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

Memorandum by RAC Foundation (TYP 4)

  The RAC Foundation is established to promote the environmental, economic, mobility and safety issues relating to the use of motor vehicles. The Foundation is a charity which conducts research into issues such as, the car and the environment, civilising cities, local transport plans and the future of motoring. The Foundation polls motorists on motoring issues and has recently established a Road User Representation Section to represent the interests of motorists in the multi-modal studies.

  Our concern is with the needs of road users, particularly those in cars. Our assessment is that road will continue to be the dominant form of transport for the foreseeable future and that the demand for road use will grow. We would note particularly that:

    —  car journeys account for more than 85 per cent of personal movement;

    —  car travel is continuing to grow and so is congestion; and

    —  life and work have become increasingly car related, such that;

        —  for a substantial proportion of journeys, car is the only realistic means.

  It is clear that the road infrastructure is increasingly unable to cope with the growing traffic.

  We welcomed the 1998 White Paper "A new Deal for Transport: Better for Everyone" and believe that successful delivery of initiatives for integrated transport will help to reduce the demand for road use, but we would emphasise that, in our view, the impact of such measures relative to the total demand will be small.

  We also welcomed the 10 Year Plan and particularly its commitment to an increased level of spending on new roads. We have, however, become increasingly concerned at the limited number of projects currently available and the length of time likely to be required to redress this. The need for exercises like the Multi-Modal Studies to investigate transport planning options comprehensively is understood but few of the studies have yet produced recommendations. When they do, agreed road schemes will need to be processed through the full statutory procedures, requiring public consultation and public inquiry, before they can be implemented.

  We note the Government's commitment to speeding up procedures but fear that, even with this, the number of schemes which will be ready for building within the period of the 10 Year Plan will be small and will use only a small part of the funds earmarked for new roads at the outset. The Plan refers to "an average of 10 years from the introduction of a typical major scheme into the road programme to the start of construction" (para 6.4, page 41) and says that "it should be possible to reduce this period by at least a third, if not more". Even if achieved this would lead to a concentration of schemes ready for construction in the final two to three years of the Plan and a low level of activity until then. If not achieved, the majority of schemes originating from Multi-Modal Studies would not complete the statutory processes within the 10 years of the Plan.

  We have strong doubts, therefore, that the funds proposed for new roads will be used in full and effectively. The Plan sets a target of reducing congestion on inter-urban trunk roads to five percent below current levels by 2010 (para 6.33, page 55). The slow progress with bringing new schemes forward makes achievement of this target very unlikely and, on present prospects, there is a strong likelihood that congestion will get progressively worse through the Plan period.

  A further concern about the Multi-Modal Studies is that some have shown a tendency to support alternatives to car and lorry transport without a full consideration of their practical feasibility. It is clearly crucial to resolving our widespread transport problems that dependence is not placed on introducing new measures which will not deliver. With this in mind we think it important that 10 Year Plan budgets can be reallocated between modes to ensure that funds are used as effectively as possible.

  An important element of the 10 Year Plan from our standpoint is the provision for road maintenance, and particularly that for removing the large backlog of maintenance needed on the local road network through the Local Transport Plan (LTP) process. We see it as vital that funds are channelled and used effectively for this activity. Local highway authorities have indicated that removing the backlog will in many cases take more than the five-year period of the initial LTPs. It is vital that the available funds are used fully and effectively if the local network is to be restored to satisfactory operation in reasonable time.

  A recent study[1] has shown that availability of the skills necessary for planning and implementing new transport projects and initiatives is at a very low level following a long period of limited activity. This applies to all areas including planning and building new roads. Education and training take time and, until the resource is restored to a suitable level, both preparation and implementation of plans are likely to be slow and less than fully effective. We would urge that this should be seen as a crucial issue for the 10 Year Plan and that commitment to the Plan should include commitment to developing the necessary resource to implement it.

  In summary, we would press that:

    —  the continuing dominance of road transport and the increasing pressure on the road network must be given full recognition in transport planning;

    —  integrated transport initiatives will help to reduce the pressure on roads but only on a very limited scale;

    —  the 10 Year Plan provision for new roads is welcome but we have real concerns that the Multi-Modal Study process followed by statutory procedures will mean that there are few new schemes available for building within the Plan period;

    —  the viability of alternatives to road proposed in the MMSs should be very critically assessed;

    —  the use of the additional provision for maintaining the road network should be monitored to ensure that it is used fully and effectively; and

    —  the need to increase as a matter of urgency the transport skills and capability resource should be recognised and addressed by Government as part of its commitment to the Plan.

1   Bill Billington and Hugh Wenban-Smith for the Rees Jeffreys Road Fund (2000) Transport Skills for the New Millennium (London: Landor Publishing). Back

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