Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 400 - 419)



  400. You could not put a number of years on it as to how much the delay would be for this reason?
  (Mr Harris) There is a key issue to that, in terms of trying to bring in some solutions, because in preparing the evidence we felt that we needed to steer towards some practical solutions here. The key message that is coming from professional bodies—because we did not just survey our own members—is that unified institute action is what is needed here. There are already examples of good practice with the Institution of Civil Engineers Skills Working Party and through the Transport Planning Skills Initiative, of actually trying to bring together institutes to try to drive forward solutions. The problem that we have—and I will give you a very clear example—is take a highways department that does not have the skill, for example, to deal with a lot of transport modelling, and its technical staff need to go on crash courses to get on with the job; they can actually be sent on that course and return to the office and apply that skill in the workplace. For somebody who has to gain the confidence of good public communication, they have been, in a sense, in the back office and now they have to deal proactively with members, with committees, with public meetings, and potentially manage confrontation. That skill set cannot be handed over on a blueprint, and that will take some time. So in answer to your question, I think it depends on the type of scheme with which we are concerned. If the shortage for an authority, for example, is a practical one in terms of getting something built—in other words, the go-ahead has already been given, there is a clear way through, everyone wants it—then it is technical skill shortage. If we are talking about being able to get some cogent messages over to the public, then actually you could see a potential delay, I suppose, of perhaps one to two years on key schemes whilst these things are sorted out.

  401. Public transport is seen as essential to city centre regeneration. Do you see any evidence that it has been effective and will be more so in the next 10 years?
  (Mr Coates) I think things are moving in the right direction. I ought to say that as an Institute we do not have a completely comprehensive, accurate picture of what is going on, so what I will say is a bit impressionistic. We are worried that things are not going ahead fast enough; that the quality of bus partnerships are not as widespread and as radical as they ought to be; that where there are already partnerships, perhaps either the bus companies or the local authorities are not delivering the things that they promised. We have been talking earlier about the railways. One of the concerns, apart from those you have already discussed, is that the SRA in its plan has delayed some of the schemes that would benefit provincial cities until after 2010, and in terms of the funds for implementing the multi-modal studies, half of those have been transferred to rail, so what will be available to implement the multi-modal studies towards the end of the ten-year period is less than we had been hoping. So we think there is a need for a more active programme, and we think that probably it will be helpful if the Government would not just leave it to the local authorities, but would give them a bit more active lead. We are all waiting to see what is going to be in the regional transport strategies. If we are lucky, that may unlock the door, because it will remove some of the rivalry between adjacent cities and they may all try and get on with it, but we have not seen any regional strategies yet, and the local transport plans will then have to be revised in the light of the regional strategies. It is all taking a long time, and so we are a bit sceptical about achieving the improvements that we would all like to see by 2010.

  402. Do you think that in the Government's 10 Year Plan its measures for success are the right ones? It talks a lot about numbers of increased journeys in various areas. How would you measure success?
  (Mr Coates) We agree generally with what the Government say. My colleagues may want to add to this. We think it is right to look at the consequences of traffic flows, rather than traffic itself, so to have a target for reducing congestion and to be aiming to reduce pollution rather than traffic itself, but we think the Government have not thought out the land-use objectives clearly enough. It would be quite possible to reduce congestion in the centre of a city and find that you have driven a lot of business away to other places. That will not be consistent with the Government's policies. It would be possible to get lots of extra passengers onto the buses, but they are not people who previously were going by car; perhaps they were not making journeys at all, perhaps they were previously walking or cycling. Reducing bus fares without improving the quality could have that sort of result. What I am saying is that in looking at the outputs, we need to look at what lies behind them, we need to look at why the passenger numbers have gone up and what the mode shift is, and we need to look at the spatial distribution of journeys and how that is changing. Unless you look at those, you may end up with something that looks good perhaps but actually is not.

Mr O'Brien

  403. Can we build ourselves out of congestion?
  (Mr Coates) Not in cities, I think. On the inter-urban road network there probably is a case for building extra capacity and dealing with bottlenecks and junctions, for instance. We do not object to the Government's proposals for adding extra lanes to motorways. We think you need to look at that and do a proper cost/benefit analysis and choose the option that comes out best. We hope that is what the multi-modal studies will show.

