Memorandum by A36/A350 Corridor Alliance
DELIVERY OF TRANSPORT POLICY IN WILTSHIRE
AND THE SOUTH WEST
The 10 Year Plan was part of a flood of reforming
documents supposed to carry us into a new era of rational, integrated
and sustainable transport. A new deal for transport would be delivered
through new ways of doing things nationally, regionally and locally.
Key to the system would be the new five-year Local Transport Plan
(LTP) process. "Multi-modal studies" (MMS) would look
at all networks along transport corridors that might formerly
have been considered only for highway improvements. An integrated
department of state and new organisations such as the Strategic
Rail Authority and the Commission for Integrated Transport would
see that all this was joined into a coherent system.
It has, self-evidently, not worked out like
that. To talk about "delivery" at national level may
seem like a joke in poor taste: we will leave others to pick through
the wreckage of the national railway system. Our concern here
is to examine a failure of delivery along "our" transport
corridor and in the South West region. We hope that examining
this local and regional failure may help in diagnosing the sickness
of the national public transport system as a whole, because the
process of building integrated transport across the country was
supposed to begin at the local level. The purpose of all the documents
and acronyms was to stimulate change in attitudes to transport.
In Wiltshire and the South West any change in
attitude was short-lived, the honeymoon soon over. The government's
plan ignored two thingsthe political, ideological and professional
inertia in a system designed to deliver roads; and the fundamental
difference between the ways in which roads and all other transport
networks are funded. Local authorities found it much simpler to
build a road than reopen a length of railway line. A combination
of political inclination and technical skills not usually found
in the shires is required to overcome the difficulties.
It was as though Labour wrote an elegant suite
of software without realising that it would not run on its own
mainframe, let alone the rag-bag of systems in the regions. While
some local authorities have somehow made it crank out the sort
of plans it was supposed to producereopened stations, bus-train
interchanges, busways, tramways, light rail lines, big yellow
school buses, networks of cycleways, and the other apparatus of
21st Century transport, this has not been the experience in most
of the South Westand certainly not in Wiltshire, which
provides most of the evidence in this paper.
Here, the system has yielded a mass of documents
dutifully filled with the mandatory language of "sustainability"
and "integration", the public has been consulted as
required (and found to favour public transport over roads). The
system has duly churned out a plan foryeslots of
Wiltshire has plans for £93 million worth;
in the region as a whole the wish-list for new roads is about
£500 million (See evidence to this committee from Transport
2000 Wiltshire, Somerset and Gloucestershire). The grand total
includes some £200 million for the dualling of the A303,
which is now emerging as the main strategy of the multi-modal
study of the transport corridor from London to the South West
and South Wales.
In contrast the new deal has produced virtually
no major schemes for investment in public transport.
The Corridor Alliance has been trying to discover
for more than two years whether the gross mismatch between the
plans for roadbuilding and the plans for public transport in the
SW is the product of the government office and local authorities
defying policy as writtenor delivering policy as understood.
We have written numerous letters to the government
office, local authorities, Secretaries of State, Ministers and
finally the Chair of the Transport Sub-committee herself. Ministers,
including Lords Whitty and Macdonald and John Spellar, have defended
individual road projects but have not acknowledged that the product
being delivered does not match what they ordered.
2. CASE HISTORYTHE
The A36 Corridor Alliance (ACA) was established
in October 1993 as a coalition of local opposition groups, and
environmental, landscape and transport campaigns opposed to the
Department of Transport's plans for the creation of a high-speed
dual-carriageway route from Southampton to Bristol. The plan gradually
unravelled as a series of schemes between the M27 at Ower and
the M4 at Tormarton, was withdrawn for environmental reasons.
Cancellation of the A36 Salisbury southern bypass
in July 1997 appeared to be the final blow. The new Labour government
announced that cancellation would be followed by a study that
"would be a model of how to solve a city's traffic problems
without building new roads."
In 1998 ACA's long-standing demand for the A36/A46
route to be "de-trunked" was met when the Government's
"Roads Review" recommended its removal from the core
network. At this point the Corridor Alliance considered disbanding.
The era of "predict and provide" and "roads for
growth" seemed to be over. We had not allowed for the inertia
in the roadbuilding machine. We did not disband.
Detrunking was opposed by Wiltshire County Council
and the South West Regional Planning Conference. Even though a
study commissioned by the Government Office for the South West
endorsed the government's recommendation to de-trunk, county councils
continued to resist and have been backed in their opposition by
the South West Regional Assemblysuccessor planning body
to the Regional Planning Conference. As recently as July last
year its transport sub group wrote to the Secretary of State asking
him to delay de-trunking pending further studies of our corridor.
