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


Memorandum by Surrey County Council (IT 57)

INTRODUCTION

  1. Surrey County Council welcomes the publication of the Transport White Paper. The County Council has long argued the need for a coherent national policy framework and is pleased to note that many of the points which it made in response to the consultation paper issued last year are reflected in the White Paper.

  2. The County Council welcomes the fact that the White Paper builds on the Green Paper produced by the previous Government. The Council endorses the Government's view that it is now time for action to resolve the country's outstanding transport problems and that people want more choice, more alternatives to the car, more reliable journeys and reduced pollution. Surrey faces more acute traffic problems than any other county and the County Council will support clear national leadership with effective local action.

  3. The White Paper is a strategic document. Many of the proposals in the White Paper rely on "daughter" documents to fill in the details. Without those documents it is difficult to see whether the intentions of the White Paper are likely to materialise.

  4. Surrey County Council welcomes the Government's recognition of successful local initiatives to bring about a more integrated transport system. Surrey has been in the forefront of this approach, having produced an initial Transport Plan in 1991. This recognised the need to abandon the "predict and provide" approach and to adopt an integrated transport philosophy. This Plan was revised in 1996 when, following publication of PPG13, the County Council adopted amended objectives and a series of targets to meet these objectives, e.g., to limit road traffic growth within Surrey to 13 per cent above the 1995 level by 2011. Many of those objectives and targets have been mirrored within the White Paper.

  5. The White Paper leaves the main responsibility for its implementation to Local Authorities. This Memorandum addresses implementation issues.

LOCAL TRANSPORT PLANS

  6. The introduction of Local Transport Plans is a core proposal and is welcomed. It is important in two tier local authority areas, which cover about half the population of England, that the preparation of these Plans is a County Council responsibility. District Authorities should assist in their preparation, but only the County Council, as the strategic planning and highway authority, can provide a wider overview of priorities for the area. In that sense Local Transport Plans may be wrongly titled and cause unnecessary confusion. It is a general weakness of the White Paper that it fails to distinguish between the different tiers of local government or in any sense to define what it means by "local".

  7. The annuality of the current Transport Policies and Programme (TPP) system mitigates against forward planning. The White Paper proposes that Local Transport Plans should contain a 5 year strategy and programme. This is welcomed provided it is accompanied by greater certainty of funding.

  8. There is also an acute need for additional funding. Road maintenance work is suffering from long term underfunding, and we are storing up major and costly problems for the future. If the momentum of change envisaged in the White Paper is to occur, increased funding is also necessary to help Local Authorities take action to alleviate congestion and pollution and to promote modal shift. Local Authorities need sufficient funding to be able to invest in encouraging non-car modes of travel if they are to implement the White Paper's objectives. Restraint measures alone will not be enough.

  9. The Government intends to issue guidance on the preparation of the new Local Transport Plans later this year. This guidance will need to clarify how strategic policy and financial bidding are to be co-ordinated, the role of consultation and how revenue streams are to support the capital block allocations.

LOCAL AUTHORITY POWERS

  10. The Government proposes three additional powers for Local Authorities to empower them to meet local problems.

    —  to enable Local Authorities to charge road users so as to reduce congestion, and to use the funds raised to improve public transport. Surrey welcomes in principle this initiative, which may be relevant to some of our towns. However, pilot schemes are needed to test its value.

    —  to enable Local Authorities to levy a new parking charge on workplace parking. Again Surrey County Council welcomes this proposal which should be seen as relevant to Shire towns just as much as to Metropolitan centres. It is important that the income gained is used solely to reinvest in Local Transport improvements. A County-wide approach will be essential to avoid distortions to the competitiveness of neighbouring towns. Co-ordination between neighbouring counties will also be necessary.

    —  to enable Local Authorities to enter into Quality Contracts for bus services with performance targets. Surrey already has Quality Partnerships with bus operators, but these extra powers will help us improve bus services on an area rather than on a route basis.

  Surrey County Council wishes to see early legislation to introduce these powers.

RURAL AREAS

  11. The White Paper tends to concentrate on urban conditions at the expense of those in small towns and rural areas. There is a need to develop distinctive approaches in these places.

  12. In rural areas there is acute concern about speeding traffic. The White Paper accepts that enforcement of road traffic offences needs to be re-examined and that ways of improving the current arrangements for funding cameras are to be explored. Surrey County Council urges the Government to ensure adequate funding for speed limit and other traffic enforcement, to allow the reinvestment of income from fines into enforcement activity, and to encourage more flexible and collaborative working between the Police and the Local Highway Authority. We are particularly disappointed that the White Paper does not provide for the hypothecation of speeding fines to help fund better enforcement.

