Examination of Witnesses (Questions 260
WEDNESDAY 19 APRIL 2006
Q260 Mr Chaytor: What is the source
of the problem? Is it inadequate estimation by the PTAs or local
authorities submitting the schemes or is there some excessive
cost inflation in tram schemes that does not apply to any other
Cllr Page: We have to tread carefully;
these are our members.
Q261 Mr Chaytor: But I am looking
for an honest answer.
Cllr Johnstone: I do not think
it would be fair to comment on specific schemes without knowing
the full details, but it is certainly the case that inflation
within transport industry capital is running ahead of standard
inflation; we know that.
Cllr Page: I think there is a
real issue of value for money. Speaking as a recent chairman of
a bus company, I would argue that pound for pound investment in
improved bus services and guided busways could probably deliver
more in terms of improving public transport.
Q262 Mr Chaytor: That is not what
the Transport Select Committee has said. The Transport Select
Committee has said pound for pound that light rail is as cost
effective as bus routes.
Cllr Page: Then you have the problem,
though, of the timescale for delivery and of course there is,
by definition, nothing like the flexibility in light rail that
there is in bus services. I think central government has rightly
subjected these proposals to a great deal of scrutiny. I am not
too sure that all the schemes have necessarily been presented
as well as they could have been.
Q263 Mr Chaytor: Reading does not
have a tram scheme in the pipeline, I take it?
Cllr Page: We do have them planned
but they are to be funded by private developers on the back of
section 106 agreements. The developments near the M4 are predicated
on them providing light rail into town, but those will be funded
by developers, so there is no call on the public purse. I think
the view the LGA has is that clearly this is a local decision
that has to be argued in the context of a package of measures.
Simply to say, "This is a light rail scheme; give us the
money" is perhaps a bit na-£ve, and some of the schemes
seem to have been presented more on that basis. I think the context
of the benefits to a wider area needs perhaps to be displayed.
Q264 Mr Chaytor: So you are not really
representing your members' frustrations on this or the members
who have submitted light rail schemes? You are distancing the
LGA from the individual authorities with particular problems on
Cllr Page: In the submissions
that we have made we have supported the principle of light rail
where it can be demonstrated that it provides good value. I think
that is the test that has to be applied. Clearly for the Secretary
of State that has not been the case in some of the recent schemes.
Q265 Mr Chaytor: Just coming back
to our earlier point about transparency and hypothecation in terms
of tax increases and the investment in public transport, do you
think one way forward in the light rail log-jam could be that
congestion charging schemes should be an essential part of the
package, and that would mean that the local authorities submitting
a bid for a tram would have to show their commitment and their
courage by introducing a congestion scheme and using the revenue
in order to part finance the tram schemes?
Cllr Page: It would have to be
part of a wider scheme. There is no way you could put forward
a congestion charge scheme simply related to the expansion of
Q266 Mr Chaytor: No, a congestion
charge scheme for the conurbation in which the new light rail
was going to run.
Cllr Johnstone: I think you would
need to be certain that the benefits of the light rail system
were spread across the area in which you had a congestion charging
scheme. I think I would have a little bit of nervousness in some
respects. For example, in my area we are currently awaiting funding
decisions on a guided busway scheme. That is going to go along
one corridor. It would be very difficult, I think, to implement
a congestion charging scheme along that corridor because what
you would do is encourage rat-running on to other corridors. I
think the principle is sound. The actual implementation and how
it would work in practice is far more complex and would need to
be worked through very carefully, but I do not have a problem
with the linkages.
Q267 Mr Chaytor: You both focus strongly
on the question of integration and the difficulties caused by
the 1985 legislation, but you say that you do not want to simply
turn the clock back pre-1985. What would be the most important
specific powers that transport authorities could be granted that
would help to improve the integration of all public transport
Cllr Page: In terms of the existing
operators, if we could have the powers within a statutory Quality
Partnership to be able to bring in services and frequencies covering
a town or city, that would at a stroke provide us with additional
powers that we currently do not have and would put us in a key
position that at the moment we have to use voluntary persuasion.
