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

Memorandum by The Royal Town Planning Institute (TYP 26)


  1.  The Transport Sub-committee of the Transport, Local Government and the Regions Committee has decided to investigate the measures, targets and progress towards delivering the improvements set out in the 10 Year Plan. In particular, the Sub-committee will consider the following areas:

    —  Assumptions

        What assumptions in the Plan should be modified or challenged? Will the expected number of congestion charging and workplace parking levy schemes be implemented, and when?

        How important are the assumptions to the outcome?

        Are the skills and capacity available to deliver the improvements?

    —  Implementation

        How will the current situation in the railway industry affect the need for and provision of private and public sector finance?

        Is the balance and phasing of investment across funding areas correct?

        Are more flexible financing arrangements required to deliver major local schemes?

        How do the emerging multi-modal studies affect the Plan?

        Should the plan represent a better balance between large and small schemes, and between infrastructure, management and operations?

    —  Targets

        Are the targets and dates for their achievement well designed?

        What other targets, if any, should be included?

        Should a more regional approach be adopted for target setting?

    —  Integrated transport policy

        How well does the Plan balance social and environmental policy with effective investment?

        Does the Plan set out a balanced approach to all modes?

        What impacts will policies in the European White Paper have on the Plan?


  2.  The 10 Year Plan is essentially the investment plan to deliver the Government's integrated transport policy as set out in the 1998 Transport White Paper—A New Deal for Transport. In the Government's own words, the Plan's priorities are—

    —  reduced congestion;

    —  better integration; and

    —  a wider choice of quicker, safer, more reliable travel on road, rail and other public transport.

  3.  The Institute sees three major obstacles to the delivery of the 10 Year Plan:

    —  the present hiatus in the railway industry and the Government's apparent inability or unwillingness to look to a speedy resolution;

    —  the difficulty in achieving political acceptability of the need for restraint in the use of the private car, at least in the short term, and;

    —  The need to deliver public transport (not just railways) that attracts users from the private car and thereby provides real traveller choice.

  4.  The Institute would wish to see a greater emphasis on public transport other than railways in delivering the 10 Year Plan. Recognising both the investment and operational constraints and the tight timescale, the contribution of other public transport modes particularly for inter urban transport should not be overlooked. They are crucial to providing the transport choices upon which the overall policy framework and the 10 Year Transport Plan depend.

  5.  That said, a central feature of the Plan is the "new deal" for railways. Development of the railway is vital if a significant modal shift from private to public transport is to be achieved. Announcing the Plan in the House of Commons, the Deputy Prime Minister spoke of "a bigger, better and safer railway, and real choice in public transport". Alongside the ambition for a 50 per cent increase in rail passengers was an 80 per cent increase in rail freight—a vital environmental plus. With little prospect of early permanent replacement arrangements for Railtrack, and the Secretary of State's apparent enthusiasm for short term extension of the train operators' franchises guaranteeing little or no re-investment, only an optimist can see the "new deal" being realised.

  6.  The Transport White Paper set out in the vision for an integrated transport system that required less use of the private car and more patronage of revitalised public transport. The theory was that the price restraint mechanisms on the use of the car—road user charges and workplace parking levies, for example—would fund the necessary improvements in public transport. This theory was flawed from the start, as public transport required major funding "up front" to create the efficient and safe system that would coax motorists out of their cars. In short, the "carrots" had to be in place before the "sticks" both to make the shifts acceptable to voters and more importantly to change traveller preference. The White Paper approach now seems even less capable of providing the answers as there is little enthusiasm on the part of the Government, or local authorities, to introduce the restraint measures. The spending profiles in the 10 Year Plan will have to be refocused to reflect this.



  7.  The Government acknowledges that many of its assumptions are very sensitive to changing circumstances. It recognises the need to be responsive, flexible and pragmatic in pursuing its objectives. It further recognises that many of the assumptions rest on inputs that have yet to be delivered.

  8.  However flexible and pragmatic the approach, it is clear that the Plan has yet to effect any significant change in the 18 months since its inception. Indeed, the modal split targets are already looking very ambitious. There is little evidence that the public is responding in ways that the Government would have liked, with perceptions and attitudes remaining largely unchanged. The current difficulties with the railways (see paragraph 5, above) have not helped.

  9.  From past research, it is generally well understood that people are unlikely to change their travelling habits without considerable coercion. At present neither the sticks nor the carrots are being used to encourage people to use their cars less and public transport more. The real cost of public transport continues to increase, particularly for some of the journeys where there should have been the maximum encouragement to make the modal shift to rail. There is little evidence of enthusiasm, on the part of most local authorities, to adopt congestion charging and workplace parking levels, despite the passage of enabling legislation. Neither does the Government appear to be pursuing charging on inter-urban roads with any great speed or enthusiasm.

  10.  These are old, well-rehearsed arguments. The two-pronged approach could, at the same time, discourage car use and make finance available for the step change needed in the quality and reliability of public transport. Without it, there appears to be little prospect of the Plan's modal split targets being achieved.


  11.  The main impediment to implementation of the Plan appears to be the present difficulties in the railway industry. While the future of the railway is so shrouded in uncertainty, there is little incentive for the private investment that is central to success, and on which the Plan is predicated. In unveiling the Plan to the House of Commons, the Deputy Prime Minister has said, "But let me make it absolutely clear. If we put in public money we expect rail and bus companies—and local authorities—to deliver the goods: more investment and better services for the travelling public. On budget and on time." At present, what appears to be lacking most is a sense of purpose from the Government.

