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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1 - 19)



  Chairman: Good afternoon. We have one little bit of housekeeping before we begin. Members declaring an interest?

  Clive Efford: Member of the Transport and General Workers' Union.

  Chairman: Gwyneth Dunwoody, Rail, Maritime Transport Union.

  Mrs Ellman: Louise Ellman, member of the Transport and General Workers' Union.


  1. Mr McMillan, thank you very much for coming and bringing your colleagues with you. May I ask you firstly to identify all of your colleagues for the record?
  (Mr McMillan) I am David McMillan, Director of Transport Strategy and Delivery in the Department for Transport.
  (Ms Bowdler) I am Caroline Bowdler, the Regional Director of the Government Office for the East of England.
  (Mr Mills) I am Philip Mills from the Multi-Modal Studies Unit in the Department for Transport.

  2. Did you wish to make any particular comments or are you prepared to go straight to questions?
  (Mr McMillan) Ready to take questions.

  3. The Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) said "... the studies are not a good starting point for the planning and development of the rail network". If they are not a good basis for planning railway investment are they really multi-modal?

  (Mr McMillan) We need to go back to why the multi-modal studies (MMSs) were set up in the first place. They were driven originally by problems which were being experienced on the strategic road network. When ministers decided that they wanted to do things in a different way, the idea was to set up multi-modal studies which would look at the problems which were being experienced on the strategic road network and to evaluate whether the road schemes which were being proposed were the right thing to do, or whether there were other ways to tackle the problems which had been experienced. What we have set up there is the process whereby on a careful system of evaluation and analysis against some criteria which were set up by the department in guidance to the study teams they could look at other options for dealing with the problems which were there.

  4. Wait a minute. You are not telling us that rail was tacked on as an afterthought, are you?
  (Mr McMillan) No, I am not saying that. I am saying that the studies were set up to look at the problems which were being faced and find the best way of dealing with those problems.

  5. But are you saying mainly starting from the perspective of roads?
  (Mr McMillan) What we asked the study teams to do was to look at the problems which were being experienced from a local perspective on the strategic road network. They were asked to see whether there were other means of addressing the problems, other than providing roads and indeed to see whether roads would be a last resort way of dealing with the issues. There was no presumption that there would not be road solutions emerging from the multi-modal studies; by the same token we wanted to be sure that public transport solutions, rail solutions, so-called soft measures could make a contribution.

Tom Brake

  6. Why were these particular multi-modal studies chosen? Presumably you were spoilt for choice.
  (Mr McMillan) When the process was set up it was a matter of taking the key areas of difficulty on the network, the key transport problems which were out there and dealing with those first. If you look at the map of multi-modal studies, it is a fairly good impression of where the problems which were being experienced on the network were at the time and that would seem a sensible place to start.


  7. You did tell us many of the rail recommendations have not been looked at in detail and ". . . when they are, some will be shown not to be justified". You have spent £32 million on these studies.
  (Mr McMillan) What the studies are producing is a series of strategies for each of the areas in question. They are producing strategies and they are producing schemes within those strategies; some of them would be road schemes and public transport ideas, some would be rail suggestions. All of these things are by and large described at a strategic level.

  8. Wait, I am not very bright, you will have to be kind to me: ". . . described at a strategic level"?
  (Mr McMillan) They are schemes which in the opinion of the consultants and of the planning bodies who look at these things later on stack up and make sense in terms of a broad way of addressing a problem. They may well say that they think a road between A and B is a good way of dealing with a problem, but that is not a detailed assessment of exactly how the road would be built, exactly to what standard it would be built and so on. Before an absolute commitment would be given to any particular part of the strategy, that part would need to be subject to detailed assessment and detailed review. That is when it would enter, to take the case of a road scheme, the Highways Agency's targeted programme of improvements or be included in the Strategic Rail Authority's strategic plan. What they are producing at this stage are strategic ideas, quite carefully costed ideas but strategic ideas, broad brush ideas as to how the problem should be tackled.

