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


Memorandum by the Country Landowners Association (IT 77)

INTEGRATED TRANSPORT WHITE PAPER

1. BACKGROUND

  The CLA represents the interests of 50,000 members in England and Wales, who between them own some five million hectares of land. Our members manage a very wide range of businesses in rural areas—farms, estates, rural workshops, tourist enterprises, fishing lakes, and so on. They represent a sizeable proportion of all "Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises" (SMEs) in England and Wales. As such, they have a direct interest in ensuring that Government transport policy facilitates the continuing development of their businesses. The CLA welcomes the stated aims of "A new deal for transport: better for everyone" to provide a new, integrated approach to transport policy. However, in practice we have doubts that the policies set out therein will address the real problems associated with rural transport issues. We append a note of the key issues as we see them at Annex A.

2. OVERVIEW

  The broad thrust of the policy—shifting resources from road-building to a more integrated approach between different types of transport, incorporating land use planning policies, providing more support for public transport, integrating the environment and new moves to manage traffic—is to be broadly welcomed. Rural transport problems are specifically mentioned at a number of points. Additional resources have been earmarked for community transport schemes. However, there remain considerable concerns for the rural economy.

3. ADMINISTRATIVE CHANGES

  A number of significant changes are proposed, and those which the CLA considers have a rural impact are set out below:

  A Commission for Integrated Transport is to be created to advise Government on the implementation of its integrated transport policy, to monitor developments across transport, environment health and other sectors. It will make recommendations on road traffic targets and forecasts, lorry weights, rail freight, safety, green transport and the new rural bus partnership fund in England. The Commission will include representatives of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as well as a transport user representative. The CLA considers it will be extremely important to ensure that at least one of the permanent members has expertise in issues related to rural transport, and is able to protect the interests of rural communities.

  The creation of regional transport strategies by Regional Planning Conferences, or similar groups of local authorities, working with the Government Offices for the Regions in partnership with RDAs will introduce a new tier of regional consultation and planning. The plans will have to be drawn up in close consultation with the Regional Chamber, and be discussed at a public examination before approval by the Secretary of State. Such a change has direct resource implications for rural local authorities, which will need to be matched by new funding if it is not to impact on the delivery of existing rural services. Rural businesses will also be put to the costs of dealing with another layer of bureaucracy.

  The White Paper sets considerable emphasis on the need for local action and community initiatives. Local Transport Plans form the centrepiece of the Government's proposals. Local authorities will be required to produce integrated transport plans for their areas over a five year period. These will include proposed investment, and packages of measures including traffic management, traffic calming, road user and non-residential parking charging. They will cover all forms of transport, and will include social measures aimed at reducing exclusion and addressing the needs of different groups. Authorities will need to agree a common/complementary approach on cross-boundary issues.

  The CLA is concerned that there is as yet no mechanism for delivering best practice on local transport issues across widely disparate rural areas. We have already seen urban hard engineering based traffic calming schemes transposed into deeply inappropriate rural situations. We would call for Government research, in conjunction with the Countryside Commission and Rural Development Commission, to build up a database of environment and amenity friendly traffic calming design solutions, and to provide best practice guidelines on rural transport plans.

  Local authorities will be required, by formal guidance (not yet published) to ensure that land use allocations in development control plans and local Agenda 21 strategies are taken into account in drawing up the plans. The CLA recognises a danger that a too narrow focus on transport impacts may militate against other highly important rural regeneration objectives. Guidance should ensure that transport plans do not concentrate on potential traffic impacts to the point where rural development issues are sidelined.

  One idea that seem to us to have merit is to give consideration to rural transport interchanges, to include car parking provision, where intermodality might be augmented by intensification of use. Car sharing "park and hitch a ride" schemes might increase car occupancy rates, and allow for shifts from one mode of transport to another. Revised planning guidance would be needed to enable testing of this proposal.

  Overall, whilst the CLA would agree that the fundamental intent—to empower local communities—is laudable, we are concerned that the initiative may end up draining resources and generating more paper than practical benefits. In the worst case it may harm the economic development of rural areas, with negative consequences for the country as a whole.

4. FUNDING

  The CLA agrees that Local Authorities should be empowered to raise and keep new local taxes imposed on non-residential parking spaces and congestion charges (tolls for use of heavily congested roads). Consultation on the details will be undertaken, but in the longer term very substantial sums may be raised in this way. We are concerned, however that whilst it will be relatively easy to identify urban public transport schemes which might benefit from this income, and where changes in travel modes will provide the benefits required, it is considerably harder to do so in the countryside. Rural businesses will inevitably continue to have to use private transport to conduct transactions in urban areas. Access to the services that are provided only in towns may also require car journeys by rural dwellers, especially in the absence of frequent, convenient and affordable public transport. Unless modal interchanges are widely available and well serviced with cheap bus or rail links into towns, road pricing may end up acting as a regressive tax on the population of rural areas, especially on low income households, which have no option but to use the car.