  12.  Unless the organisational structure and funding of the railways is resolved quickly, and in a way that gives confidence to private investors, the only alternative will be more "up front" public expenditure. In other words, the present Plan—requiring £50 billion of investment by the private sector from a total planned expenditure of £180 billion—will not be implemented.

  13.  Railtrack made an awful mess of estimating the cost of the West Coast Modernisation. This is now way over budget, even with the additional funding included in the Plan. One ludicrous effect of the eleventh hour trimming back is that the expensive trains ordered by the operator, and which can only be paid for by the customer, through the fare box, will now probably never be able to realise their 140 mph potential. (The Plan includes £60 billion for "a bigger, better, safer railway"). The evidence suggests that other major rail projects—such as the parallel East Coast Main Line upgrade—are in a similar state. If these schemes are to proceed, more public monies will be required, over and above what is included in the Plan.

  14.  At the other end of the scale, local expectations are also running high. While money has been allocated in the Plan for the implementation of Local Transport Plans (LTPs), this is unlikely to be sufficient to meet expectations quickly enough. In particular, local public transport improvements are unlikely to be implemented in sufficient numbers and within an adequate timescale.

  15.  In between, in terms of scale, are the multi-modal studies. The Institute strongly supported the setting up of these studies which were designed to look, across modes, at transport solutions in various corridors across England. They were closely aligned with the regional planning process, and will inevitably throw up ambitious projects that the regional assemblies will wish to take forward. It seems very unlikely that the 10 Year Plan will be able to take all these on board in the necessary timescale.

  16.  It is clear that the Plan will require some re-programming and refocusing as a consequence of events in the 18 months since its inception. In the Institute's view, it should concentrate on capital investment in a range of small, medium and large schemes; it is more important to concentrate on the provision of new and improved infrastructure rather than on the operational qualities of the transport network. Operational needs should be funded primarily from revenue budgets.


  17.  The targets now appear ambitious for achievement by 2010. Reducing traffic congestion has to remain the prime target, but the walking and traffic reduction targets are also vitally important if local environment conditions are to be improved.

  18.  It would be sensible to look at a more regional orientation of the targets. Conditions vary across the country and targets for the South East, for example—where traffic congestion, the density of rail commuters, etc are greatest—are unlikely to be appropriate in the North East or the South West, where there are other, and different transport priorities.


  19.  Integration pre-supposes "joined-up" thinking and action. It also pre-supposes a close and continuing relationship between transport and land use planning policies. Land allocations for major development opportunities, or the promotion of regeneration schemes, have to be accompanied by suitable and timely increases in transport capacity.

  20.  There is little evidence on integration at the planning stage. There remains confusion in the relationship between transport strategies and plans and the development planning system. The Planning Green Paper "Delivering a Fundamental Change"—does not seem to address this issue but the consultation provides a vital opportunity to do so. The strengthened regional planning guidance (RPG), described in PPG 11, is to include a regional transport strategy (RTS), but most of the latest/current round of RPG has not so far produced the goods, leaving the RTS to be detailed later. Through that mechanism, RPG is meant to inform the preparation of development plans and local transport plans (LTPs), but there is no means of ensuring consistency and compatibility at county or, particularly, district level, where the detailed proposals are prepared. This is of particular concern in carrying forward the outcome of the multi-modal studies (see paragraph 15, above).

  21.  Despite all the Government hype since publication of the Transport White Paper, the essential "joining-up" has yet to be put in place. The 10 Year Plan, itself, tends to compound the problem by giving separate consideration to each mode, with little cross-cutting treatment of social or environmental objectives. While it is recognised that the Plan is essentially an investment programme, and is not the vehicle for announcing new measures, in presentational terms, the social benefits are pretty well hidden. These are restricted to the Urban Bus Challenge Fund for "poorly served, deprived urban areas, cut off from jobs and services", fuel duty rebate for community transport and a limited package of measures to improve public transport in rural areas. Environmental benefits are dealt with in a similar low key fashion, with little more than passing references to air quality improvements and savings in greenhouse gas emissions.

  22.  In short, the Plan does little to balance social and environmental policy with its proposed transport investment programme.

  23.  The European Transport White Paper seems to be keen to encourage modal change, and charge for the use of transport infrastructure. While these aims are broadly in line with those of our own Transport White Paper, to the extent that the 10 Year Plan undervalues the coercive measures that will be necessary to achieve these objectives, it could be argued that some inconsistencies are already apparent.


  24.  It was never conceivable that an investment programme spanning 10 years could run its course without the need for adjustments arising from the monitoring of its implementation. Unfortunately, some of the basic assumptions in the 10 Year Transport Plan have gone awry very early in the programme.

  25.  To compound the felony, it seems as though the Government has "lost the plot", or at best has lost some of its enthusiasm since the heady days of the Transport White Paper. It seems to have become distracted from delivering the overall promised public transport/private car choice which is vital if the required modal shift from private to public transport is to be achieved across the country. This will require continuing progress in modernising and expanding bus operations as well as investment in the development and upgrading of the railway infrastructure, at least on the scale envisaged in the Plan. Motorists must be able to see a convenient, safe, reliable and attractive alternative for the journeys they have to make, if they are to be lured out of their cars. At present, the context for this is completely lacking, as the Government has become pre-occupied with decisions on the ownership and control of the railways.

  26.  At the same time, the Government has gone cold on the introduction of measures to discourage car usage. Apart from the loss of funds for the implementation of local transport schemes that this implies, there is absolutely no prospect of achieving targets for the reduction of congestion without some degree of coercion, however unattractive this may be politically.

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Prepared 27 May 2002