Memorandum by the Institution of Civil
Engineers (IT 33)
A NEW DEAL FOR TRANSPORTBETTER FOR
EVERYONE (CM 3950)
The Institution is the qualifying body for the
civil engineering profession. Founded in 1818 and granted a Royal
Charter in 1828, the Institution has over 80,000 members, a fifth
of whom are based overseas. The Institution is a registered charity
and non-profit making organisation.
The Institution's Transport Board is active
in furthering knowledge and promoting advances in transport engineering
and represent civil engineers working in this field.
1.1 Transportation is a core discipline for
civil engineers who plan, design, construct and maintain the physical
infrastructure which underpins all transport operations. The road
network in Great Britain, which is at the heart of the nation's
transport system, has come under increasing strain from vehicle
growth and an increase in the length of trips, both arising from
long-term structural changes in our society, economy and changes
to established patterns of land use.
1.2 Over the past decade traffic has grown by
20 per cent in response to increases in average journey length
whilst road length has grown by barely 5 per cent. The result
has been to worsen congestion, imposing a cost equal to several
billions of pounds on the nation as a whole, and generating mounting
pressures on the environment from noise, poor air quality and
other forms of environmental damage. This established trend of
vehicle growth is not going to diminish. Demand for private car
ownership is so strong that official forecasts of road traffic
published by government suggest that over the next 20 years car
traffic could grow by more than a third, with van and lorry traffic
increasing still further. The impact on the quality of life and
economic competitiveness of Great Britain will be severe without
a change in policy to enable these traffic pressures to be accommodated.
It is not a sensible option to do nothing at all.
2.1 Over the past decade the Institution has
published a number of reports, which have had as their theme the
need for a radical appraisal and reform of the system of planning,
organising and financing transport provision in Great Britain.
The Institution has long advocated the creation of an integrated
transport policy and therefore the Institution strongly endorses
the fundamental shift in transport policy represented by the White
2.2 Compared with previous official statements
of transport policy, the White Paper represents a fundamental
change of direction and policy. It explicitly endorses and defines
(1.22) the concept of an integrated transport policy which
in past years has either been paid cursory "lip service"
to by official policy or, more commonly, has been rejected outright
in favour of more politically acceptable alternatives, such as
de-regulated competition, which underlay much of the transport
policy of the previous administration. The importance of what
the White Paper acknowledges as its "comprehensive agenda
for change" (Foreword) should not be understated. It is equivalent,
in terms of its repudiation of previous policy, to the enormous
changes which have taken place in official policy on school teaching
over the past decade. The White Paper is a document of radical
2.3 Whether it will succeed in becoming a document
of radical effect depends upon the success with which the many
proposals it contains, and which form the framework of an integrated
transport policy, can function in practice. A great deal depends,
as it should, on political will: legislation will have to be enacted
in parliament, the Treasury must continue to show goodwill to
the principle of hypothecation of road user and parking charges,
the crucial role which local authorities will have in the development
of the integrated transport policy must be nurtured and supported
by government, Ministers must dare to implement policies (like
road pricing) which might in the short-term at least have negative
political returns. These factors are still in varying degrees
uncertain but they are essential to the White Paper's success.
The White Paper reflects in many ways the Deputy Prime Minister's
intense interest and involvement in transport and there is a risk
that with a less politically powerful Secretary of State, transport
policy might once again be sidelined. The uncertainty attached
to the implementation of many of the WP's recommendations constitutes
our strongest criticism: it is not the content of the WP but how,
when, or even whether, some of the key measures (e.g., creation
of Strategic Rail Authority) which depend on primary legislation
for their enactment will come about, which is our concern. These
are crucial building blocks and early resolution of the legislative
timetable is essential.
2.4 Considerable progress, however, can be
made without legislation providing that the necessary political
will is sustained. Pending resolution of the legislative uncertainty
the possibility could be explored of establishing the new institutions
(such as Strategic Rail Authority) on a non-statutory basis to
enable them to start planning and minimise the delay involved
in endowing them with the necessary statutory powers enshrined
in legislation. It must also be borne in mind that Local Transport
Plans (the planning measure at the heart of the White Paper) do
not depend upon legislation for their creation. Every effort
should be made to enable local authorities to produce them in
a timely manner.
