service delivery. Although there have been mixed responses to the apparent benefits of externalisation, with the right motivation and guidance from central government, local services can be delivered effectively through the combined effort of the public and private sectors. This notion is stressed throughout the policy document, and we believe it is a step in the right direction. Moreover, the Government's proposal to introduce `Best Value Framework' as a concept in local service delivery is commended, considering the emphasis in performance monitoring and the possible involvement of the private sector providing quality services at an acceptable cost.

  1.4 Parkman Consultancy Ltd. has a successful track record in civil engineering, including highway design and maintenance, transport policy and planning, development control and environmental impact assessment. The firm's current work programme involves both strategic and local assignment for central and local governments. In the case of the former we are currently undertaking urban design and infrastructure management programmes on London's Priority (Red) Route network and the Greater Manchester area, whilst the latter are restricted to traffic, highway engineering and planning contracts for the London boroughs of Westminster and Lambeth. Recently, we have succeeded in developing a joint programme with Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire County Councils to provide highway engineering and network management services. It is against this background that we are now responding to the White Paper proposals, with the possibility of providing further evidence which may assist the Committee in their investigation.

2. PLANNING FOR CHANGE

  2.1 The Government has identified traffic congestion and pollution as the greatest barrier towards achieving a sustainable transport system in the UK. Giving this concern, it is understandable that a significant proportion of the proposals in the policy document are aimed at urban transport. Equally, it is realised that "the key to integration is to plan locally as well as nationally" with local authorities acting as the conduit for the effective delivery of most of the programme. The approach is that local authorities will be required to set out their strategies for transport as well as set targets for improving air quality, road safety and public transport, and for reducing road traffic. These should be contained in documents referred to as Local Transport Plans. Local Transport Plans should also contain proposals for introducing charges for road use and parking (ie Private nonresidential Parking PNR) or work place parking as they are generally referred to.

  2.2 These proposals will require primary legislation as indicated in the policy document: "we will introduce legislation to allow local authorities to charge road users so as to reduce congestion, as part of a package of measures in local transport plans that will include improving public transport" (para 4.94). A further pledge is made for the introduction of workplace parking charges (para 4.107). The main concern is that the Government has given no indication as to the timing of the legislation, and moreover, the success of the entire local government initiative rests on the acceptance of these policy instruments by those likely to be most affected by them such as businesses and car drivers. Assuming that these policies will be part of future transport planning agenda, it will be useful to examine how best they can be implemented to gain maximum benefit.

Congestion charging

  2.3 The proposal to introduce congestion charging is by no means new, although this is the first time any government in the UK has made some commitment towards its use as a major traffic management tool. Recent statements by both the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions have confirmed that the proceeds of congestion charging will be used to fund public transport improvements. This approach is welcomed, but there is a strong argument especially, by the motoring organisations that the Government ought to provide the necessary public transport improvements before introducing road user charges. Public transport is currently provided by the private sector and therefore the Government can only act as an `enabler' through the provision of incentives for investment, and the encouragement of public private partnerships.

  2.4 The Secretary of State for Environment, Transport and the Regions recently announced that the proposed Mayor for London will be given the necessary powers to introduce congestion charging in London. He has also invited other local authorities in England to submit proposals for trial schemes in their respective areas. We welcome this move in so far as it will allow authorities to work in partnership with the private sector in order to develop a technically feasible and politically acceptable system. Our main concern is that whereas plans have been unveiled for a strategic authority in London, there has been no indication of the Government's intentions in other areas in England. A clear statement on the future of strategic local government in other metropolitan areas, coordinating transport and planning policies, will provide the opportunity for further testing of the principle of congestion charging.

  2.4 Accepting that the proceeds of congestion charging will be used to fund public transport, traffic management, and environmental improvements, it will be useful to relate proposed schemes to local transport plans. However, a major concern is whether congestion charging will be introduced before the various plans were implemented. We support the notion that the benefits of this policy should be properly costed and debated by transport users, businesses, and interest groups in order to balance conflicting interest. Perhaps it will be more useful if credit approvals were given to local authorities to acquire the necessary funds from the financial markets to develop schemes prior to the full implementation of congestion charging. This will allow local authorities to form partnerships with the private sector, who will then be required to provide the investment for the technical equipments and systems for congestion charging.

Charging for Private Non Residential Parking (PNR) or Work Place Parking

  2.5 It is now generally agreed that work place parking should be subject to charging as part of a package of traffic management measures to limit congestion in Central Business Districts (CBDs) as heavily used transport corridors in semi-urban areas. This is precedented because with the privatisation of local authority car parks, some authorities in agreement with parking operators already allocate parking spaces to business on a contract basis. Moreover, a recent survey conducted by Parkman Consultancy Ltd in Central London revealed that businesses were quite willing to pay for on-site parking spaces if they were cost effective. However, like congestion charges, they were worried about the lack of adequate public transport to cater for those who will no longer be able to use their cars, resulting in further congestion on the existing public transport system.

