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

Memorandum by the County Surveyors' Society (TYP 54)


  1.1  This memorandum outlines the response of the County Surveyors' Society to the request by the Select Committee for assistance in its investigation of the Government's 10 Year Transport Plan. The County Surveyors' Society represents local government directors of strategic planning, transportation and environment functions throughout the United Kingdom.

  1.2  The memorandum lists its issues under the areas of work identified by the Committee—assumptions, implementation, targets and integrated transport policy.


  2.1  The assumptions made about the introduction of congestion charging and workplace levy schemes seem optimistic. Progress with congestion charging and workplace levy schemes is slow. There are relatively few areas committed to the introduction of such schemes and significant urban areas that are not.



  3.1  The Society is concerned at the level of financial resources available for the implementation of the Plan. The recent paper sponsored by CfIT has illustrated the degree of under-investment, of "two generations of neglect, of a transport network starved of investment for half a century."

  3.2  The increases in transport spending are welcomed but there is evidence that they are not sufficient to deliver a transport system in which we can take pride. In particular, it s not clear that the levels of spending now proposed will realise the ambition of John Prescott when he announced his intention that the UK was to rival the best in Europe when he published the Government's 10 Year Transport Plan.

  3.3  There is a danger that the current situation in the railway industry could divert resources from other areas. The problems in other aspects of transport must be recognised.


  3.4  The Government issued guidance on the level of capital resources that should be assumed for local transport in its Guidance on Full Local Transport Plans (LTPs). It stated that "LTPs must be based on realistic expectations of the resources which are likely to be made available."

  3.5  Experience is indicating that the level of capital investment proposed in LTPs as a result of that Guidance will be insufficient to deliver the required improvements and meet targets. As well as the sheer scale of work required, unit costs of work are also increasing.

  3.6  The emerging multi-modal studies are disclosing additional projects that need to be implemented over and above those originally identified in LTPs, requiring additional resources. Some authorities are considering submitting new LTPs. Some other authorities not planning to submit new LTPs are considering the submission of supplementary bids to increase levels of investment.

  3.7  The limitations on the provision of grants to fund capital investment through LTPs is also an issue. In previous years, grants were provided by Central Government for major projects (which were then defined as projects costing over £2 million), principal road maintenance and bridgeworks. Grants may now only be provided for major projects (which are now defined as projects costing over £5 million) and there is no guarantee that grants will be available for each major project. Central Government provides borrowing approval to cover the remaining capital investment requirement but local authorities are having to meet a significant proportion of the resulting increasing cost of borrowing.

  3.8  The cost of preparatory work for major schemes is posing a serious problem. While the Government may have approved the implementation of a major scheme, it limits the provision of resources for preparatory work. In these circumstances, local authorities have to use borrowing approvals granted for other areas of work (eg integrated transport or maintenance) to fund preparatory work. The effect on those other areas of work can be significant because the scale of preparatory costs for major projects is high and there are more major projects than in the past.

  3.9  A further area of potential concern is the level and distribution of funding that may be required to deliver the objective of eliminating the local road maintenance backlog in the 10 Year Plan. Local authorities are in the process of performing detailed analyses to determine budget requirements to meet this objective. On the basis of work completed so far, it would appear that there may be a shortfall in funding if the highway maintenance settlements received in years 2001-02 and 2002-03 are projected to 2010. It is not yet clear from the limited work that has been undertaken whether this is more likely to be a problem due to the distribution of the settlements rather than a genuine shortfall in the total projected allocation of £30 billion. CSS would however wish to contribute further to the debate in order to inform future decisions on budget allocation.


  3.10  The new transport agenda raises revenue pressures, particularly for public transport (see comments below), highway maintenance and bridge maintenance. These pressures are made worse by the emphasis on integrated transport initiatives that are adding to maintenance costs eg traffic calming measures, cycle tracks etc.


  3.11  There is evidence that staff shortages are delaying implementation of Local Transport Plans (LTPs). A lack of sufficient staff has been quoted as the most significant obstacle to the implementation of LTPs with unitary authorities more likely to suffer from the lack of in-house expertise than the larger county councils and metropolitan districts. The latest (LTP) settlement letters also identify this issue, again the issue seeming to be particularly acute in the smaller unitary authorities.

  3.12  Transport planning seems to benefit from economies of scale with staffing problems seeming less acute in larger authorities. As well as the staffing issue outlined in the previous paragraph, county councils and metropolitan districts are also able to devote more staff resources to the production of LTPs than the smaller unitary authorities. They are also more likely to have a dedicated LTP team than the unitary authorities.


  4.1  The LTP produces capital resources but revenue resources are also needed to achieve public transport targets. Surveys have consistently shown that the top priorities for the public are cheaper fares and more frequent services. These improvements are primarily dependent on revenue spending, not capital investment. The recent survey by CfIT showed that UK operators charge the highest fares in Europe although they achieve the lowest operating costs per vehicle kilometre. The survey showed that "European Governments are willing to subsidise public transport fares to a far greater extent than is the case in the UK."

  4.2  The issue of providing significantly more subsidy from the public sector to the private sector raises the issue of institutional arrangements for public transport. Bus quality partnerships are not considered to provide a suitable way forward. Bus quality contracts seem to be a better option but there are difficulties in their implementation. These difficulties will need to be addressed if contracts are to be commonly adopted.

  4.3  The intention of arresting local road maintenance deterioration with a view to then eliminating the maintenance backlog by 2010 is fully supported, although there is a need for clarity in defining the steady-state condition to be achieved by 2010. This is currently being interpreted as a residual 7 per cent or 8 per cent of the network being in need of investigation or treatment, having regard to UKPMS criteria and the similar outcome expected for the trunk road network. The detailed interpretation of this target will however impact on the budget requirement for its achievement.


  5.1  There is a need to review the arrangements between central and local government in terms of delivery of the local transport improvements. There is a need to decentralise to local government those matters which can best be dealt with at a local level.

  5.2  There is too much detailed involvement by Central Government in the production and monitoring of LTPs as can be seen from both the detailed nature of Government Guidance and Government responses to published documents. This results in LTPs being long, complex documents designed for bureaucrats rather than as a means of communication between a local authority and the community. It also results in Central Government keeping too detailed a level of control on local government. LTPs are "judged" by Central Government at a very detailed level. A broader, more transparent approach to judging performance would be beneficial.

  5.3  The announcement in the Local Government White Paper of the intention to scrap existing capital financing rules and introduce "prudential indicators" is welcomed as an example of the relaxation of controls that should be introduced.


  6.1  The Government's initiative in the production of the White Paper—A New Deal for Transport and the Ten Year Transport Plan are most welcome. Any memorandum such as this inevitably focuses on issues but, overall, the new emphasis on transport is applauded.

  6.2  However, these initiatives are disclosing just how much needs to be done, not just to provide a better transport system but to provide a transport system that will "rival the best in Europe."

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