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

Memorandum by the Civil Engineering Contractors Association (IT 60)



  The Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA) represents over 200 civil engineering companies, both large and small, throughout the UK. Formed in November 1996, it is the single wholly representative body for Britain's civil engineering contractors.

  CECA members are responsible for the construction and maintenance of infrastructure of all kinds, ports and harbours, airports, railways, light rail and tramways, and inland waterways as well as roads.

  CECA's eight regional associations cover the whole of England, Scotland and Wales and they determine policy through a Council and Committees nominated by the regional associations. This regional structure enables CECA to speak with authority on behalf of its members throughout the country.

  The Transport White Paper was considered by a group of senior Contractors with wide ranging experience of infrastructure construction. The following submission is focused on those aspects of the White Paper, which directly affect the transport network and the civil engineering industry. Additionally CECA consulted with the Confederation of British Industry, the Local Government Association and the British Road Federation.


  In its October 1997 Submission to the Government's Green Paper "Developing an integrated Transport Policy" CECA welcomed an end to the uncertainty that had affected transport policy in recent years. The submission outlined various practical transport congestion solutions.

CECA welcomes the inclusion of its following previously suggested solutions in the July 1998 Transport White Paper:

    —  Encouragement of public transport usage.

    —  Changes to local authority capital funding.

    —  Establishment of a long-term road maintenance programme.

    —  Usage of new technology to reduce congestion.

    —  Commitment to integrated schemes such as park and ride

    —  Reform of planning regulations.

    —  Safety improvements.

    —  Rail freight stimulus.

    —  Environmental considerations.

CECA has concern however, over the following proposals/omissions in the 1998 Transport White Paper:

    —  Lack of urgency with many measures not operational until after the next general election—maintenance only spending on roads for a further two years, commitment only to start road building programme within the next seven years.

    —  Lack of commitment to light rail schemes—effectively ruling out a congestion solution.

    —  The de-trunking process—condition of roads at the transfer time and subsequent changes to local authority finance.

    —  No ring fencing of road traffic taxation of maintenance.

    —  The number of roads postponed for further consultation thus leaving the road network incomplete.

    —  Congestion charing methods—more "stick than carrot" when public transport alternatives are not yet in place.

    —  Ambiguity over the Commission for Integrated Transport, Regional Planning Conferences and Local Transport Plans.

  This Submission considers the White Paper and the items listed above in the context of rail, road, aviation, the waterways; and the new policy instruments to such as the Commission for Integrated Transport, Regional Planning Conferences and Local Transport Plans.


  CECA welcomes the aspirations of the Transport White Paper, as it promotes rail travel as part of an integrated transport system developing rail as a viable alternative to road traffic for business, leisure and freight. Policy tools such as Local Transport Plans, the Strategic Rail Authority, revised planning guidance to encourage extra movement of freight by rail, and a target of doubling traffic in five years and tripling it in 10 years.

The Present Situation

  CECA welcomes moves to increase the profile of the rail industry although the Government must use an accurate starting point as its premise. Research shows that by doubling freight traffic, 87 per cent of all freight would remain on the road. In failing to acknowledge this, the Transport White Paper serves to damage its objectives by raising aspirations which cannot be met in the short term.

  The Transport White Paper acknowledges Railtrack's commercial obligations, many of which are outlined in their 1998-99 Business Plan[12] covering the network for the period beyond 2001. Although CECA acknowledges the Transport White Paper is the start of a process leading towards integrated transport, Railtrack's commitments must be taken into consideration with any Government plans. The Business Plan clearly states Railtrack's commercial objective is to increase train paths as they represent their main income stream.

  It is this objective, and not the Transport White Paper that will drive the rail infrastructure forward and the Government must understand and accept this premise.

Rail Infrastructure Fund

  It is unclear as to how the Infrastructure Investment Fund, and its objective to fund investment proposals such as relieving congestion "pinch points", relate to Railtrack's Business Plan.

Strategic Rail Authority

  The establishment of the SRA will help to maintain the higher profile of the rail industry, and its role to set more demanding performance targets for the rail operating companies should help increase competition and so boost the rail industry.