The draft terms of reference and proposed membership
of the study team made it clear that this was to be a roads-based
study with no pretensions to multi-modal status. The parallel
railway lines shadowing the A36/46 and the towns along the A350
in West Wiltshire were not to be treated as though they might
conceivably have an equal claim to investment. While every scrapped
and rejected road scheme within the study area was catalogued,
the brief carried no equivalent list of improvements to track
and signalling, new and reopened stations, railfreight depots
or bus-train interchanges.
The experience of a previous GOSW transport
study did not inspire confidence. With a clear ministerial brief
to solve the city's traffic problems without building new roads,
the Salisbury Transport Study ended up recommending three, budgeted
at £25 million (for which Wiltshire is currently seeking
funding valued at approximately £50 million).
ACA has always contended that two of the proposed
roads were designed to be joined up eventually to form an outer
ring road remarkably similar to the bypass cancelled in July 1997.
Salisbury District Council says this is what the city needs. To
complete the ring round the city would involve crossing the Avon
watermeadows at Britford, threatening the uniquely valuable landscape
and ecology that defeated the original bypass plan.
Until December last year it therefore seemed
that our organisation was in substantially the same position as
it had been eight years earlier. Local authorities, instead of
central government, were promoting the same old "strategic
route by stealth" while neglecting the parallel railway.
We had added "A350" to our name to reflect the new dual-track
policy of Wiltshire and Dorset to upgrade the A350 route through
Dorset to Poole. That plan had been set back by environmental
constraints (especially the heavy protection enjoyed by the West
Wiltshire Downs and Cranborne Chase) but was again being promoted
by Dorset, this time with support from the Regional Assembly.
The Regional Assembly and GOSW planned to re-examine
a link between the A36 and the A46 across the Avon near Bath and
the A36 east of Salisbury, a section that goes over Pepperbox
Hill and through the northern edge of the New Forest to the M27
In December we saw the first signs that our
protests and those of member groups such as CPRE, Transport 2000
and Friends of the Earth, had been heard. The Secretary of State
called for two schemes on the corridor to be deferredthe
A350 Westbury bypass and the A36 Codford-Heytesbury improvement.
At the same time he asked GOSW to carry out a study of the whole
corridor with a view to finding alternatives to roadbuilding.
We have written to the Secretary of State urging
him to instruct the government office to make this a multi-modal
study and not simply a re-jig of its original plan for a roads
study. We will meet GOSW to discuss our proposal that the study
team should include the SRA and experts such as rail engineers,
train operators, public transport planners and environmental consultants.
After nearly five years of a government committed
to sustainable transport it is hard even for us to believe that
such obvious steps should not be taken as a matter of course.
3. POLICY AND
Part of the blame for this non-delivery of a
sustainable transport policy can be laid at the door of the government
itself. Firstly it assumed that an unreformed system would be
willing and able to deliver its new agenda. That system included
a government office where the experience, skills and, probably,
inclination of transport officers was weighted towards roadbuilding.
The lead transport agency was the regional office of the Highways
Agency, also located in Bristol and accustomed to working with
the government office as a single arm of government.
No equivalent "Transport Agency" was
created at national or regional level.
Similarly, at local authority level, the departments
responsible for delivering the new deal remained "highway
authorities" rather than transport authorities.
The result seems to have been that a largely
unreformed system was able to carry on with business as usual.
This brings us back to the government itself,
and the second cause of the failure to bring about changeits
own wavering over policy and the enforcement of delivery. We believe
that the government lost its nerve on sustainable transport towards
the end of 1999. While all the excellent policies devised by Labour
remained in place, on paper, the unwritten policy was now to put
"the suffering motorist" of the tabloid headlines back
as the prime client.
The change was signalled by the appointment
of Lord Macdonald as Minister for Transport. His populist notion
that "the affordable car" could provide a remedy for
social exclusion was one of the roughest gearchanges ever performed
in transport policy.
We do not know what instructions were sent to
the government office but the result could be seen in the flood
of scrapped road schemes that has flowed back onto the regional
transport agenda in the last two years.
Local authorities that had prepared major road
schemes in apparent defiance of government policy were now able
to make a virtue of their foresight in anticipating the new requirements.
In 2001, the government approved 76 out of 77
road schemes proposed by local authorities.