Chris Grayling

  9. This is an important point. They may be producing broad-brush ideas but there seems no prospect of them being included in the Strategic Rail Authority's strategic plan, if only because there are already within that plan as many projects as can be contained within the ten-year plan budget, even assuming that the £30-something billion of private investment which needs to be achieved to make the plan can be found. You have projects which have been excluded from the SRA strategic plan, like the modernisation of the Great Western main line and then you get to the multi-modal studies. So any rational outside observer would surely draw the conclusion that the road elements of the multi-modal studies have a chance of being built because there is highways budget available, but that the rail projects have no chance whatsoever of being built within the next decade because there is no budget for them. Does that not completely undermine the credibility of the documents you are producing?
  (Mr McMillan) The documents are being produced by the multi-modal studies teams and then going to ministers for consideration and perhaps decision. You need to look at a number of factors. In the first place, it is certainly the case that there is within the ten-year plan an allocation of funding for a roads programme and that it is to be expected that if ministers agree with some of the recommendations which are flowing from the multi-modal studies review then the roads which are agreed as being delivered there will find funding within the ten-year plan. That is true. The Strategic Rail Authority has a strategic plan which is also in operation and on the way to being delivered. The strategic plan which the Strategic Rail Authority has is very substantially committed, as you say.

  10. It is totally committed.
  (Mr McMillan) The SRA will speak for themselves later on. That is not to say that there is nothing which can be done about the recommendations flowing from the rail schemes. There are several ideas in the multi-modal studies which the SRA will be able to take forward through the rail partnership fund or whatever. You also need to look at the timetable in relation to the multi-modal studies. The ten-year plan for transport is, as you would expect, a ten-year plan which extends for another nine years or so from now. What the multi-modal studies have been asked to do is to look at a longer time frame which varies but extends either to 2021 or 2031. It is certainly possible that as time goes by, as the ten-year plan is reviewed and refreshed and rolled forward and as the Strategic Rail Authority reviews its plan and rolls that forward, the funding would become available for some of the rail ideas which are in the multi-modal study recommendations, provided that ministers endorse them and provided that the delivery agent in that case, which is the SRA, believes that they stack up and offer value for money.

  11. Nonetheless by the sound of it you are not disagreeing with the basic premise which is that there are studies reporting now which are making recommendations. Those elements of the recommendations which relate to roads can and may very well become a reality within the framework of the current ten-year plan, whereas those which relate to rail are extremely unlikely to become a reality during the framework of the current ten-year plan.
  (Mr McMillan) Recommendations are coming out now which relate to road construction, recommendations which relate to elements of a transport plan which might be funded through the local transport plan settlement and it is possible to see the two avenues of funding for both of those sets of recommendations. In the case of the rail recommendation, I agree that there is more of a challenge to see how these things will be funded and in those cases it is very likely that the funding will come later on in the period the MMSs have been looking at.

Mrs Ellman

  12. Is there enough money in the system to fund any of the initiatives which come from these studies?
  (Mr McMillan) Funding is allocated through the ten-year plan which will provide a substantial amount of funding for road schemes if they are endorsed. There is funding through the way in which the local transport plans are set up to deal with recommendations for public transport, soft measures and the like and the Strategic Rail Authority has its own stream of funding which is delivering projects which will be of interest to multi-modal study areas and which later on may be refreshed and will then provide for funding later on on the rail side.

  13. Is there any kind of co-ordination between these different budgets? You are giving the impression that there are separate plans with budget heads, then there are multi-modal studies which are supposed to bring those together but in budget terms will not.
  (Mr McMillan) It is probably true to say that money is earmarked on a modal basis but that is not to say that there cannot be co-ordination and collaboration about the way in which money is spent going forward. What the studies have produced are broad based approaches to dealing with problems in each area. They come forward as a package of measures. Some elements of the package have to hang together, others are valid in their own right and independent. When the package is endorsed or otherwise by ministers, having had advice from the various delivery agents, in each of these areas an implementation team will be set up and the role of the implementation team is to make sure that the coherence of the package of the measures, be that measures relating to road, be that measures relating to public transport or whatever, is maintained through the process of implementation for the period of implementation.