  Although the Transport White Paper outlines a number of roles for the SRA, CECA believes the SRA would be most effective if it were given a clearly defined remit and real powers such as the ability to levy fines, and its membership was carefully selected to ensure members had industry experience. CECA believes the Committee should recommend that the Government consult fully with Industry to ensure SRA membership is balanced.

Rail Freight

  The objective to double rail freight in five years and triple it in 10 years is welcome but, as stated above, the Government may have overestimated the likelihood of this happening. Although, there is evidence, that the major retailers are adopting their own commercial solutions to their distribution problems as the number of new rail freight depots grows. CECA believes the Government should go much further to encourage rail freight movement. The moratorium on further British Railways Board land sales announced in the Transport White Paper is welcome as such land offers great benefits for freight distribution. However, the moratorium on its own is not enough and the Government should develop further incentives for rail freight movement.

  Incentives could be offered to rail companies to reopen disused railway lines (where economic) and the rail companies could be encouraged by the SRA to make rail freight movement as easy as possible. At present it is very easy to move a train of the same goods by rail but very difficult to move a single wagon in a train.

  Freight grants such as the Freight Facilities Grant, wil encourage more use of existing rail lines and the development of re-cycling facilities and improved transport links to manufacturing bases. However, the application procedure and selection criteria need to be simplified and steps must be taken to ensure a smooth transfer when their administration is transferred from the DETR to the Strategic Rail Authority.

Trans European Networks

  The commitment to work with the European Union to fund Trans European networks is most useful. However, CECA is concerned over the recent decision not to fund the Channel Tunnel Rail Link into central London. This final link would help to improve the economic viability of the entire project and a decision has been postponed for the immediate future. CECA believes the project to be a vital link in an integrated transport system. The postponement of such an important project could damage the public's perception of the Government's ability to deliver the aspirations of the Transport White Paper.

Revised Planning Guidance

  Although also dealt with later in this Submission, CECA hopes there will be an opportunity for Industry to make a contribution to any changes to regional planning guidance in order to ensure that any new guidance is of the highest quality. If this is not the case, it is difficult to see how this could encourage more freight to make the switch from road to rail.

Light Rail Schemes

  In areas with existing rail lines light rail schemes have proved a great success, as the Manchester Metrolink system demonstrates. The Transport White Paper gives little encouragement to the development of further light rail schemes, despite their continuing popularity with the public. CECA is concerned at the Government's decision to effectively rule out a possible transport congestion solution. This attitude seems to run contrary to the spirit of the Transport White Paper which the Government see as a starting point for further discussion. CECA believes the Committee should encourage the Government to look again at the benefits of light rail schemes where appropriate.


Road Maintenance

  CECA welcomes the decision to invest an extra £700 million in road maintenance over the next three years. However, the Committee should be aware that this figure was based on 100 per cent of the current network and the Transport White Paper contains proposals for reducing the network by 30 per cent through the de-trunking process. There is also concern that the money could be used for other purposes and CECA suggests this money be ring fenced for road maintenance only.

  The Transport White Paper proposal for a long term maintenance strategy to avoid expensive "late maintenance" will save money but CECA feels this new approach needs to be monitored and the Committee might consider the establishment of performance criteria to ensure the work is carried out satisfactorily.

Road Schemes

  Taken together the Comprehensive Spending Review, the Roads Review announcement and the Transport White Paper paved the way for 37 road schemes to be started within seven years. Although welcome, CECA is concerned over the duration of the start period for these roads. The Government has accepted the principle of spreading its maintenance workload, but does not appear to apply the same principle to new road schemes. Many of the road schemes are urgently required, e.g., M6 junction 11-16 widening in Birmingham and the M25 junctions 16-19. CECA hopes these road schemes will be started as a matter of urgency.

  Another issue is the 55 road schemes referred for further consultation through Regional Planning Conferences. Roads contained in the Review have already been reviewed on three previous occasions when their benefits to the communities affected had already been proven. CECA is concerned over the criteria used to prioritise these roads.