  404. Have you done any research on this?
  (Mr Coates) Not ourselves, no.

  405. 88 per cent of the respondents to your survey believe that local authorities will not be able to deliver the measures set out in the 10 Year Plan. What aspects of the Plan will they not achieve, in your opinion, and how important are they to the Plan?
  (Mr Nutt) I think the response of members was that there was interest in several respects. I mentioned earlier on the whole business of land use and whether or not local authorities' focus was felt to be on land-use interventions. 55 per cent of the membership were saying certainly that it should be, and that was the top priority, but when it came to looking at whether or not the focus would be on that set of interventions then it was felt by only 43 per cent that it would be. With some of those gaps—perception gaps, if you like, when it came to demand management and charging in particular—there was a response of just 21 per cent saying that it should be part of the set of interventions employed, but when it came to looking at the local authority representatives in that sample just 10 per cent of the local authority representatives responding felt that charging would figure in the set of interventions employed. So there are some marked differences here. Referring to the earlier question about whether there are any grounds for optimism here in relation to public transport, I think it is the first evidence I have found where we look at the public transport operators, the people working within the operations world, and in their responses to some of these questions they felt there was rather more ground for optimism than some of the local authority officers. I can honestly attribute that to the fact that these days quality partnerships that we were talking about earlier on are becoming real, in a sense, operators are beginning to put the likely consequence of quality partnerships into their management accounts and consider them a substantial part of their future.

  406. 55 per cent of the respondents identified the issue of land-use. Do you think that is perhaps one of the barriers preventing local authorities from meeting their targets?
  (Mr Nutt) I think the fact that there is a gap there, in terms of what the professionals think they should be doing as opposed to what they will do, is an issue for us to think about.

  407. Are there other barriers that are preventing local authorities from doing that?
  (Mr Nutt) The particular barriers were felt to be public opposition to some of the policies, the lack of political will to implement against some of that opposition and so on. I think that is a slightly changing picture. I myself have been involved in research a year prior to this looking at local authority officers' responses, and there is some evidence of change in this. The whole business of whether or not the politicians and the public are convinced by the Plan is material to whether or not people think it will actually be implemented.

  408. Do you think there should be more input into local plans?
  (Mr Nutt) I think one important question for us—one important question that this survey has posed to us as professionals certainly in the Institute—is whether or not the professionals themselves believe that the Plan can be delivered in this way. We are going to explore this in a set of regional seminars later in the spring with the RICS, ourselves and the Transport Planning Society. We think there may be a need certainly to promote some of the changing ideas here in transport planning and the set of interventions at disposal to the professionals as well. Perhaps we are not picking up on some of these changes to the right degree.

  409. Finally, can I put it to you, if charging were one of the ways of meeting the target—and obviously there may be reluctance on the part of local authorities or the local councils to introducing charges—should the Government do it?
  (Mr Coates) Perhaps I could answer that one. I think the right strategy for a particular locality is really for that place, because what is appropriate varies from one to another. However, there is a point that Mr Dawson made when he was giving evidence earlier, which is that a lot of the worst congestion is on the radial roads on the approaches to cities, and that affects long-distance traffic and freight traffic as well as the local traffic. We think that the Government should at least insist that charging is properly looked at in the multi-modal studies, and that it is taken seriously. We think it ought to be carefully considered in the regional strategies, and that the Government ought to be a party to that. So I think the answer to your question is a qualified yes, the Government ought to get involved, but the detail of it as it applies to a particular city should really fall to the politicians and the population of the area.

Helen Jackson

  410. Where you are talking about the radial roads into cities, where the congestion is worse and it affects a variety of types of traffic, do you think that it is on specifically those routes that priority can be given to public transport through bus lanes? Where local authorities are reluctant to do this, is there a case for the Government stepping in?
  (Mr Coates) If it is one of the Highways Authority's roads, then of course the Government has a direct involvement. I think that otherwise I would say that the role of public transport improvements, including bus priority, is mainly for the local authority.