  2.6 Like congestion charges, charging for work place parking will fall within local authorities' jurisdiction. One must consider the history of parking allocations in developments and their relationship to the planning system. The truth is that local authorities have in the past used parking policies as a competition tool to attract new developments in order to increase the job prospects of residents. The more generous the parking allocation the more likely that developments will be attracted to a given area. There is no fixed formula for calculating parking allocations in developments and in some cases' authorities encourage large developments with inadequate parking spaces provided the developers were willing to provide payments for off-site parking spaces which were not necessarily built. This system generally known as planning gain ought to be reviewed with more allowances made for public transport improvements in future.

  2.7 Parking policies have always been used as a traffic management tool. Over the years, there have been several changes in policy, the privatisation of parking control, the limitation of parking and stopping on Priority Routes (Red Routes), and the growth of residential and on-street parking charges have all contributed to the realisation that they can be used both for restraining traffic and revenue generation. Considering the close relationship between parking and congestion charging, it will be more appropriate if these two policy instruments were combined to provide maximum benefits. In the case of parking, a general view of pricing structures, distribution and allocation both on and off-street were conducted relative to planning policy, whilst congestion charging should be considered as part of a reconsideration of the determination and management of revenues from business rates. We therefore support the argument that local authorities should be given more leverage in the assessment of business rates, which must include parking charges, based on local rather than national criteria.

3. DEVELOPING AND IMPLEMENTING EXISTING TRANSPORT POLICIES

  3.1 Most of the policies in the White Paper are aimed at managing urban congestion and pollution, and encouraging and improving alternatives to the car such as public transport, walking and cycling. Given the concern about the possible delay in passing the necessary legislation to implement the White Paper proposals, alternative actions must be considered if only to improve the existing transport system and promote choice. These are concerned with, but not limited to improving conditions for passenger and freight traffic, empowering local authorities to form partnerships with the private sector, developing and financing new public transport schemes, and overhauling the land use planning system. These can be achieved by reviewing and amending existing policies either by Ministerial Directive or proper enforcement of regulations.

Road Traffic Management and Control

  3.2 The enforcement of traffic management measures is currently divided between the police, local authorities and to some extent the use of camera technology. There needs to be proper assessment of priorities and resources and if necessary a review of responsibilities to reduce gaps and remove overlaps. Local authorities have limited manpower and resources to mount effective traffic management and control strategies. Even on-street parking control officers, who in some cases are private sector employees, place more emphasis on revenue collection rather than general traffic management. The police on the other hand are faced with other duties such as crime prevention and terrorism control which are often given far more priorities in terms of manpower allocation. Whereas some authorities such as Thames Valley Police have dedicated Traffic Divisions, others treat traffic enforcement in a more general manner. Perhaps consideration should be given to the creation of joint enforcement teams involving the police and local authority personnel in all areas. This will in turn require the setting of targets and performance monitoring objectives.

  3.3 The Road Traffic Act 1997 as amended by the Road Traffic (Targets) Act 1998 empowers local authorities to set targets for reducing, levels of traffic growth and pollution and road safety improvements. The Act also calls for the publication of annual reports on progress and the justification of policy objectives. Useful though these might be, their successful implementation depends on how well they are linked to central government funding. We welcome the ongoing review of the current system for funding local transport schemes, but urge that consideration be given to the provision of extra funding for those authorities who are willing to introduce innovate traffic management and improvement schemes. Such schemes can be implemented with assistance from the private sector especially if incentives were given to the latter to embark on research aimed at improvements in traffic flow and the subsequent reduction in environmental pollution. It must be borne in mind that traffic congestion is influenced by trip distribution and the average length of trips rather than total volume of traffic. Both are elements of human behaviour, thus the need for enforcement of traffic and parking regulations.

  3.4 There is a corresponding link between traffic congestion and pollution. Improvements in vehicle technology such as the use of catalytic converters to reduce exhaust emissions, have made some useful gains in tackling the problem of pollution. Nonetheless, there are a minority of badly maintained on the roads which continue to add to the problem. The solution in this instance is one of enforcement. Although there are arrangements in place for local authorities to impede drivers of such vehicles, and levy fines or possibly impound vehicles of persistent offenders, the level of resources required for such enforcement procedures are less than adequate. We would recommend that local authorities should be allowed to use the proceeds of fines to cover costs so that they are set at levels which would serve as a deterrent to offenders.