2.5 Despite these uncertainties, the Institution's
overall appraisal of the White Paper is very positive. The shift
towards an integrated transport policy as its rationale has been
keenly awaited as awareness of the fundamental lack of "sustainability"
of the old transport policy framework has become apparent. The
White Paper contains a wealth of innovative and long overdue proposals
in furtherance of its goal of greater transport integration. Rather
than being a definitive document rigidly mapping out transport
policy in Great Britain for the foreseeable future, the White
Paper is very much the start of a process and the framework it
proposes will have to be further defined and filled in the years
to come. In some key areas there is uncertainty and one or two
of the proposals in the White Paper appear to be unsound but the
White Paper overall is judged in a very positive light and its
strengths significantly outweigh any weaknesses it may contain.
This is why the Institution attaches such importance to this
A number of the main issues in the White Paper
are analysed and commented upon below.
3.1 There is a widespread belief that the levels
of expenditure on transport infrastructure investment in Great
Britain over the past decade have been insufficient. This is supported
by statistical evidence on actual levels of spending2,
studies which have demonstrated the extent of traffic congestion
in Great Britain compared with other European countries2,
and growing awareness of maintenance shortfalls on road and railway
networks3. There is a consensus view that investment
in transport infrastructure in Great Britain should be increased
by at least 50 per cent.
3.2 The current Government has introduced fundamental
reforms of the public expenditure process: setting expenditure
limits for three years ahead, introducing greater differentiation
between capital and current spending and other measures to safeguard
capital expenditure. In principle, these reforms will be beneficial
for publicly funded transport infrastructure, providing greater
certainty and a higher volume of funding.
3.3 The results of its Comprehensive Spending
Review (CSR) were announced a week before publication of the
White Paper and define government spending on transport for the
next three years. The CSR's projections over this time period
for public sector capital spending on transport are disappointing,
promising not the step change that is needed but merely a 25 per
cent increase to compensate for a similar decline over the last
3.4 However, a much more optimistic conclusion
is reached once the impact of private finance and the new revenue
streams hypothecated to local authority transport spending are
allowed for. The chart on page 26 of the CSR shows that, providing
that local authorities and others "respond positively to
the new powers announced in the Transport White Paper" and
private sector investment continues to be sustained at a high
level, then by 2005-06 transport investment spending (both public
and private) is projected to reach approximately £8 billion,
nearly double the present level of just over £4.5 billion.
This is a satisfactory increase in the level of spending: however,
achieving it is depending primarily upon the private sector and,
most significantly, on the enthusiasm with which local authorities
adopt the new powers the WP promises them on hypothecation of
revenue streams derived from user charging. This is dependent
on three conditions:
recognition by HM Treasury that such
revenue streams will be genuinely additional to existing local
authority expenditure on transport;
local authority implementation of
user charging schemes will be fully supported by central Government;
the necessary legislation will be
enacted by Parliament.
3.5 Uncertainty attaches to all these conditions.
If this is not resolved progress will be limited.
4.1 The White Paper's proposal for allowing
local authorities to use hypothecated revenue streams derived
from user charges is a breakthrough, one for which the Institution
has been pressing for many years, most recently in the report
"Paying for Transport" (1997).1 It
is obviously quite essential that such hypothecated funds will
be treated as additional to other sources of funding local authorities
receive through Standard Spending Assessment and DETR capital
support for transport programmes. Without the promise that hypothecated
funds will be additional, local authorities will have no motivation
to introduce user charging. Ideally, there should be a public
assurance that such funds will not in any way lead to a reduction
in the level of local authority transport funding by the Treasury.
Alternatively, there might be an assurance that such funds will
be removed entirely from the public expenditure control system.
However, the Treasury are unlikely to agree to such an assurance
and local authorities will face uncertainty about the financial
benefits of hypothecating revenue streams from user charging.
4.2 It is disappointing that the use at national
level for transport investment purposes of dedicated streams of
taxation income from road users (e.g., from vehicle exercise duty)
has been ruled out. Use of income from these sources would have
provided greater security and stability in funding.
5. Role of local authorities
5.1 Local authorities are seen in the White
Paper as the key organisation for implementing an integrated transport
policy. They will do this through the preparation of Local Transport
Plans which will be introduced next year in England. Later, the
White Paper promises that legislation will be enacted to empower
local authorities to introduce congestion charging and parking
charges at the workplace, although there is no timescale for this.