  13. There is also a need to allow for more flexible criteria for traffic calming and traffic management to meet rural conditions. Many of the measures currently required by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR) for traffic calming involve physical infrastructure which changes the character of villages in ways unacceptable to their residents. The concept of "Best Value" enjoins Local Authorities to be responsive to the views of our communities. We encourage the Government to review the criteria for traffic calming in rural areas in this light.

CONCESSIONARY FARES

  14. The Government has decided to introduce a national standard for concessionary fares. Surrey County Council operates a County-wide concessionary fare scheme. For many years Government policy has been to allow Local Authorities to determine the type and level of concessionary fares schemes in their areas according to local circumstances and needs. In two tier Local Authority areas, both counties and districts have powers to implement and fund concessionary fares schemes, although the Standard Spending Assessment (SSA) credits district authorities, regardless of which tier actually provides the funding. In any event, the amount of SSA is not clear, as concessionary fares expenditure is included in a block which also covers several other areas of expenditure, mostly, if not all, in the social services area.

  15. The scale and nature of concessionary fares schemes have a large influence on the level of public transport usage in an area, even if the overall impact on transport operators is intended to be financially neutral. Consequently, there is a strong argument that the policy for the provision of concessionary fares schemes should be an integral part of the Local Transport Plans. Transport Authorities in two tier local authority areas are increasingly likely to favour area wide concessionary schemes, which maximise travel opportunities and encourage the use of public transport.

  16. Surrey County Council strongly believes that the following actions should be taken by Central Government:

    (i)  The SSA funding for concessionary fares schemes should be separately identified, as it should be treated as part of overall transport funding for local authorities.


    (ii)  The SSA should be credited to whichever local authority is responsible for making the reimbursement payments to operators.

    (iii)  A standard reimbursement formula, or, at least, methodology allowing for local circumstances, should be devised for the national minimum half fare scheme for bus travel, and the SSA should reflect expenditure under this formula Local Authorities should not be exposed to additional expenditure resulting from fares increases well in excess of inflation, and the methodology should thus include annual increases based on publicly available inflation indicies.

    (iv)  Local Authorities should be permitted to top up the minimum concessionary scheme, if they judge this appropriate to their areas, for example through reduced or free issue of permits, through provision of free transport, through the provision of tokens or through an extension to trains and taxis.

    (v)  Concessionary fares schemes should be part of Local Transport Plans.

HIGHWAYS AGENCY

  17. The County Council welcomes the redefinition of the Highways Agency's role as one of Network Manager rather than as Highways Builder.

  18. The introduction of Regional Traffic Control Centres (RTCC) is also welcomed but it is essential that information provided to users on the Trunk Road network is fully co-ordinated with information on the local road network. There is real concern at County level that the RTCC will, in providing a higher level of service to Trunk Road users, simply transfer the problem to the local road network.

RAILWAYS

  19. Surrey County Council welcomes the creation of the new Strategic Rail Authority if this leads to improved dialogue with local authorities on local rail service improvements. It is important to both the Development Plan and the Local Transport Plan for improvements in rail facilities to be identified so that they can be safeguarded and pursued. We are very concerned to see higher levels of investment in railways so as to make them a more attractive and reliable alternative to the car. Surrey sees clear economic, social and environmental benefits in improved railway infrastructure and services and is especially keen to see a direct rail link to Heathrow Airport from Guildford, Woking and the west of the County. We urge the Government to address the current investment in railways and to take steps to improve the quality of services.

POWER TO DIRECT REFUSAL

  20. Surrey County Council is disappointed that the White Paper did not restore to the local highway authority the power to direct refusal of planning permission. The White Paper confirmed that the Highways Agency would retain this power in relation to the Trunk Road network, but did not restore the power to County Councils in relation to county roads and in particular to those Primary Roads in the County Council's care. Although the power would only be used sparingly, its very existence would help ensure that planning decisions took full and proper account of the impact of proposed developments on the surrounding roads and that land use planning was more fully integrated with transport policy.

CONCLUSION

  21. Surrey County Council welcomes the White Paper, but if the Government wishes to maintain a momentum of change it is essential that:

    —  Parliamentary time is found to introduce the further legislative powers envisaged for Local Authorities.

    —  additional resources are found for Local Highway Authorities, which are the key agent for implementing the White Paper's measures;

    —  clarification is provided on the relationship between capital and revenue funding with Local Transport Plans;

    —  changes are made in the SSA formula to allow for Concessionary fares to be separately identified and credited to whichever Local Authority is responsible for the operation of the scheme in their area;

    —  greater flexibility is afforded to traffic management criteria for rural areas.


 
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