Examination of Witnesses (Questions 500
WEDNESDAY 14 MARCH 2001
500. In fact what you are saying is it could
have a significant impact but only at a local level?
(Lord Macdonald of Tradeston) Yes but it could creep,
one would hope, at a national level though I think it is too early
to speculate on how that might take place. Certainly at a local
level it is for the local authority to make those decisions based
on the local transport plans.
501. Minister, the Government Ten Year Transport
Plan is welcome because it does set some objectives but it does
not go by without criticism. Professor Goodwin, the chairman of
the panel of independent advisers, does argue that pedestrianisation
and small schemes to promote walking could reduce congestion more
cost effectively than the Government's roads programme. What is
(Lord Macdonald of Tradeston) I am very happy to talk
with Phil Goodwin about that. He has been a valued adviser to
the Department in the past. We have our concerns about his methodology
and his conclusions on the impact that the Ten Year Plan would
have on congestion overall. I have sympathy with the view that
says it is difficult as yet to measure the impact that a lot of
small schemes will have simply because we are probably more inclined
to try and measure the value for money on large schemes through
the methodology that is available to the Treasury. So you can
look at a Channel Tunnel Rail Link and make a decision on that
investment but it is more difficult if you are faced with, say,
as we were in the local transport plans, 8,500 safety related
schemes on the roads from local authorities. I think there are
about 4,500 kilometres of new bus lanes being put in and so on.
When you get down to the smaller schemes it is more difficult
to work out just what the general impact of all those schemes
will be but I agree with the implication of your question that
it is something we should try very hard to measure because my
instinct, as I suspect yours is, is that there is a lot of good
that can be done by small investment, it is just more difficult
502. Following up what the Chairman said to
your comments about walking in the countryside. There are a lot
of people who do not have the opportunity to walk in the countryside
so their means of walking and exercising is in the urban areas.
Now what is requested in many areas is more pedestrianisation
so the shoppers can walk freely, young mothers can get their exercise
walking without fear of traffic and pollution. What are your views
(Lord Macdonald of Tradeston) I very much welcome
the kind of initiatives that we have seen coming through in the
five year local transport plans. I think that the process that
we have set in train here of allowing councils much more freedom
to dictate their own priorities, in virtually doubling the budget
from the £650 million a year that we had a year ago heading
up towards about £1.7 billion by the end of the SR2000 period,
means that there is far more money to spend, but the local authorities
now are in a process which we can monitor at a departmental level.
We can also share it across authorities if we see particularly
good ideas emerging. We have been encouraging them to develop
skills in areas of transport planning, for instance, which I think
is lifting the general quality of what councils are able to do
and it is also a responsive and I hope flexible process for them.
I believe we will be able to get a much better measure year by
year now of how well we are doing. If it turns out that an accretion
of small schemes is delivering a lot of value in particular areas
then we will be able to get that message round to other councils
503. You have told us the problem of measuring
the small schemes but the Government actually has plumped for
large schemes, presumably because they are easy to measure rather
than they are actually value for money?
(Lord Macdonald of Tradeston) They would not be pursued
if they were not value for money. Clearly there is a great importance
in the expansion, for instance, of our railway system where you
have seen the Strategic Rail Authority yesterday announcing its
ambitions for £60 billion worth of investment in our rail
network across the next ten years. Now some of those schemes,
like the West Coast Mainline Scheme, are very large. Indeed, that
is the biggest railway engineering scheme in Europe. The values
of those schemes are, of course, measurable and very thoroughly
debated across the Government. But we are aware, also, because
we work very closely on joined up Government with our colleagues
in other areas of the DETR that the small schemes can have enormous
impact at the local level. If I could perhaps bring in my fellow
Minister here, she is much better informed on some of these areas
than I am.
(Ms Hughes) I just want to comment, Chairman, on a
number of the questions that have arisen so far because although
understandably the Committee wants to question Lord Macdonald
on the Transport Policy issues and the relevance of walking to
that and whether or not that particular shaft of policy is promoting
walking, I would just like to say that this is a very important
issue for other aspects of the Department's work whether or not
it can be demonstrated in terms of beneficial impacts on macro
transport policy so to speak, the whole urban policy arena, regeneration
of towns and cities, all that we are doing there through planning.
504. We will fairly quickly want to come on
to those issues.
(Ms Hughes) Fine. I just want to say it is not only
whether it is important in terms of touching some of the macro
transport performance measures, it is also important for other
505. If a Government takes a decision on its
budget that is what influences policy. That is what we are asking.
