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


Memorandum by Friends of the Earth (IT 146)

INQUIRY INTO THE WHITE PAPER
"A NEW DEAL FOR TRANSPORT: BETTER FOR EVERYONE"

SUMMARY

  Although Friends of the Earth broadly welcomes most of the measures contained in the White Paper, we are extremely concerned that the Government has reneged on its previous commitments to reduce road traffic in favour of a much weaker commitment merely to reduce road traffic growth. We believe:

    1.  The Government intends the measures contained within it to reduce traffic growth not to reduce traffic levels altogether [2.25]. Friends of the Earth maintains its view that a 10 per cent reduction in the level of road traffic levels is needed from that in 1990.

    2.  The White Paper fails even to set a target for the overall level of road traffic. Friends of the Earth maintains its position that a national target is required.

    3.  The funds allocated to the Infrastructure Investment Fund and Rail Passenger Partnership scheme are woefully inadequate. Additional rail investment is critical to address bottlenecks that limit train speeds or prevent train operating companies laying on additional services.

    4.  There is little to guarantee that the additional £700 million allocated to local transport packages will not be spent on new road-building. Following the Government's announcement, we sought assurances of this from Ministers but have failed to receive them.

    5.  The White Paper does little to address the environmental impacts caused by the forecast increase in air traffic.

FRIENDS OF THE EARTH

  Friends of the Earth exists to campaign actively, effectively and imaginatively to protect and improve the conditions for life on earth, now and for the future.

  Friends of the Earth has campaigned on transport issues for almost 25 years. Our principal concern has been the growth in road traffic. However, recently, we have also begun to work on aviation issues.

  Our campaigns have included the promotion of cycling and traffic calming, the establishment of air quality standards and tougher vehicle emissions legislation and opposition to road-building and green field development. With others, we have successfully lobbied for the passage of the Traffic Calming Act 1992, the Road Traffic Reduction Act 1997 and the Road Traffic Reduction (National Targets) Act 1998.

FRIENDS OF THE EARTH'S EVIDENCE TO "DEVELOPING AN INTEGRATED TRANSPORT POLICY"

  Friends of the Earth's evidence to the Government consultation paper "Developing an integrated transport policy" made the following points.

    —  transport policy must be set within a framework based on sustainable development as outlined in "Defining a sustainable transport sector" by the UK Round Table on Sustainable Development1.

  On future traffic growth:

    —  a strategy to prevent forecast traffic growth is the only practicable way in which a major increase in the level of congestion on the road network can be averted. The prevention of traffic growth is likely to benefit business and create jobs;

    —  traffic growth will make it extremely difficult for the Government to ensure health-based air quality standards are met in all places at all times. In particular urban areas, there is a case for substantial traffic reduction to ensure that levels of benzene, particulate and nitrogen oxides are lowered. Throughout much of southern Britain, there is a case for preventing forecast traffic growth in order to minimise the incidence of ozone smogs;

    —  the physical activity undertaken by seven in 10 men and eight in 10 women is believed to be below the level thought necessary to achieve a health benefit2. There is therefore a clear case for encouraging more walking and cycling. As current levels of traffic deter people from walking or cycling, there are health benefits to be gained from reducing the level of traffic on the roads;

    —  only a reduction in road traffic levels overall is going to protect the historic character of our urban and rural areas.

    —  Traffic growth will undermine public transport services and encourage development in places accessible only by car. It will make walking and cycling more difficult. As such, it will worsen access for people who do not have a car. The "car-less" are largely the very poor, the very old and the very young—the groups in society who suffer most from air pollution, road accidents and other effects of traffic. This is a profoundly inequitable outcome.

    —  A reduction in road traffic of about 10 per cent is required if the transport sector is to play its part in meeting the Government's target of a 20 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions from 1990 levels by 2010, even taking into account the proposed European agreement on the fuel efficiency of new cars.

    —  The severity of many other environmental impacts of road traffic (e.g., marine pollution, road run-off, road kill of animals) is proportional to the amount of traffic on the roads. A reduction in traffic levels, would have a substantial beneficial effect on the natural environment in Britain.

    —  The forecast increase in vehicle ownership will also damage the environment as a result of the increased metal consumption and the energy used in manufacture. While it cannot be assumed that policies to reduce traffic will lead to corresponding falls in vehicle ownership, some fall in ownership will probably accompany any fall in traffic. This, if voluntary, should be welcomed.

    —  From a careful analysis of the severity of the different impacts and the nature of the reductions required, Friends of the Earth has concluded that the limiting factor on traffic growth should be its emissions of carbon dioxide. With that in mind, we therefore believe that a 10 per cent reduction in overall traffic levels is required by 2010, as compared to 1990 levels.

  On the importance of targets, Friends of the Earth said, a national target for traffic reduction is necessary for three reasons:

    —  To act as a long-term yardstick of the effect of Government policies—to guide the formulation of Government planning policies and its decisions on investment and taxation.

    —  To guide local authorities in the formulation of their traffic reduction targets and transport strategies—and to help Government regional offices in the assessment of its local authority plans and programmes.

    —  As an input into the assessment of transport infrastructure projects.

  Friends of the Earth also pointed out that setting a national target for traffic reduction need not imply that the target be met equally everywhere.

  On policies to reduce road traffic, Friends of the Earth made eight general observations.

    —  There is no question over whether a 10 per cent reduction in road traffic is achievable. The issue is whether the measures required to achieve a 10 per cent reduction are politically acceptable. Friends of the Earth believes they are.

    —  Although, there is no experience anywhere in the world that can be followed to guarantee a 10 per cent reduction in traffic over 1990 levels by 2010, evidence suggests there are plenty of policy options available that, if implemented sufficiently vigorously, could achieve that level of reduction.

