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

Examination of Witness (Questions 583 - 599)




  583. Good afternoon to you. Would you be kind enough to tell us who you are.

  (Mr Joseph) I am Stephen Joseph,, the Director of Transport 2000, which is an environmental campaign and research group.

  584. Do you have something you would like to say to us, Mr Joseph?
  (Mr Joseph) Paragraph 2 of the written evidence we have submitted summarises our views reasonably accurately on the Ten Year Plan.

  585. Can I ask you a core question. You were set up to campaign to change government focus away from road building and towards public transport. Why have you failed?
  (Mr Joseph) Not for want of trying I think is the answer to that.

  586. I think we could assume that.
  (Mr Joseph) I think that we have succeeded in certain areas and not in others. A long-term institutional bias against public transport in favour of road building does take time to reverse.

  587. Are we talking about particular government departments or governments in general?
  (Mr Joseph) I think we are talking about the institutions in government, about attitudes within the Treasury and within the Department of Transport and in all its various guises over a number of years which has tended to see spending on roads as investment and spending on public transport as subsidy. That has taken time to reverse. What we have now seen, however, in the last few months is a strong appreciation across all parties and at the highest levels of government of the consequences of past policies and the failure to invest in public transport properly.

  588. Would you say that what the Ten Year Plan does is concentrate much more on quite small savings in time instead of improvements in safety?
  (Mr Joseph) I think one of the problems with the Ten Year Plan is that it does focus on big schemes, on long distance transport rather than local transport and local journeys, which is the majority of transport, and on very small time savings for very large numbers of motorists. That is carried forward into the Multi-Modal Studies and some of the other delivery measures within the Ten Year Plan. Our concern is that if the Ten Year Plan carries on as is the case at the moment then we will see a further twist to schemes that promote even more reliance on the car and away from public transport, and less parity for public transport and indeed other measures.

  589. What is that going to be governed by? Is it because there is an imbalance between the way road schemes are already determined, the money is ring fenced, we know what is happening and that the other transport schemes are coming along behind? Is that the determining factor?
  (Mr Joseph) There is a clear delivery mechanism for trunk road schemes and if the Multi-Modal Studies decide that road schemes are going to go ahead then they slip easily into Mr Matthews' delivery programme and they happen. The procedures and processes for implementing public transport schemes at all levels, whether it is rail schemes or whether it is end to end bus priority measures, are much more complicated and messy and have rather less (in some cases) of a political profile and political will behind them and therefore are much less likely to happen.

Chris Grayling

  590. Given the preponderance of car usage in this country, to what degree can we build our way out of congestion? Even if there were a very vast programme of building on public transport, given the projections for growth in transport generally, is it possible to build our way out of the congestion we have today?
  (Mr Joseph) It is not possible to build our way out of road congestion just with public transport or just with roads. In fact, our concern is that governments find it politically convenient to pretend that they can do that, particularly with roads. Our evidence makes it clear that we think a much more complex mix of measures is needed to deal with traffic and a lot of that is about managing demand for roads and also making much more efficient use of the roads and vehicles that we have. We list in the evidence a long list of measures beyond public transport—travel plans for employers for instance. We know that these and school travel plans and some of the individual travel marketing have enormous potential in the places where they have been applied in reducing car use and congestion. The problem, as we see it, is that these small schemes are not aggregated together, are not treated as packages and are not treated together. You might get travel plans or safe routes to school applying in a particular area but it is not generally applied across a whole area and applied together.

  591. On the subject of Multi-Modal Studies, it seems to be there is a degree of the cart being put before the horse here. The Ten Year Plan has been announced, the SRA Strategic Rail Plan has been announced and yet the Multi-Modal Study process is only just getting underway. It seems to me there will be very little likelihood that most of the conclusions of the Multi-Modal Studies can happen within the Ten Year Plan period. Can you give us your impression of Multi-Modal Studies?

  (Mr Joseph) We are very concerned about the mismatch between the Multi-Modal Studies and the Ten Year Plan, both in terms of objectives and in terms of delivery. Transport 2000 has been bringing together the environmental representatives on the steering groups of the Multi-Modal Studies and Road Space Studies so we do have a view of what is happening. Our concern is that studies do not look at what is value for money in terms of delivering the objectives of the Ten Year Plan. They do not say what is the most cost-effective way of reducing child road deaths by 2010 or quadrupling the cycling or any of the other targets within the Ten Year Plan. Very few of the studies, for instance, seem to have taken explicit account of the objective of increasing rail freight by 80 per cent. That means if the Government is looking at the recommendations of any of the specific studies and saying how will this help our achievement of the targets from the Ten Year Plan, they cannot tell that from the studies. There is a real mismatch there. I think there is also a big delivery question and the way in which the Strategic Rail Authority Strategic Plan is worded about this—which essentially says that all schemes in the Multi-Modal studies, at least all the big ones, are going to happen beyond 2010—means that we are very concerned that the road building schemes which are identified in the studies will happen and the rail schemes and some of the other public transport schemes will disappear into the wide blue yonder and the packages in the studies will get unpicked.