Shona said that there have been a number of voluntary partners
but they are precisely that. We have no statutory Quality Partnerships
operating in England because local authorities do not see them
as providing anything of real value to them. If you included services
and frequencies, and therefore the ability to be able to co-ordinate,
that would certainly give us a much more powerful tool. Ultimately,
a franchising regime should also be available to the larger PTAs,
and that is something that we include in our toolbox of measures,
but what we are saying is that there is no single one-size-fits-all
solution to promoting public transport outside of London. Situations
vary so enormously we must have the flexibility at local level
to choose a number of options, but certainly the recourse to a
franchising regime would also deliver that integration and co-ordination.
Q268 Joan Walley: One area where
your members do have a degree of local flexibility is through
the local transport plans for which they have responsibility.
Looking at the area and the time between now and 2010-11, there
will be something like £8 billion worth of capital funding.
I would be very interested in your views as to why in the LTPs
climate change and carbon reductions have not been made one of
the shared priorities that are applying to local authorities when
submitting those LTPs?
Cllr Johnstone: I do not see a
problem with it being a shared priority.
Q269 Joan Walley: But it is not.
Cllr Johnstone: It is not at present.
LTPs have become more and more prescriptive over the years as
to what should and should not be included, and perhaps in the
next round of LTPs, yes, the Government should be discussing with
local authorities how carbon reduction can be part of that shared
Q270 Joan Walley: In terms of the
opportunity to be prescriptive, I am really interested in your
views as to whether or not the Government should have been prescriptive
about requiring that to be a shared priority because what has
been submitted now is going to be paving the way ahead between
now and 2010-11, and if we have lost the opportunity to integrate
carbon reduction to that extent into the LTP, the Government has
missed a trick, has it not?
Cllr Johnstone: It probably has.
Cllr Page: It may not feature
in the headlines but all local transport plans will include issues
of air quality monitoring and the broader issues of pollution,
and some authorities are better at this than others. My own authority
has monitoring stations for air quality throughout the borough
and that is clearly an issue of priority to us. So it not only
issues of CO2 and wider climate change, but it is a
very important issue for people on the doorstep, and that is the
quality of the air that they are breathing locally through something
that is monitored and plays an important part in the plan. So
I would not want you to think that simply because it is not there
in the headlineand I agree with everything Shona has saidit
means that local authorities are not focusing on the issues in
their own localities.
Q271 Joan Walley: I would be interested
as to whether or not the LGA has done any research or got any
feedback from its members as to whether they feel that by including
in the LTP the heading "quality of life issues" that
gives them sufficient scope to be as innovative as they really
would like to be in terms of using that heading as a main priority
for carbon reduction?
Cllr Johnstone: I think there
are other opportunities as well as the LTP in bringing forward
the sorts of things that you are looking for and those are the
local area agreements that are coming forward and the local strategic
partnerships. There is a danger of concentrating too much on LTP
and LTP money. I think we need to look more broadly across some
of the new funding streams coming forward and some of the new
priorities coming forward in the local area agreements.
Q272 Joan Walley: So you would go
along with the Government not choosing that to be a priority?
Cllr Johnstone: I think what I
said was that it probably did miss a trick in the current round
of LTPs but rather than saying, "Well, there is nothing going
to happen now for another few years," we need to be looking
at the other areas where there are shared priorities and local
area agreements and perhaps we need to be looking towards a more
environmental block in some of those coming forward.
Q273 Chairman: In terms of disincentivising
car use, Transport 2000 has suggested that both central government
and local authorities could be more imaginative in using "sticks
as well as carrots". For example, business rates could be
reformed so that you could charge carparking more and shop frontages
less, or you could have tax credits for businesses that take up
workplace travel plans. Do you have any views about that?