Hypothecation of revenue streams is important if the necessary
step change increase in expenditure is to be achieved and user
charges are a useful "stick" to achieve the necessary
degree of switch from cars to public transport.
5.2 Thus, local authorities will have to bear
the brunt of the risks of these high-risk, high-return policies.
They will be offered some support by the Government, which will
not relinquish "responsibility for what happens locally"
(1.26), but it is not clear at all how Government proposes to
persuade local authorities to introduce user charges like the
ones set out above. Too active a role by central Government risks
undermining local democracy and accountability, but too limited
a role risks failing to provide local authorities with the support
and help needed to implement technologically complex and politically
risky policies. Such support is important; standards must be defined
and enforced to ensure that there is consistency in the way that
charging schemes are implemented across the country; this is especially
important in transport catchment areas administered by more than
one local authority. These are areas where more detail about
Government plans is required.
5.3 There is also the concern about whether
some local authorities have the necessary technical resources
and capability to design and implement an integrated transport
policy and Local Transport Plan.
6. Absence of targets for vehicle use at national
6.1 The White Paper's proposals for local transport
plans represent a "bottom-up" approach to national transport
planning. However, local authorities will need to be supported
and guided when drawing up these plans, and a framework of indicative
targets at national level for traffic, modal-split, vehicle emissions,
etc. It is essential to provide the necessary guidance.
6.2 The introduction of traffic targets at national
level is not without risks. There is the question of how they
will be achieved and the role of congestion charging and other
unpopular policies is immediately raised. It is necessary to provide
local authorities with the necessary information to produce their
own traffic targets and ensure that the DETR continues to have
the necessary political will to tackle congestion and other problems.
The absence of national traffic targets exemplifies one of the
main criticisms of the White Paper, that it transfers too many
risks to local authorities, leaving the burden on central Government
relatively light. A more equal partnership between central
and local Government would be preferred.
6.3 The Government agency which could supply
local authorities with the necessary guidance is the proposed
Commission for Integrated Transport, although it would have to
assume a stronger more executive role than the essentially advisory
role envisaged in the White Paper.
7. Institutional change
7.1 The Institution welcomes the establishment
of the new institutions proposed in the White Paper: Strategic
Rail Authority and Commission for Integrated Transport. The role
of each should, however, be carefully defined to avoid overlapping
function and a "turf war" breaking out.
8. New methods of appraising transport investment
8.1 The White Paper's introduction of a new
system of appraisal, based on five-fold criteria (integration,
safety, economy, environment and accessibility), is a positive
development because the previous system was too narrow and inconsistent
since it used different methods of appraisal for different modes.
Thus, road schemes were evaluated using cost-benefit analysis
whilst narrower commercial criteria were often (but not always)
used to evaluate public transport projects. The result was to
introduce a bias against the latter. The use of multi-criteria
investment appraisal across the board should substantially "level
the playing field" and produce a greater volume of public
transport investment which an integrated transport policy needs.
9. Emphasis on highway maintenance
9.1 The importance accorded to maintenance by
the White Paper (3.125, 4.38, 4.39) is strongly endorsed. Backlogs
of maintenance work on the local and trunk road systems are unacceptably
high and represent a waste of investment. Deferring maintenance
leads to greater costs in the future. An institution survey3,
last year estimated the value of the road maintenance backlog
for local authorities in Great Britain as £4.1 billion alone.
10. Regional transport and land use planning
10.1 The transport system is an integral part
of the economy, essential for everyday living and has a unique
influence on the pattern of spatial development. It should not
be treated in isolation from the planning process and the White
Paper's proposal to incorporate strategic transport considerations
into Regional Planning Guidance is therefore sensible and supported.
11. "De-trunking" of selected roads
11.1 In its "Which Way Roads"
report (1996), the Institution argued that roads should be classified
according to their transport function. At the centre of the classification
should be a first class national network avoiding the uncertainties
of regional policies and local priorities. This has been conceded
in the WP's proposals (3.131) to change the classification of
some existing trunk roads which mainly cater for regional and
local traffic. This "de-trunking" is, in principle,
12. Parking charges
12.1 The proposed powers to impose charges for
workplace parking should be extended to cover all private
1. Managing the Highways Network, 1994, Which
Way Roads, 1996; Paying for Transport, 1997.
2. The State of European Infrastructure, ECIS
3. e.g., ICELocal Transport Survey, 1997.
R S Dobson
Director General and Secretary
24 September 1998