  592. Will we end up with a bigger roads programme than we would have had otherwise?
  (Mr Joseph) We estimate, based on eight of the Multi-Modal studies either having reported or having recommended, (and nearly all the Road Based Studies having reported) that something like £4 billion worth of roads plans are in these studies and that is only about a third of the Multi-Modal Studies, so there is quite a lot more to come. What is also clear is that there are some good public transport recommendations coming out of these studies but that the Strategic Rail Authority has been making it clear that these are not within its programme. They are focused on keeping the existing network going and on some big enhancement projects, particularly into the South East. What we see is instead of having a rail budget and a roads budget and also a local transport budget within the Ten Year Plan, we need the roads budget to become a Multi-Modal Studies delivery budget so that if rail schemes are decided, for reasons beyond the Strategic Rail Authority's remit, to be good in terms of relief of congestion or solving local traffic problems, that the Government pays for them as an extra beyond the Strategic Rail Authority's plan or indeed beyond local transport plans. So we think that kind of implementation budget might actually help.

Mrs Ellman

  593. In your evidence you point to the problem of concentrating on national targets and not looking sufficiently at regional and local ones. Could you expand on what you said about the importance of linking with the regional chambers/regional assemblies?
  (Mr Joseph) Yes, I think there are some real cases where particularly on some of the rail schemes, the approach the Strategic Rail Authority has tended to be at odds with what the regional assemblies and regional chambers want. There has been quite a lot of criticism that regions outside the South East in particular have been ignored in the Strategic Plan and several of the objectives that they have identified will not be met. I think there is a broader problem which is that the Multi-Modal Studies set up a process which for local politicians at a regional level is really rather tempting. It says, "Here is a very large slab of money which is not going to come out of anybody's budget at a regional or local level and would you like it or not?" The answer is usually yes. There is a real question—and we have made this point particularly in the case of the Hastings Bypass—that if you had £150 million to spend in Hastings, which is a very depressed and deprived area, then spending it on a very large bypass and creating even more car dependence and out-of-town development which could not be reached by unemployed people in Hastings was probably not the best way of reviving Hastings. Our concern is that transport plans and priorities are not sufficiently bottom-up and are not sufficiently taking account of the regions that I mentioned.

  594. Would you say that the policies and the Ten Year Plan are linked sufficiently with tackling social exclusion?
  (Mr Joseph) Social exclusion is barely mentioned in the Ten Year Plan and we hope that will change with the review. The Cabinet Office Social Exclusion Unit is conducting a study on transport at the moment, but there are very few local transport authorities who have taken social exclusion seriously. I think the transport profession and particularly the Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions is rather struggling to work out what this means in practice. We know from some authorities who have taken this seriously such as Merseyside or Nottingham what this could look like. Merseytravel, for instance, has identified pathway schemes which link areas of high unemployment to areas of education, training and employment opportunities and endeavour to provide high-quality bus services or community transport links and that is precisely the kind of spending project that hardly appears in the Ten Year Plan and seems to be deprioritised within it.

  595. How would plans like the Merseyside one be linked to the targets in the plan?
  (Mr Joseph) By making sure that a full range of options in terms of dealing with social exclusion were included, including revenue funding as well as capital funding. That could involve extra revenue funding for extra bus services, for instance. It might involve demand responsive transport services and taxi buses in more rural areas. The problem is that the Ten Year Plan is a capital programme. It does not include revenue funding nor does it include mainstream local authority revenue funding which has been increasingly under pressure, as I think this Committee has found. Local authorities thus have a lot of capital funding and that skews their priorities. It means that the revenue funding for bus services or for traffic calming or other things is not expanding at the same rate and yet, from the consultations that the local authorities themselves have done on the local transport plans, they are things that people want.

  596. What are the implications of the lack of revenue for funding for buses, for example, particularly on non-profitable routes?
  (Mr Joseph) As I think the Association of Transport Co-ordinating Officers has said in evidence to the Committee (it certainly has made this figure known) local authority transport officers have had a 21 per cent increase in the cost of bus tenders over the last year and there has also been a significant level of withdrawals of bus services, with a focus on core routes. That is fine as far as it goes but it means that increasingly deprived communities are facing worse bus services. We think that there is a case for matching five-year local transport plan capital funding with guaranteed five-year revenue funding for local transport, whether through revived revenue support grants or whatever mechanism is used. There are probably about three people in the country who understand local government finance who would know exactly how to do this but there are clearly mechanisms for doing this. We think it is very important that it is done.

  597. You see that as a key addition?
  (Mr Joseph) Yes it is because it would redress the balance. We quoted in the evidence the fact that in Mr Stevenson's constituency in Stoke on Trent there is a huge waiting list for traffic calming schemes which the local authority simply cannot satisfy because of lack of revenue funding and lack of funding for council officer time to devote to those schemes.

  598. The plan assumes a reduction in the real cost of motoring of 20 per cent over ten years. What implications does that have for public transport?
  (Mr Joseph) In the background analysis to the plan it is spelt out exactly what having constant motoring costs would do compared with having the 20 per cent reduction. It is reasonably significant in terms of congestion. It also is significant in terms of traffic. We have said in our evidence that we think the Government's down-playing of traffic levels is wrong. The measure of traffic itself is important from a community perspective. That extra 17 per cent of traffic along residential roads is something that people will notice in ten years and will have an impact on community life, and we think that a real reduction of 20 per cent (in the cost of motoring) will have a big impact on people's quality of life for communities as well as on congestion and pollution.

  599. Do you think the impact of that is ignored in the Ten Year Plan?
  (Mr Joseph) As far as we can see, it is ignored because the Government's belief is that traffic per se is not issue; congestion and pollution are the issues. We think that is wrong. There are community impacts of traffic. There is also another problem with this which is since the Government says they are not going to set limits on traffic growth, in effect, the transport planners and the models then assume that past trends will continue up to Los Angeles levels of traffic and car use. We are back, in effect, to predict and provide and we are seeing that impact in Multi-Modal Studies.

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