  The CLA regrets that there is no new funding for rural areas in the White Paper beyond the March 1998 Budget announcement. The new Rural Bus Partnership fund of £45 million a year (to support bus services in rural areas) together with a further £5 million a year for the Rural Transport Partnership is welcome. However, the predicted additional bus services cannot begin to compensate for the social exclusion suffered by rural dwellers who have no option but to continue to use their cars and pay the increased petrol tax. The CLA considers that if the rate of petrol tax continues to rise at 6 per cent above inflation, incentives for environmentally friendly fuels and cleaner vehicles and smaller cars will not answer the charge that the tax is regressive. We would propose that adjustments be made to the road fund license rate for low mileage users or rural dwellers, (whichever is more administratively convenient) in order to balance the environmental objective of an increased fuel duty (aiming to reduce car mileage) against the objectives of a just society.

  The CLA further questions the very large reduction in the funding for new roads. We have no doubt that it is unrealistic to expect that new roads can always be built to meet demand, and therefore agree that demand must be managed . However, in our view the Government has gone too far in seizing the opportunity for capital savings that a re-alignment of policy enables. In particular, many people living in small villages and market towns suffer an unbearable affliction from existing traffic levels in streets that were never designed for such throughflows. Loss of life and property ensues, environmental affects are multiplied, and whole communities suffer. The policies set out in the White Paper are unlikely to lead to an overall reduction of traffic, but only to a reduction in the rate of increase. For many of the communities affected by traffic problems, the best practicable environmental option is a village bypass. The CLA considers that funding should continue to be made available to address these local problems both through the trunk road programme and through local transport five year plans, if necessary in parallel with other traffic control measures.

5. REGULATION

  Tighter emission standards for new cars and light vans will be introduced and those able to afford them will also presumably be able to take advantage of the proposed small car tax rates.

  In England, the guidance notes on Transport, Development Plans and Housing will be revised. In Wales, the guidance provided in Planning Guidance (Wales): Planning Policy, Planning Guidance (Wales): Unitary Development Plans, and appropriate Technical Advice Notes will be revised. The CLA considers that whilst major new development should be accessible to jobs leisure and services by foot, bicycle and public transport, a distinction will need to be drawn. Importantly, not only will there need to be recognition of "the need in rural areas to promote service provision" (paragraph 4.166), but also that small scale local development will continue to be needed in localities where foot, bicycle and public transport access is neither available or feasible.

  The Draft Planning Guidance on integration of development plans with new Local Transport plans will be critical in ensuring the right balance is struck. Local Planning Authorities will need to consider the economic sustainability of rural areas at the same time as traffic reduction targets.

  The Verney report on the Minerals planning regime (1976) drew attention to the need for minerals development to make greater use of rail and water transport. The CLA considers the recommendations set out therein for improved railhead and depot facilities bear revisiting today.

6. CONCLUSIONS

  Most of the transport problems addressed in the White Paper are urban, as are the solutions. That being said, there is recognition of the different needs and problems of rural bus services and an emphasis that local transport plans should not be exclusively urban. It remains to be seen however how far rural problems will be addressed at local level. The additional funding dedicated to rural transport schemes is negligible compared to the revenue raised by the increase in fuel duty[1].

  The emphasis on highway maintenance is welcome, but the funding for this is to be found from the cancellation of many bypasses, much desired at local level. It appears that environmental sensitivity is conveniently allied with a very large reduction of expenditure in the roads programme, which will ensure that many rural areas continue to suffer from difficulty of access to markets.

  New emphasis on traffic reduction and protection of the environment in terms of road use and attendant noise and air pollution may be inimical to rural development in all its forms: it is possible to foresee very restrictive rural planning policies as a direct consequent of local transport plans. There will need to be clear Government guidance to ensure local economic development is not unnecessarily restricted.

  Rural businesses and country dwellers may also see an increase in costs of access to towns via congestion charging in the longer term.

  We broadly welcome the Government's intention to develop an integrated transport policy. We welcome their acknowledgement of the specific transport problems in rural areas, together with their social and economic implications. At the same time however, we are concerned that the practical measures proposed have a generally urban focus or may prove counter-productive for those who live or work in rural areas. Such proposals include the charging for workplace parking, for access to towns, or for rural areas in times of high seasonal (tourism-related) traffic.

Country Landowners Association

September 1998


1   To set expenditure on the new rural transport projects in context, planned expenditure on transport in 1998 includes some £1.6 billion on railways in GB, around £3 billion on local transport in England and £1.3 billion for the English trunk and motorway network. Back


 
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