Public Private Partnerships

  3.5 Local authorities have been involved in partnership projects with the private sector through the process of externalisation, or the contracting out of some of their statutory functions. More specific to transport, a significant percentage of local authorities now engage consultants in the provision of highway engineering and traffic management services. There has been a mixed reaction to the successes of this approach. Whilst some authorities have seen this as a means of reducing costs and improving quality, others have been reluctant to change because of pressures from the Public Service Unions. We therefore welcome the move to further encourage public private partnerships in so far as it relates to improving service delivery. However, we are concerned about the existing legislation defining the tendering process (The Local Government Act 1988) which we find restrictive in allowing innovative partnerships to be formed with the private sector on a more commercial basis.

Developing and Financing Public Transport projects

  3.6 Improving and promoting public transport, especially buses in urban and rural areas are part of a wider package to encourage car drivers to change their travel patterns. The White Paper calls for "Quality Partnerships" between bus operators and local authorities to increase patronage and reliability. Bus operation in urban areas is also affected by traffic congestion and any move to increase journey times is welcomed. This has been done mostly through measures such as bus only lanes, priority at major junctions and bus activated signals. However most of the finance for these schemes has been provided by local authorities and it is now widely believed that bus operators should also contribute to these schemes for both commercial and operational reasons. This can only come about through incentives from central government. Perhaps consideration should be given to the introduction of tax incentive schemes for bus operators to increase their financial contributions to bus priority measures releasing extra cash for local authorities to provide general traffic management and road safety measures.

  3.7 Apart from buses, the Government also intends to encourage the improvement of rail-based public transport. Light rapid transit systems have been developed in cities such as Manchester, Sheffield, and London (Croydon). These have been the result of innovative partnerships between the public and private sector with some support from central government. The cost of these schemes and the lead time involved in promoting the necessary legislation through to implementation has made this a very risky venture. A useful alternative will be to consider innovative transport systems which can use both dedicated rail tracks and the road network. This will allow for the use of low capacity and disused rail tracks, with suitable connection to the existing highway network and major transport interchange including park and ride sites.

4. LAND USE PLANNING POLICIES

  4.1 Planning Policy guidance already stresses the need to reduce the impact of development on the road network (PPG6). The proposal to review existing guidance is welcomed, and we believe it can contribute to reducing demand for highway capacity. However, careful consideration should be given to a radical review of the existing planning system and in particular the development control process. Most local authorities currently encourage developers to discuss planning applications for commercial developments which generate a significant amount of traffic, prior to submission for approval. This practice should be mandatory thus reducing the cost and time taken for processing these applications. It should aim to test proposals against policies included in Unitary Development Plans (UDP) given as much weight to public transport provision as those presently given to highway improvement and car parking. Where necessary, developers should be required to provide improvement in public transport links including bus services linking major transport interchange and park and ride facilities.

  4.2 The aforementioned proposals are by no means new they are already in operation through what is generally referred to as "Planning Gain" or "Developers Benefit". Existing legislation within planning, local government and highway regulations are used to justify the use of planning gain. It normally applies when a local planning authority seeks to impose an obligation on a developer to carry out works not included in a development for which permission has been sought, or to make some payment or confer extraneous right or benefit in return for permitting the development to take place. The use of this policy is based on the principle that those who create extra burdens on the community should be required to contribute to additional projects aimed at reducing the impact of their development. A review of this system of development control with positive steps towards improving public transport, walking and cycling is now required with definitive standards for local authorities.

5. CONCLUSION

  5.1 The white paper offers a positive balance for continuing development of transport policy and action in the UK, building on good practice and an apparent determination on the Government to broker change. However if change is to happen in practice, it is crucial that the various agencies involved in the planning and execution of transport policies must reach a consensus on how individual interest and priorities should be balanced in order to provide a sustainable transport system. This calls for a carrot and stick approach. In the case of the former a more positive policy direction and possibly financial incentives will be required for local authorities, public transport operators and private sector contractors involved with infrastructure development projects. In return they must respond to passenger demand by promoting choice and improve quality and efficiency.

  5.2 In our submission we have concentrated a great deal on enforcement both of traffic regulations and policies designed to reduce the impact of development on the environment, particularly those related to development control and the development of innovative transport schemes. Central to the policy package in the White Paper is the belief that individual travel behaviour will be influenced by the introduction of a pricing mechanism for the use of the most popular form of transport—the car. This we believe can only materialise if additional incentives were provided such as improved public transport, more resources for walking and cycling and we therefore endorse the proposals related to these schemes. But the key to the success of all these is the role of local authorities in implementing change. We therefore eagerly await the Government's forthcoming legislation on Modernising Local Government and the proposals for a Mayor and Assembly for London.

October 1998


 
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