If you decide to put a lot of money back into the road schemes
when previously it has been an agreed policy decision to support
things like railways, for precisely the reason that you have put
forward, then if you suddenly reinstate the large road programme
not surprisingly people will take that as a clear indication of
(Lord Macdonald of Tradeston) Yes but I hope that
what people will take from the monies that have already been announced
is the fact that only about six per cent of our Ten Year Plan
monies are going to new road schemes. If you take just the local
transport plans, the £8.4 billion, then under a billion of
that was going into new road schemes, £4.4 billion was going
into public transport and of the £4 billion going into roads,
£3 billion of it was going into the upgrading and maintenance
of local roads.
506. On those figures, can you tell us how much
is going into encouraging walking?
(Lord Macdonald of Tradeston) No, I could not. I could
not, Chairman, because it is not quantified in that way coming
out of the local authorities. I do believe that we should be working
in the years ahead to try and quantify not just walking but some
of the other areas of investment at local level because it is
very important, now we have created this framework for the first
time, that we are able to locate inside that framework just how
well the smaller schemes are working at local level.
507. A great deal of emphasis has been placed
on county wide transport plans. What guidance is given from the
DETR to help local authorities collectively within the country
to provide more walking facilities, more walking policies and
better pedestrianisation? What advice is given to the local people?
(Lord Macdonald of Tradeston) Could I perhaps ask
Andrew Whybrow just to come in here with the detail of it because
he is in the front line of dealing with the authorities.
(Mr Whybrow) Thank you, Minister. We gave local authorities
advice on all aspects of local transport plans around about early
last year. That included advice to include in the local transport
plan a local strategy for encouraging walking. It was one of a
number of aspects of local transport plans where we said we will
look for certain things to be included as a minimum requirement
and further things as to what would be in a good local transport
plan. We issued further advice in the form of a leaflet on elements
of a good local walking strategy. We have not given a great deal
of advice on detailed design matters but the Institution of Highways
and Transportation has published a fairly extensive document aimed
at professionals which does that.
508. Minister, in PPG13 the Government has said
that it wishes to reduce the need to travel and yet the Government
in its Ten Year Plan has set specific targets for increased travelling,
particularly a 50 per cent increase in the use of rail, a ten
per cent increase in bus travel, and a 100 per cent increase in
light rail. How do you see these two as being complementary?
(Lord Macdonald of Tradeston) In the sense of rail
and bus being complementary?
509. No, the fact that in PPG13 you have said
that the Government wants to reduce the need to travel and yet
in the Ten Year Plan you have set targets to increase each mode
(Lord Macdonald of Tradeston) Well, we believe that
the impulse for growth which will come from a stable and growing
economy will clearly require increased movement of people to jobs.
If you take, for instance, the increase in travel that we have
had on our railways, that is not unconnected with the fact that
this Government has put an extra million people back into work
and they have to get to their work of a morning and get back in
the evening. We are dealing here with the problems of growth right
across the transport sector. I am delighted to say that we have
even got modest growth beginning to develop in the bus sector
now. I would think that these two are not mutually incompatible.
We obviously want to try through planning and through urban design,
as my colleague, Ms Hughes, could explain, to ensure that people
have less need to travel, whether it is to shops, to jobs or to
entertainment, through our long-term planning ambitions. We wish
to ensure that as people do travel more, and with affluence clearly
they will travel more both for leisure and for work, that we have
the expanding infrastructure of transport in this country, in
rail and bus and elsewhere, that will cope with that.
510. In the Government's flagship council, City
of York Council, there is a problem in increasing the number of
passengers travelling by bus because they cannot agree to give
priority to certain bus routes. Is the Government doing anything
to encourage this because if you want to see a true integrated
transport system then you will be encouraging people to walk to
the bus stop and get on board the bus to take them to the train
station to catch the train? Is this not in jeopardy if you cannot
prioritise bus routes to cut through the congestion?
(Lord Macdonald of Tradeston) In general, of course,
I would agree and I would hope that the quality partnerships that
we have set up for public transport in the Transport Act, which
went through in November of last year, will encourage greater
use of buses. We already see signs that bus passengership is up
ten, 20 per cent in those areas where the partnerships are now
working. We will be encouraging that. Anything that we can do
to encourage bus use I believe is welcome. You may have seen the
announcement last week when we ensured that the fuel duty rebate
to public service buses was increased and we are looking again
at other aspects of bus usage and coach usage in particular to
see how we can improve that too.
511. Are you concerned that targets that you
have set may steal from each other? The purpose of our inquiry
is really to encourage more people to walk and there is the possibility
that you are encouraging more people to cycle or to take public
transport and you are discouraging people from walking.