The people did not actually ask for this: in
Wiltshire's local transport plan consultation, stakeholders put
new roads at the bottom of a list of seven priorities, with investment
in public transport at the top. Other consultations in Wiltshire,
including those for the Salisbury Transport Study, have shown
the same preference. Nationally, a MORI poll has shown that the
majority wants investment in public transport over spending on
new roads. Faced with a choice between actual public opinion or
the confected public opinion of the "Daily Mail" editorials,
the government appears to have chosen the latter.
The funding of transport suffers from a curious
inversion whereby the public sector provides the infrastructure
for private motoring and trucking; the private sector provides
For more than four decades from 1947, the state
owned both the roads and the railwaysand, via local authorities,
much of the bus network as well. But state ownership of the railway
never quite put it on the same footing as roads. Rail was supposed
to fund itself out of ticket sales, with a grudging state subsidising
the shortfall or pruning the network to reduce costs in the futile
search for profits, or finally flogging it off in the hope that
the magic of private sector management would at last conjure a
profit from it.
Roads are not required to make a profit. The
state provides the permanent way, maintains it, upgrades it for
each generation of heavier goods vehicles, cuts the grass and
clears the litter. The road leads to profit generationfor
civil engineering contractors, motor manufacturers oil companies
and a thousand other parts of the "great car economy"but
it is not in itself profitable.
The Department of Transport developed a method
for showing that a road could pay for itself. Its cost-benefit
analysis (COBA) formula adds up the savings in time and accidents
expected to accrue over the life of the new highway and compares
this with the cost of construction. It is a rare project that
fails to turn a "profit" under this method of accounting.
The more motorists that save a minute by taking the new road instead
of the old one, the more valuable it is. Schemes that look like
a bad investment can be extended so that they connect with other
sources of traffic such as another major road. A new greenfield
housing estate, made possible by a new greenfield road, will add
seven vehicle movements a day per household; a new superstore
might easily have 800 parking spaces.
The formula used to justify roadbuilding therefore
rewards traffic growth and sprawl. The proposed Semington-Melksham
diversion on the A350 in Western Wiltshire provides a perfect
illustration of this. The report of the public inquiry inspector,
now on the desk of the Secretary of State, says that Wiltshire's
original designa short single-carriageway road taking the
traffic around the village of Semingtonwould not have been
economically justified under the COBA formula. However, as a dual-carriageway
catering for through traffic, with an extension at the southern
end to join it back to the A350, it will be good value for money.
Higher traffic growth will give an even better return, he says,
with apparent approval.
So, the formula used to justify roadbuilding
still penalises the only kind of bypass we are supposed to be
building and rewards the very kind we are supposed not to be building.
The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution's 1994 report
"Transport and the environment" proposed a moratorium
on bypass construction until the alternatives had been fully assessed
for each case. They said new bypasses should be permitted only
where there was no other way to protect communities from traffic
nuisance and hazards, but such roads should not cater for traffic
growth. The government seemed to have accepted this formulation
in its 1998 LTP guidance to local authorities, backed by the "New
Approach to Assessment" (NATA) and "Guidance on Multi
Modal Studies" (GOMMS).
Transport projects must now be assessed against
more rigorous criteria covering a wider range of effects, from
environmental protection and pollution to transport integration
and social inclusion. But the government has still not devised
a formulation to reward the sustainable and penalise the unsustainable.
This is the heart of the matter. We have a system
for the economic justification of roads which assumes that each
car journey is a good thing when, if traffic reduction is actually
our goal, we should assume it to be a bad thing and construct
a formula for taking this into account. We know for example that
the external environmental costs of motoring are not covered by
taxation on motorists. The fuel-tax escalator went some way towards
Public transport, in contrast, is known to be
environmentally efficient in terms of fuel and resource-use, injuries
and pollution per passenger/km but it cannot exploit these "savings"
in seeking funding for capital projectslet alone for revenue
Neither the time that rail travellers save (or
should save) by taking the train instead of the car, nor the improved
life expectancy gained by this modal shift, is taken into account
when considering the cost of rail developments. Yet the sums of
time and money in this equation are enormous: late trains cost
rail passengers 4,632 years in 2001 ("Observer", 13
January 2002). At, say, £20,000 a year, that comes to £92,640,000.
5. FUNDING INEQUALITIES
Along the A36/A350 corridor Wiltshire County
Council is now promoting road schemes budgeted at £93 million.