Cllr Page: I am not too sure that
the LGA has expressed a general view. We support the return of
the business rate to local authority control. I am not too sure
whether within the return of that there would be the sort of flexibility
that you have indicated. I am sure we would support the principle
of greater flexibility and therefore such proposals, but we do
not have an LGA position on that. In terms of the wider incentives,
clearly it returns to the question of our ability to be able to
put in place and deliver improvements in advance of sticks. I
think the key success of London was for the Mayor being able to
plan for the improvement of public transport in a way that would
be very difficult, in fact nigh on impossible, in the current
structure. Admittedly, where there is a single monopoly operator
in my own town which is owned by the local authority we have a
degree of synergy but of course that does not apply in more than
13 authorities across the country. Elsewhere you have independent
bus operators who have their own agenda and their own shareholders
to account to, so the scope there is more limited.
Q274 Ms Barlow: In its section on
transport, the Climate Change Programme Review does not include
a single mention of the use of planning regulations in cutting
down car dependence in new housing or new commercial developments.
How significant is this omission?
Cllr Johnstone: It is extremely
significant. I think there are a couple of things there. I would
want to highlight or flag up the proposed planning gains supplement
as a real issue in terms of the limitations that it would be putting
on local authorities in negotiating with developers for better
public transport. The idea that this is a tax that is going to
be collected centrally and divvied out will certainly not be an
incentive to local authorities in planning. Although not specifically
around car use, I think there is also an opportunity with the
Code on Sustainable Homes. What I would really like to see is
that made mandatory for all new building and not just new public
buildings. So I think there are some opportunities there and I
think that I would be looking to see the Government really working
on both of those to provide some better incentives for local authorities
with new developments.
Q275 Ms Barlow: So not only do you
feel there are few incentives but actually there are restrictions
on forward-thinking local authorities?
Cllr Johnstone: I think the planning
gain supplement is a potential restriction on local authorities
and the freedom that local authorities currently have in negotiating
section 106 agreements, some of which can be very flexible in
terms of alternatives to car use. I think there are some real
potential dangers there. Where the Government really could help
and could show its teeth is in the Code on Sustainable Homes and
all sectors having to build sustainable buildings.
Q276 Ms Barlow: Finally, you have
got the three departments, Transport, ODPM and Defra. How effective
do you think they are in providing both a unified and a consistent
lead to local authorities, to narrow it down a bit, particularly
in the area of sustainable planning?
Cllr Johnstone: I think that there
is sometimes very little evidence of joined-up government between
the various departments. I would like to see a lot better integration
of government departments in working to provide better public
transport, less carbon emissions, and better use and better integration
than is currently the case. It is very, very frustrating sometimes
as local authorities to see them not working together. If I can
give a specific example. We work with DfT in terms of developing
travel and integrated transport plans and long-term transport
strategies only to see ODPM then come back and insist that we
have to take another X thousand houses, which completely throws
any transport strategy out of the window because transport strategies
are predicated on a certain number of houses in that area. So
the two do not work together, and I think that is a very clear
example of where government departments are fighting against each
Cllr Page: I would agree with
that entirely. Looking at the comments Stephen Joseph made in
one of your earlier sessions when he talked about a "disjunction"
between the departments, I would wholeheartedly agree with that.
There is often little evidence that the Department for Transport
takes on board the wider picture, neither do the other departments.
I do not know what goes on in Cabinet committees these days, I
have never been a member of a Cabinet committee, Cabinet government
as such may be pooh-poohed but I was always told that Cabinet
committees were to provide the real co-ordination between the
various departments. There does not seem to be much evidence of
it, certainly at the sharp end in terms of local government, and
I think there is a real need for pressure to be brought on departments
to look at the implications of the wider climate change agenda
and not just pass it off to Defra and say, "It is the words
`climate change', that is therefore you." If we functioned
at a local government level in the compartmentalised way that
departments of state seem to, I think we would be rightly castigated.
Coming from a unitary authority that is trying to overcome these
departmental boundaries I think I can be reasonably critical of
what we see from the departments to which Shona has referred.
It is pretty dismal.
Q277 Chairman: Have any colleagues
any further points? I think you will find much to agree with in
the report we published last month on sustainable housing.
Cllr Page: I have not had a chance
to read it yet.
Chairman: I commend it to you. Thank
you very much. I am sorry once again we were interrupted by the
division but it has been a very helpful session from our point
of view, so thank you very much.