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

Memorandum by Cambridgeshire and West Suffolk Transport 2000 (IT 11)


  In general we welcome the White Paper as an important steps forward, and there is very little with which we disagree. However, we are concerned that some of the proposals may not work as they stand because of timescale problems, and we would like to draw attention to some omissions (though some of these may be rectified in the "daughter" documents of the White Paper or in Government policy statements on other issues).

  1. Much of the action needed to regenerate our communities along sustainable lines will require a steady source of finance—especially the improvement of public transport, both rail and road. It is therefore vital to get a revenue stream into operation as soon as possible. We are therefore disturbed that proposals for the taxation of workplace parking and road pricing are only to be "pilot" projects at this stage—can we really afford to let those communities not selected for piloting wait until the results of these studies have been evaluated?

  2. Particularly worrying is the future of those rural bus services which have been financed by the Rural Transport Fund. There is no prospect that these will become self-supporting at least until restraints on car travel, such as parking taxes or road pricing, have come into effect. So what will happen after 2001? The Government should make it clear that the Rural Transport Fund will continue as long as is necessary to provide bridging finance.

  3. We are deeply disappointed at the deferment of the intention to tax private non-residential parking other than workplace parking. We suggest that at the very least the Government will include in its legislation enabling powers which would enable such taxation to be introduced in due course, as a signal to developers that if they insist on including huge car parks in new shopping or leisure developments they will have to pay for it.

  We do not believe that it is enough for local authorities to impose limits on the amount of car parking allowed, for three reasons: this offers no incentive to developers to reduce provision below the maximum allowed; nor to promote developments on central sites, more accessible by other modes of transport, where parking standards will be much more stringent; and this puts new developments in an unfavourable competitive position with respect to existing ones.

  4. There should also be an early commitment to the complete removal of tax benefits for company cars. Whether these are needed in the course of business or not, company car users should pay tax on the full benefit they receive by not having to buy (and, if appropriate, maintain) the relevant car out of their own pocket. Contrariwise, employer subsidies to other modes of transport for the journey to work should not normally be taxable. This applies especially to works buses; in many cases these have disappeared altogether because if employers charge a "commercial" fare employees will prefer to drive to work. (We would also like to see tax incentives for works buses to be available to the public at large.)

  5. We hope that the Government will recognise the need to control air traffic growth, which is responsible for a disproportionate share of overall pollution. We would welcome a Europe-wide tax on aviation fuel, for example. However, such measures need to be complemented by others aimed at developing rail as an alternative to short and medium haul air travel. Such measures include full integration of Eurostar with domestic inter-city rail travel in the UK and also with the rail network in Continental Europe; reduction of the "toll" on Eurostar passengers to what is paid by "Le Shuttle" passengers; establishment of a European Rail Agency to market international rail travel at price levels competitive with air travel for medium as well as short haul journeys; and, as a priority, abolition of the bar on use of Eurostar trains by domestic passengers. We believe that these measures would push Eurostar towards reaching its original passenger projections, and even exceeding them with the aid of restraints on air traffic.

  In this connection we are worried by the fact that the Government has given the go-ahead to widening the M25 in the neighbourhood of Heathrow even before the Terminal 5 Inquiry has reported.

  6. We are not convinced that the existing local council set-up is suitable for the task of creating integrated transport networks, especially in rural areas. We therefore call for a national network of Passenger Transport Authorities, perhaps initially based on the 1974 counties, but with the possibility of amalgamations to enable integration over wider areas. It is important that these Authorities should be democratically constituted (as London Transport will be under the Government's plans); that there should be a statutory network of public consultation; and that the Authorities should have a remit to consider cross-boundary travel.

  7. We also believe that the existing system gives local authorities too little bargaining power over both private developers and transport operators. We therefore call for:

    (a)  The burden of proof should be on developers to show that proposals for major development will be in the interests of the community at large, not on the local authority and/or objectors to show the reverse. Furthermore they should have to pay the full cost of the appeal process even if they win.

    (b)  The opinion of local residents should be a material factor in determining planning applications.

    (c)  The "Quality Contract" plans for bus services should make it clear that local authorities have back-up powers. For example, operators may be required to divert commercial services to cover villages that would otherwise be difficult to serve effectively.

  8. We are worried that staff shortages may turn out to be an insurmountable barrier to public transport improvements. (Recently the main operator in Cambridge introduced severe cuts to its City network for this reason.) We therefore call on the Government to avoid schemes that will make it more difficult to provide adequate staffing (e.g. the imposition of European driving hours regulations on local bus drivers) until it can be absolutely sure that public transport users will not suffer as a result. Indeed we believe the Government should be consulting with its European partners with a view to relaxing existing restrictions, which put buses in an unfair competitive position as against cars, for which there are no driving hour restrictions.

  9. The Government should require the Highways Agency to conduct a full corridor study even on the roads for which it has given the go-ahead, as in many cases there is an over-riding need for public transport improvements which must not be allowed to lag behind. (In our region these include the A428 west of Cambridge and the A120 Stansted to Braintree.)

  10. The Government should introduce a rolling programme of rail network expansion as soon as possible, and, meanwhile, take on board the proposals of the Railway Development Society to protect from further encroachment the land occupied by all former railway lines until their potential as routes for new and restored railways, and also for cycleways, footpaths and other "linear" uses, has been analysed by the proposed Strategic Rail Authority and other relevant organisations.

Simon Norton


20 September 1998

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