  14. If the road schemes go ahead before public transport improvements, is that not going to have an impact on predicted congestion levels?
  (Mr McMillan) Talking in a general way is quite difficult. What we would need to do is look at each of the packages which are proposed and each of the road schemes and the accompanying measures which go along with it or which stand in their own right. If you take one example, the Cambridge example, there is a proposition there for a road scheme and a proposition for an accompanying guided bus scheme. In that case you would want to look very carefully at the complementarity between those two schemes and make sure that the implementation of one either went in hand with the other or was in some way tied with it. In other cases there may be a proposition for a public transport scheme which stands quite independent of an element of the package.
  (Ms Bowdler) The Cambridge to Huntingdon multi-modal study recommended improvements to the trunk road and a complementary guided bus system. The recommendations actually assumed a different standard for the trunk road because the bus system would be in place to take a substantial amount of the traffic and this is a really multi-modal approach and it was linked also with demand management measures within Cambridge which the local county council, the transport authority, will be responsible for implementing. What we have done is set up an implementation group which the Government Office organises and supports to make sure that the Highways Agency and the county council are working closely together. We are reporting back to the Department for Transport and the Highways Agency on progress and we are clear that this is the right sort of process to try to get these things working in tandem.

  15. What role is the department taking in ensuring that budget heads are ready to meet the needs which come out of these studies?
  (Mr McMillan) One of the key issues which ministers will have to have in mind when they endorse the recommendations flowing from the studies is the affordability of the plans which are proposed and the funding possibilities for the plans which are proposed. This may go in a couple of stages. On the first examination of the material flowing from the studies, ministers will say that they are minded to support these schemes provided that delivery agents, once they have done the detailed work on them, agree that they continue to have value for money and can still be delivered. At that stage they will come back for final endorsement. Yes, one of the key things we shall have to put together in recommendations to ministers about these studies is whether they are affordable, whether they are deliverable.

  16. What about road user charging? Do you not think it would be better if the department had been clearer on the government's view?
  (Mr McMillan) When the studies were set up, the department made clear to the people managing the studies that there was no presumption that there would be road user charging in the future on the inter-urban network, but it asked the study teams to look at the possibility of introducing that and delivering it. Later, in May of this year, some further guidance was given to the study teams about how they should interpret this and what the department's position was. Fundamentally what the department said was that there was no certainty that there would be road user charging on the inter-urban network, but that they would, in reviewing the ten-year plan, consider anything which flowed out from the studies about the future of charging in that way. We would take that into account going forward.

  17. There does not seem to be any consistency in the views adopted in the different studies. Is that of concern to you?
  (Mr Mills) Each study was asked to consider a wide range of measures to address the transport problems which they identified in their study areas, one of which was road user charging. The department's guidance set out clearly that inter-urban road user charging, although government currently has no plans to implement such a policy, was a measure which the study should examine as a potential to support government policies in the longer term. Each study has done that and the fact that they have come up with different conclusions is a reflection of the fact that they have found a different potential for road user charging in the different areas. The problems are not all identical and it is not surprising that they have come up with somewhat different conclusions. Some studies actually found that they do not recommend any requirement for inter-urban road user charging; others have come up with recommendations for its implementation, either in the longer term, maybe post 2020, or somewhat earlier.

  18. How important is freight transport in multi-modal studies?
  (Mr McMillan) It varies a good deal as between the study and the type of study which you are dealing with. On those studies which are dealing with inter-urban movements, clearly freight can be very important. On some of the more urban routes, that would be different. It is a key issue on the M25 study for example. It is obviously very important and needs to be taken fully into consideration. The way of dealing with freight movements could be very different from the ways of dealing with other issues.


  19. Do you really feel it was simply that they looked at all of this and they came up with different answers, not because they were misinterpreting what the department had said, but because they felt they were different? How can there be a different approach to inter-urban charging? That is not dependent on which area they are in: there is a theory that you have inter-urban charging or there is a theory that you do not have it. There is not a lot in between, is there?
  (Mr McMillan) One of the key benefits which has flown from this multi-modal study process has been that people in the local area and the consultants needing studies have indulged in, have gone in for a great deal of quite detailed analytical work about what the traffic flows are in a particular area, what the origin and destination of traffic is, what the freight movements are and so on. They have now a wealth of information which was not previously available at that level of the country.

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