  The Appraisal Summary Tables[13] published by the DETR, used to prioritise road schemes, state that for certain road schemes a switch to rail is unlikely to reduce congestion and suggests the road scheme is the only viable solution. This is the case with the M1 and M6 vital transport arteries, subject to further reviews by RPCs. Subjecting these roads schemes to further consultation does not help to alleviate the problems of the communities affected and undermines the aspirations of the Transport White Paper as the road network remains incomplete until they are built. CECA hopes these roads can be subject to early reconsideration.

Trunk Roads—The De-Trunking Process

  The de-trunking process will take place over a seven year period and CECA is concerned over legal procedures, technical difficulties and time scale associated with de-trunking and the proposed virtual de-trunking process. The question of the right of a local authority to refuse to accept a trunk road is not answered by the Transport White Paper and CECA would like the Government to issue some early guidance on this matter.

  There are also concerns over the ability of Local Authorities to maintain the new roads within their budgets especially if there is not a sufficient transfer of resources to enable them to maintain their new responsibilities. CECA would again suggest money for road maintenance is ring fenced. CECA perceives there to be problems over the condition of roads at the time of handover which could delay important maintenance work. To ensure the success of this programme, a minimum standard of road maintenance and upkeep must be applied to the de-trunked roads to ensure they are maintained at a consistent level throughout the country. The Government may consider some type of roads regular, similar to those in the education and prisons sectors to monitor the road network. Such a move would increase the public's confidence in the trunk road network and assist local authorities with their budgetary planning.

Congestion Charging Methods

  The objectives of the Transport White Paper will be achieved through the encouragement of car drivers (as the largest road users) to switch to other forms of transport. CECA believe this process should be attempted through a "carrot and stick" method and should begin once viable public transport systems are in place. In order to maintain the support of the public any income raised from congestion charging would have to be ring fenced for road infrastructure development and improvement.

  The suggestions in the Transport White Paper, including a car parking tax and special tolls for specific motorway lanes, will be difficult to enforce and install, not least due to the IT commitment. The Government must also be careful not to implement these little tried methods and so inadvertently penalise low-income households or rural communities where currently there is no alternative to the car.


Airport Strategy

  The 30-year airport policy designed to encourage the integration of airports with other forms of transport is welcome, as is the objective to build transport links to airports. However, the Transport White Paper fails to answer the funding question of such links, pushing the funding commitment onto the aviation industry with the suggestion they use income raised from airport car parking charges.

  The provision of transport links to airports is vital, not only to the economic future of the country as aviation grows in importance, but also in the role aviation plays in the integrated transport system. This can be seen from the growth in the domestic flight market; and especially as the Transport White Paper reveals the congestion pinch points for the road and rail networks are virtually in the same places.

  If this market is to continue to grow, transport links such as rail links must be constructed. Simply expecting the aviation industry to foot the bill is not realistic, especially in the case of local authority owned airports.

  The Government should, perhaps consider incentives to encourage the development of public/private partnership programmes to finance the considerable costs of airport rail links in order to meet the Transport White Paper objective of a reduction in the dominance of road travel to airports.


Inland Waterways

  The Transport White Paper is correct to acknowledge the potential of the Country's canal network. Opportunities exist for the transportation of waste on the Manchester Ship Canal and the Thames for example and the Government should offer greater incentives to encourage this movement. Canals could also be exploited in tourist locations not only in the traditional manner of boating holidays but perhaps also for transportation, again Government incentives are required to encourage this development.

Integrated Ports

  CECA is pleased to note the acknowledgement in the Transport White Paper of the 3.5 per cent of road freight that could be diverted to water but is disappointed by the lack of spending commitment in the Paper to encourage this movement.

  As with aviation, rail links to ports need to be developed and CECA will support the Strategic Rail Authority in its efforts to encourage the review of rail access to major ports.

  However, the lack of specific resources or even a strategic pointer as where resources and incentives could be sought is missing from the Transport White Paper.


Commission for Integrated Transport

  The Commission for Integrated Transport will help to maintain the profile of integrated transport and will be at its most effective if it has a detailed remit and a membership of sufficient quality to ensure the Government listens to its recommendations. It will fail to meet its objectives if it simply becomes a "talking shop".

