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

Memorandum by Socialist Environment and Resources Association (TYP 10)

  1.  The Socialist Environment and Resources Association (SERA) is the only environment campaign affiliated to the Labour Party. Its membership comprises mostly Labour Party members, including 104 MPs of which 20 are ministers, six at cabinet level.

  2.  SERA believes that getting transport policy right is a vital part of Labour's social equity, environmental and economic agenda.

  3.  Labour came to power in 1997 having produced policy documents on the environment that SERA was right to be truly proud: In "In Trust for Tomorrow" and "Consensus for Change" Labour recognised:

  the futility of continuing a major road building programme: "Building new roads offers at best temporary relief from traffic congestion. It is now accepted by almost everyone apart from the Department of Transport that new roads generate new traffic . . . Widening existing roads will have much the same effect, . . ."

  the need to invest and develop the railways and bus services and the importance of cycling and walking;

  the enormous impact transport has on social equity (it is the poor who pay most for poor quality transport, live on some of the most blighted traffic corridors and are over represented in crash statistics)

  4.  In 1998 SERA welcomed the Transport White Paper as broadly moving policy in the right direction. It mapped out a future of better bus services, a better railway, safer cycling and walking. Crucially it made a break with the past by stressing that alternative transport options would be assessed before road schemes are approved. Road building was to be a solution of last resort.

  5.  However the 10 Year Plan marked the start of a retreat on transport policy. It introduced huge policy changes that have shattered the consensus for change that existed only a very few years ago. This has given SERA great cause for concern.

  6.  Government has all but abandoned the imperative to reduce the absolute volume of traffic on our roads as a central focus of policy and replaced it with congestion reduction, an entirely different objective.

  7.  SERA believes that reducing the need to travel and reduction in absolute traffic volumes are an essential element of any sensible transport policy for the UK. SERA believes that this change of policy is the single most important problem with the 10-Year Transport Plan. It sends out entirely the wrong message to local authority planners and those consultants conducting multi-modal studies. It has led to the re-emergence of the idea that more travel can and should be accommodated albeit with an emphasis on public transport. Many road building schemes that were hitherto taken off of the agenda are now firmly back on it.

  8.  If Government believes the transport crisis and congestion can be improved against a back drop of rising traffic levels ministers are deluding both themselves and the public.

  9.  Government has sought to create the illusion that a rising demand for travel can be accommodated, be it by road or rail, and that the traveller will, in future, have a more comfortable speedier and less congested journey. This illusion may have helped it put off public anger at the failure of transport policy in the short term, but it is no substitute for the very difficult policy decisions necessary.

  10.  Again an entirely wrong signal is being sent by central Government. SERA believes that reducing the absolute amount that we are travelling and changing the modes of travel should be central to policy.

  11.  Government has signalled that funds are available for a seemingly infinite amount of new infrastructure with the implication that this massive infrastructure programme will solve transport problems.

  12.  SERA accepts that the 10 Year Plan is a welcome step change in public funding for transport and that some new funds can be levered from the private sector. However, we do not believe that enough capacity can ever be built to accommodate present travel demand let alone increasing demand for travel by road or rail. We cannot build our way out of congestion.

  13.  SERA believes that the 10 Year Transport Plan should be abandoned and a return made to the priorities of the 1998 Transport White Paper. The focus of policy should be:

    (i)  A reduction in the need to travel;

    (ii)  A reduction in absolute traffic volumes;

    (iii)  Management of transport demand;

    (iv)  Making best use of the existing infrastructure;

    (v)  A much greater emphasis on many smaller scale schemes, especially bus, cycling and walking schemes;

    (vi)  A review of approved infrastructure projects, particularly road building and road widening schemes.

  14.  Specifically, in SERA's Charter for Sustainability (copy enclosed), we believe that there are two immediate transport priorities for Labour's second term:

    (a)  Be on course to increase annual bus passenger journeys by one billion by 2010.

    (b)  Switch at least £22 billion from the road building budget to walking, cycling, buses and local rail.

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