Until the Secretary of State's intervention in December all of
them had received encouragement from GOSW and looked set to be
Of seven schemes costing more than £5 million
listed in Wiltshire's LTP 2001 "Annual Progress Report"
(APR) all but one are road developments. The exception is provided
by the "non-road elements" of the Salisbury Transport
Package. Most of the £13.7 under this heading will go on
All of these major schemes are therefore essentially
car-based. None is devoted solely to trip-reduction. None is dedicated
solely to public transport. How can this apparent reversal of
government policy have come about?
Answers may be found by looking at the fate
of some non-road schemes. Here the language of procurement changes
and it is clear that these schemes still belong in the world of
"alternative transport". Funds must be scraped together
from a variety of sources; quick progress is not expected.
Reopening Wilton railway station.
This has been in the County Structure plan for many years. In
1996 Wiltshire bid for funding as part of a package of proposals
under the old TPP system. The project was lost when the whole
bid was rejected. The Salisbury Transport Study provided the next
opportunity but the consultants to the study recommended that
a new station would not be good value for money.
Wiltshire's APR for 2001 reports on progress
with "Proposed Wilton and Porton Stations": "A
demand assessment for these two station proposals was completed
in 2001. It indicates that sufficient patronage would be secured
to justify taking these schemes forward. An engineering feasability
study will be undertaken later in 2001 and if acceptable to all
parties, a bid for RPP [Rail Passenger Partnership] funding will
Corsham Station. This long-running
saga, initiatedlike so many non-road schemes including
Wiltshire's now-famous Wigglybusby a local campaign, should
provide a warning to anyone expecting trains to stop at Wilton
in the near future. In 2001 the SRA announced a grant of £1.28
million from its RPP fund that finally made the project feasible.
Other funding sources assembled over the years included the district
council, the county council, the town council, Bath and NE Somerset
Council, First Great Western and the developers of a nearby housing
estate.The station is expected to be operational in the autumn
of this year.
Wylye Valley bus-cycle interchange.
The APR records that "An unsuccessful bid was submitted to
the 2000 Rural Bus Challenge for interchange "hubs",
including secure cycle lockers, at key bus stops along the Wylye
Valley." Wiltshire County Council is currently seeking £38
million from the government to pay for its A36 "relief road"
through the Wylye Valley to Wilton.
The West Wiltshire railway. During
preparation of its first five-year plan Wiltshire asked its favourite
consultants, Ringway Parkman, to study the potential for railway
development along its A350 economic growth corridor (now known
as the Western Wiltshire Sustainable Transport Strategy). Rail
consultant Paul Ramsey proposed a complete scheme for new and
reopened stations, designed as bus-train interchanges, and improved
train services through the corridor. Wiltshire did not include
this £12 million package in its bid and little has been heard
of it since.
Meanwhile, the relocation of Melksham stationone
of the new stations included in the Parkman planhas been
stalled since the collapse of the council's plan for funding it
through partnership with a retail developer. There are additional
problems with land ownership and access, says the APR, but when
these are resolved the council will bid for RPP funding. However,
in the short term, says the APR, "accessibility to the existing
station has been improved by installing a cycle shelter and two
It is essential to compare this Clochemerle-like
world of public transport development and funding with the robust
way in which councils compulsorily purchase land for road schemes
and secure government funding through a single source.
With the disastrous consequences
of underfunding the railway in mind, the government should return
to its original priorities and stick to them. Public concern has
now clearly shifted back from the suffering motorist to the suffering
Experience in Wiltshire and the South
West suggests that new priorities will not actually be delivered
without a fundamental shake-up of the agencies and authorities
responsible for implementing policy. This means carrying through
reforms of the Government Office and Highways Agency and setting
up democratically controlled passenger transport authorities to
ensure that the policies of government and the priorities of local
people are actually delivered.
It is essential that actual money
follows policy. Transferring money from the roads budget into
public transport is an essential first step, but substantial amounts
of new money will be needed if the public is to be convinced that
public transport works.
Funding of roadbuilding and public
transport must be put on an equal footing so that the environmental
and social costs and benefits of different modes are built into
the decision-making process. A new formula, or E-COBA, would show
that in the vast majority of cases investment in public transport,
walking and cycling will give a better return for money in environmental
as well as economic terms.
These changes will still not deliver
sustainable transport unless it is made as simple to secure capital
for a new length of railway as for a new road. And for labour-intensive
modes, such as buses and trains, ways must be found to provide
revenue for running the system as well as capital for building