(Lord Macdonald of Tradeston) My belief is with the
inherent growth that we would all hope for in the economy we will
see more journeys. Also, with the great predominance of car usage
in this country there clearly is scope for people to go in large
numbers onto other forms of travel, whether it is on to the bus,
or whether it is on to their bikes, or whether it is on to their
512. Is there a reason why Government on the
one hand informs government officers and highway authorities and
so on very well about its intentions and about what it expects
of them and about the parameters of putting in good local transport
bids in local transport plans which include walking, cycling and
all of that, but on the other hand says very little to the public?
Do you not think that the public have a role to play here in encouraging
the kinds of measures which you might expect coming from local
(Lord Macdonald of Tradeston) I agree of course, but
I would be surprised if local government itself was not trying
to involve its electors in that process. As you say, we have put
very comprehensive information out on what our schemes are, that
is the guidance on the full local transport plans and the walking
strategy that we have evolved.
513. But does every councillor get that? Would
it not be a good idea to make sure that the bare bones of what
this issue is all about in terms of sustainable strategies are
understood and we should involve local people directly? I do not
see it on the ground quite frankly, ordinary people on the street
do not understand what any of this is about. I wondered, Mr Whybrow,
in the work that you do with local authorities, county and metropolitan
authorities in particular, whether any attention is paid to disseminating
the main thrust of this to local populations and whether any monitoring
activity ever takes place and whether that is happening at local
level? Then I want to come on to a connected question.
(Mr Whybrow) We are certainly asking local authorities
to monitor the success or otherwise of their policies at local
level. We are expecting them to keep an eye on what is happening
to walking. One thing the Minister did not mention was the Are
You Doing Your Bit Campaign, which is the Government communicating
directly with the people particularly through advertising. One
of the elements in that campaign is the desirability of walking
rather than cars for short journeys.
Christine Butler: The next question is to either
Chairman: Let us have the question, let them
choose who answers it.
514. Fine. Okay, then. It is to do with health
impacts of walking or not walking. There is concern that the health
benefits that would encourage walking are not being fully taken
(Ms Hughes) In terms of the whole public health emphasis
of Government that is something that is recognised but, more specifically,
in terms of our brief, we have given local authorities a very
broad remit, as you will know, in terms of pursuing anything that
promotes the well-being of people in local communities, socially,
economically or environmentally, but also give them the mechanism
to pursue that. I think that is recognised implicitly in all of
the strands of urban policy regeneration and in what my department
is trying to do to improve the quality of life for people in various
kinds of communities.
515. Do you really think the general public
understands that inertia and not actually having physical activity
brings early deaths quicker in this country than smoking cigarettes?
(Ms Hughes) My own view is that probably there are
different levels of understanding about that, as always, in different
parts of communities, in different parts of the country and in
different social groups. I would acceptand I am speaking
as a lay person rather than in terms of policythat we probably
need to do more to get that message across to those people who
actually need to pay more attention to their health, because they
suffer various disadvantages. Certainly in terms of initiatives
that my department has been responsible for, such as the new deal
for community regeneration, and initiatives generally we cannot
fail to notice the situation of people in those communities. They
have a higher incidence of morbidity, a higher incidence of mortality
and, clearly, anything, including walkingand also diet
and other factorsthat is going to improve their potential
for literally quality as well as length of life is something that
we would want to pursue.
516. But you do not control their diet and you
do control their transport. That is, actually, quite a fundamental
(Ms Hughes) I disagree that we control their transport.
I do not think we can order people to walk. What I think we can
do is to facilitate walking for a whole range of environmental,
regeneration, urban policy and transport measures. We then have
to get the message across to people that where they have a choice
of walking, walking is good for them as well as, very often, good
for their local economies, too.
517. If I paraphrase, Lord Macdonald, what you
said earlier, you stated that by tackling the school run, by promoting
walking and, perhaps, school buses, it could have a significant
impact locally and reduce congestion, and you thought this could
trickle down at a national level. Why is there no national walking
strategy to pull this together?
(Lord Macdonald of Tradeston) I think because it is
such a matter of fact business it would seem to me, perhaps, to
be overblown to say that we must have a national walking strategy.
I believe that it is at local authority level that you will get
the best support for this and the best targeted advice. I do not
see, really, what will be gained by having a national strategy
on walking. I think it is far better to put it in the context
of the investment priorities of the local councils and make sure
that they are better funded than they have ever been in the past,
which is our ambition.
518. Why a national cycling strategy? What is
(Lord Macdonald of Tradeston) Because a cycling strategy,
I believe, is a mode of transport; you get on a machine, you need
rules of the road and you need green lanes painted in the road
at some considerable cost. It is quite different from
519. Surely, for walking you need pavements
to walk on.
(Lord Macdonald of Tradeston) Absolutely, and at a
local level that is fine. I do not share the belief that somehow
we would transform either individual activity or local authority
activity if we had a shining national target.