  The Transport White Paper establishes various bodies to implement its work. To ensure these are as effective as possible, CECA suggests one of the roles of the Commission for Integrated Transport could be to monitor the overall development of the integrated transport system, perhaps through the use of performance monitoring.

  CECA urges the Government to consult widely over the membership of the Commission and would suggest the Committee recommend that membership contains Industry figures. CECA would certainly be willing to serve on the Commission, and because of its position as the trade association representing the infrastructure constructors, would be able to ensure design and building characteristics were considered at an early stage in a transport solution to ensure maximum value for money for the tax-payer.

Regional Planning Conferences

  The Transport White Paper acknowledges the role planning guidance has to play in the creation of an integrated transport system. CECA commends the Government's approach in establishing guidance through consultation with Chambers of Commerce, the Highways Agency, SRA, transport operators and infrastructure providers. CECA welcomes the opportunity to contribute toward this consultation. The aims of the Transport White Paper rest with the Planning Guidance, which will enable changes to be implemented. The Committee may wish to suggest interested parties are consulted over planning guidance changes.

Local Transport Plans

  The requirement of Local Authorities to draw up five year Local Transport Plans set within Regional Planning Guidance is welcomed by CECA. However, CECA shares the concern of local government over the lack of current guidance over how these plans are expected to work in practice. CECA suggests the Committee ensure the Government not only consults widely when establishing guidance for these plans, but issues some early clarification as to their likely remit as a matter of urgency.


  CECA welcomes the first White Paper to address transport issues for over 20 years and is ready to help the Government achieve the objectives of the Transport White Paper. Having carefully examined the document, CECA believes the objectives of the Transport White Paper can be met if the suggestions and concerns outlined in this Submission are addressed. CECA wishes to participate in the dialogue which will deliver an integrated transport system and hopes the Environment, Transport and the Regional Affairs Committee will consider the following points as part of its deliberations:

    —  Consultation—the Government must consult widely when establishing the Commission for Integrated Transport, and the Strategic Rail Authority and when drawing up Regional Planning Guidance, and Local Transport Plans to ensure these bodies and plans have a defined remit and real power. They will not succeed if they become "talking shops" or if their recommendations fail to command respect. They must not be dominated by any group and to ensure the fullest possible success Industry must be involved. CECA asks the Government to make use of the unique expertise civil engineering contractors offer, in order to ensure that the benefits of innovation and real value for money is gained for the taxpayer.

    —  Consistency—the public and Industry will be willing to co-operate to achieve the Transport White Paper objectives if the Government maintains a consistent approach to its decision making. Contradictions, such as Government support for Trans European Networks with the postponement of the final phase of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link into central London, sent a confused message to Industry and the public alike. Similarly, the criteria used to prioritise road and other transport schemes must be consistent to maintain the support of the communities and Industries affected.

    —  Commitment—if the Government really wants an integrated transport system it must increase transport spending. Transport spending may not be as well received as education or health spending, but it is a vital investment in the economic well being of the country, which will help to generate the finance for tomorrow's schools and hospitals. New revenue raising methods are in their infancy and so local authority spending and rail and road maintenance funding assessments must be increased; in the case of local authorities to encompass their new trunk road responsibilities, and that money must be ring fenced for future road maintenance. Similarly possible transport schemes such as light rail schemes should not be rejected if they are the most effective solution.

    —  Reality—an integrated transport system will not be created unless the Government appreciates the realities of the current transportation system as its starting point and in particular, the commercial realities the providers of the transport system; the rail, aviation and road transport industries operate within. Delayed spending on road, and other transport solutions, is a false economy which places both further commercial pressure on Industry and discourages investment. If the UK is to remain competitive, and if the public are to be persuaded to alter the manner in which they travel real commitment and early implementation of the necessary schemes must occur.

12   Railtrack Network Management Statement. Back

13   Understanding the New Approach to Appraisal-A Guide, Complete Set of the Appraisal Summary Tables, DETR. Back

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Prepared 28 April 1999