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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 500 - 519)



  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.

Mr O'Brien

  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 your view?
  (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 to measure.

  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 on that?
  (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 very quickly.


  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 things.

Mrs Dunwoody

  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 your attitude.
  (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.

Mr O'Brien

  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.

Miss McIntosh

  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 of travel.
  (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 two legs.

Christine Butler

  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 authorities?
  (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.

Christine Butler

  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 into account.
  (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 accept—and I am speaking as a lay person rather than in terms of policy—that 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 walking—and also diet and other factors—that is going to improve their potential for literally quality as well as length of life is something that we would want to pursue.

Mrs Dunwoody

  516. But you do not control their diet and you do control their transport. That is, actually, quite a fundamental difference.
  (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.

Mr Brake

  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 the difference?
  (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.

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