  411. Can I follow that up, because one scenario, from what you are saying, is that there could be wide variety between cities and local authorities in achieving the Government's 10 Year Plan, could there not?
  (Mr Coates) Yes.

  412. Have you worked out ways in which different cities can be monitored in their success in contributing to the Government's 10 Year Plan?
  (Mr Nutt) I think that under the arrangements of the local transport plan the mechanisms, if you like, already exist, in that the local authorities have to produce the annual performance report and report, as it were, on their success in meeting their own objectives and their targets. There is a record built up over time, annually, as to whether or not those targets are being achieved. If the relationship between Government and local government is such that local government can pursue slight changes to their strategy, then one would expect to see the variety that Jim Coates was talking about begin to emerge over time. That is going to depend on that relationship and the extent to which they can make changes to their strategies.

  413. Is there room for fine-tuning those targets?
  (Mr Nutt) I think there is almost by definition again in this process the opportunity for Government to have an impact on that, in that the judgements on the amount of finance to be put forward into a particular area can be made on the basis of the evidence of the annual performance reports. As I understand it, that is the basis of that process, so annually you have that opportunity.

Andrew Bennett

  414. In 1997 the Department of Transport and the Environment were put together. Has that worked?
  (Mr Coates) I suppose that as a former civil servant in these departments I do not think it has worked quite as strongly as one would have expected, in the sense that I do not quite see the land-use planning and the transport planning parts of the agenda quite so closely entwined as I would have thought. I have to say, I have no inside knowledge of what has been going on in the Department. There are things like the PPG13 (Planning Policy Guidance) which are very much about bringing transport and planning together. That document I think was prepared jointly by the two sides. The fact that there are no land-use planning objectives in the 10 Year Plan gives me a worry that it did not work as well as it might have done.

  415. In terms of land-use planning, could you really be working on a ten-year scale, or is that too short a scale?
  (Mr Harris) In terms of immediate delivery of the 10 Year Plan, professional bodies have recognised the need for a toolbag for the professionals actually to try to move forward some of the land-use and planning assumptions that you will find in PPG13. Mr Nutt mentioned the Transport Development Area tool which the RICS are developing. That is something which we are endorsing, which we believe that professionals in the wider transport field should use. That brings it down to a local level. It fundamentally looks at constructing denser development around public transport and high-volume modes, very similar to the Dutch ABC land-use approach of placing development strategically where public transport can well serve it. There are a number of examples which have been developed around the country, both in terms of freight movement and in terms of the needs of passengers and local people. Those have been evaluated and are going into a best-practice guide. Through the promotion and understanding of those we would hope that perhaps over the next one or two years local authority professionals would be able to start to integrate these approaches. In London that approach is almost endemic anyway, but it is now actually putting it onto a professional blueprint, and I think it is quite important.

  416. In terms of land-use planning, it is said that substantial numbers of people have been drawn back to live in the centre of Manchester and Birmingham and some of the other cities, is that right?
  (Mr Harris) Yes.

  417. Do we have any idea how that changes their transport behaviour in terms of how they travel, whether they want cars, what they want from transport?
  (Mr Harris) That really depends upon the type of person they are, because obviously you may have students—

  Andrew Bennett: I am asking you what type of people move back into those city centres.


  418. Do you have any evidence?
  (Mr Harris) We have not done any surveys.

Andrew Bennett

  419. Has anybody done anything?
  (Mr Harris) We can certainly check on that for you and send you a note about that. We can certainly find that out for you. Having said that, though, I think the important issue is the way the receiving planning authority treats the use. For example, one authority says, "We will encourage living above the shop and bringing people back into the urban centres." One may say, "We are going to be adamant that these are going to be car-free zones, these are going to attract sustainable-thinking people about the way they travel, and these people will be sympathetic," so by the planning process they are limiting. However, there are others who may say, "In order for this to work, we will have to have underground car parking and we will almost have to bring in the standards that you would expect in suburban areas."

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