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

Memorandum by A36/A350 Corridor Alliance (TYP 48)



  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 things—the 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 produce—reopened 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 West—and 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 for—yes—lots of new roads.

  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 written—or 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.


  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 Assembly—successor 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 near Southampton.

  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 deferred—the 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.


  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 change—its 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 public transport.

  For more than four decades from 1947, the state owned both the roads and the railways—and, 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 generation—for 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 design—a short single-carriageway road taking the traffic around the village of Semington—would 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 recognising this.

  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 projects—let alone for revenue support.

  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.


  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 built.

  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 park-and-ride sites.

  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 be made."

    —  Corsham Station. This long-running saga, initiated—like so many non-road schemes including Wiltshire's now-famous Wigglybus—by 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 station—one of the new stations included in the Parkman plan—has 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 cycle lockers."

  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 rail traveller.

    —  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 it.

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