    —  We fully accept the Government's concern that the development of policy starts with "the situation" it "has inherited, not just in terms of travel trends and patterns but in terms of institutional arrangements"3.

    —  The Government needs to make more use of National Travel Survey data to work out which policies are likely to have most effect in cutting traffic levels. Analyses that look in detail at what proportion of total traffic is made up of people doing which different sorts of journeys will be essential in the development of packages of measures to encourage people and freight operators to use road vehicles less.

    —  The greater part of the task, in achieving a 10 per cent reduction in traffic on 1990 levels by 2010, is the prevention of forecast traffic growth. Achieving a 10 per cent reduction in road traffic by 2010 is a question of firstly preventing an increase of about 28 per cent and then achieving a reduction of about 17 per cent from existing levels.

    —  This is important for two reasons. Firstly, it is much easier to stop people doing something they don't yet do than to stop them doing something they do already. Secondly, it focuses attention on a key part of the task ahead, that is removing the stimuli to traffic growth in the past. The removal of these stimuli will in itself dampen down the growth in traffic and is as important as the imposition of restraints and the provision of alternatives.

    —  Travel decisions are influenced by both time and money (not to mention comfort, conviviality and a range of other factors). Measures to reduce the attractiveness of car travel by reducing journey speeds can in certain cases reduce the level of traffic more effectively than measures to increase the cost of motoring. Examples worth considering include reductions in the national speed limit and the closing of some roads in urban areas.

    —  Whatever policy measures adopted should be integrated and consistent. Measures such as road pricing which achieve one goal (reducing traffic levels in towns) but create market pressures that might undermine another (constraining pressures for green field development) should be avoided, unless they can be combined with compensating measures (such as public transport investment to attract development back into town). Wherever possible, transport policy should aim to create virtuous circles.


    —  Friends of the Earth would stress the importance of political acceptability. This implies two things. Firstly, the Department should look at what can be achieved in incremental steps. Secondly, it is important that the Government takes advantage of what can be done quickly at little cost.

REACTION TO THE WHITE PAPER "A NEW DEAL FOR TRANSPORT: BETTER FOR EVERYONE"

  Although Friends of the Earth broadly welcomes most of the measures contained in the White Paper, we are extremely concerned that the Government has reneged on its previous commitments to reduce road traffic in favour of a much weaker commitment merely to reduce road traffic growth.

  Friends of the Earth particularly welcomed the increased attention being given to the provision of alternatives to the car including the proposed Strategic Rail Authority and the use of legally-protected quality partnerships to improve bus services. We welcome the commitment to provide more dedicated facilities for buses, bikes and pedestrians, and the provision of an extra £700 million for local transport plans.

  Friends of the Earth also supports the greater use that the Government proposes to make of the planning system to control the location of new development and the provision of parking. We support plans to allow local authorities to charge for road use and workplace parking, and to use the revenues raised to promote alternatives to the car.

  And Friends of the Earth supports many of the other measures proposed in the White Paper, including the renewed commitment to the fuel duty inflator, the proposal to vary vehicle excise duty, the reforms of company car taxation and the review of speed limits.

  However, Friends of the Earth also finds fault with the White Paper on a number of points.

  Firstly, the White Paper makes it clear that the Government intends the measures contained within it only to reduce traffic growth not lead to absolute reductions in traffic [2.25]. Friends of the Earth maintains its view that overall reductions in road traffic levels from those in 1990 are needed in order to fully protect public health and meet the Government's domestic commitment to cut carbon dioxide levels by 20 per cent by 2010. We are currently studying the effects of the voluntary agreement reached between the European Auto-makers Association (ACEA) and the European Council of Ministers. We are calculating its likely effect on CO2 emissions from the transport sector and would be happy to inform the Committee of the results of our calculations.

  Secondly, the White Paper fails even to set a target for the overall level of road traffic. It merely says the Government will ask the new Commission for Integrated Transport for advice on "setting national road traffic and public transport targets" [4.4]. Friends of the Earth maintains its position (as outlined above) that a national target is required for the overall level of road traffic. We note that the Road Traffic Reduction (National Targets) Act 1998 requires the Secretary of State either to set a national target or to state the effect of his policies on overall traffic levels. The White Paper fulfils neither of these duties and a supplementary statement will be required to do so by the end of 1999.

  Thirdly, we are concerned that the funds allocated to the Infrastructure Investment Fund and Rail Passenger Partnership scheme are woefully inadequate. The measures outlined in the White Paper have been rightly criticised in our view for failing to address traffic growth between towns and cities. Additional rail investment is critical to address bottlenecks that limit train speeds or prevent train operating companies laying on additional services. We are concerned that the Government isn't committing enough of its own resources to this investment.

  Fourthly, we are concerned that there is little to guarantee that the additional £700 million allocated to local transport packages will not be spent on new road-building. Following the Government's announcement, we sought assurances of this from Ministers but have failed to receive them.

  Fifthly, and finally, we are concerned that the White Paper does little to address any of the long term environmental impacts of increasing air traffic. Friends of the Earth welcomes the Government's promise to publish an airports policy White Paper, but believes a wider aviation policy statement is needed.

  Friends of the Earth also believes that the Government should lobby within the Council of Ministers for a European-wide agreement to charge aviation for its environmental costs, should a global agreement not be reached quickly through the auspices of the International Civil Aviation Organisation.

Roger Higman

25 September 1998

REFERENCES

1. UK Round Table on Sustainable Development 1996 "Defining a sustainable transport sector".

2. Activity and Health Research 1992 "Allied Dunbar National Fitness Survey" Health Education Authority and Sports Council.

3. Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions 1997 "Developing an integrated transport policy" [13].


 
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