House of COMMONS
MINUTES OF EVIDENCE
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Taken before the Transport Committee
Mrs Louise Ellman, in the Chair
Mr David Clelland
Mr Philip Hollobone
Mr Eric Martlew
Sir Peter Soulsby
Mr David Wilshire
Witnesses: Ms Cynthia Games, Northeast Combined Transport Activists' Roundtable, and Mr Ralph Smyth, Campaign to Protect Rural England, gave evidence.
Chairman: Good afternoon. Welcome to the Select Committee. Do Members have any interests to declare?
Sir Peter Soulsby: I am a member of Unite.
Mr Clelland: A member of Unite
Mr Martlew: A member of Unite and GMB unions.
Chairman: Louise Ellman, member of Unite.
Graham Stringer: Member of Unite.
Q237 Chairman: Could I ask our witnesses to introduce themselves for the record.
Mr Smyth: My name is Ralph Smyth. I am the Senior Transport Campaigner at the
Campaign to Protect Rural
Ms Games: I am Cynthia Games. I am the Northeast Coordinator of Living Streets, but I am here today representing the Northeast Combined Transport Activists' Roundtable - NECTAR.
Q238 Chairman: Thank you very much. We have heard strong evidence from the British Chambers of Commerce that we need to have an expansion of the major road network. Do you agree with that?
Mr Smyth: No, I do not.
Q239 Chairman: Could you tell us why.
Mr Smyth: Because there are limited resources to spend on transport and the benefits of expending other forms of transport, particularly rail and also improving land use planning, would be far more than spending money on roads which would simply lead to more traffic and more congestion, particularly on local roads which feed into the strategic road network.
Q240 Chairman: Does that mean that you do not think it is important to give economic needs priority when we are looking at the case for road building?
Mr Smyth: I think that economic needs are one of the many things that need to be considered. For example, the DfT's Delivering a Sustainable Transport Strategy has five goals, one of which is the economic ones. However, I would not agree that spending money on roads is the best economic way of dealing with congestion because the evidence shows that more road capacity leads to more traffic. The DfT's figure in their Command Paper of July 2008 was an 8-10% increase in traffic per year where there is new capacity.
Q241 Chairman: Ms Games, what is your view on this?
Ms Games: We similarly would disagree with the Chambers of Commerce, not because we are against the economic growth of the country, nor indeed of the northeast region, but because we believe there is an argument for working smarter and developing a more efficient network through using things such as the rail network by diverting some freight in certain areas to other ports, for example Teesport and the port of Tyne, by making sure that sustainable transport and personalised travel planning and the development of urban areas is actually more effective so that we can reduce unnecessary journeys on roads.
Q242 Mr Clelland: I was wondering on what scientific basis this statement from the CPRE that the road network is "adequate" and from NECTAR that the major road network is "too large" is formed? When did the road network become "adequate"?
Mr Smyth: I think you are looking at our evidence. We said that it is better to see how the network is used rather than simply whether the network itself is adequate. I do not think there can be a scientific judgment either way because there are various different subjective values involved, various trade-offs between growth in different areas, between different public goods, be they environmental, economic or social. I do not think you can simply have a scientific objective answer to that, there are politics and different views involved.
Q243 Mr Clelland: As far as NECTAR is concerned, if the current major road network is "too large", which roads would you close down? Which parts of the country are going to lose roads under your proposals?
Ms Games: I think the feeling of NECTAR as a whole, and I have got to say that I am not the person who put this particular argument forward, although I would concur with it, is that ---
Q244 Chairman: Do you agree with it?
Ms Games: In some places we have a lot of major roads which are not used effectively at the moment. I would not dare to state one particular road because I am not a road expert myself.
Q245 Mr Clelland: As far as the northeast is concerned, which you are principally concerned about, you know about the debate that has been going on for some time in the northeast about the adequacy or otherwise of the road network. We are not talking about building new roads necessarily, but certainly the adequacy of the network we have to cater for the amount of traffic it has, but here you are saying in the face of all the evidence from everyone else I know in the region that the road network is "too large", so which roads would you close?
Ms Games: I am not going to risk saying the wrong thing there. What I would say is that I would agree with Ralph that it is very difficult to say what enough is, what is adequate. If you expand for demand there will always be more demand, whereas there is an argument which Robert Cervero came up with which said that "congestion is a sign of economic growth without over-investment in heavy roads". I think we need to be very careful about how we invest in the near future with climate change and changes in requirements for fossil fuels in the next 20 years when we may see a significant change, and it is that on which NECTAR's argument is based.
Q246 Graham Stringer: If you do not use a scientific basis, what basis do you use?
Mr Smyth: For example, again the Department for Transport has its tasks with five different goals. There was widespread consultation on that. I think there is broad agreement from the Chambers of Commerce through to environmental groups such as ourselves that those five goals are good. The difficult question comes when you have a particular scheme or area and which goal takes priority. You might have some people saying, "We should put in a rail scheme here because these three goals are the most important" and you might have someone else saying, "No, there should be a road expansion". That said, as I mentioned earlier, it is our view that economically we are at the point where expansion of the rail network would have better benefits than further expansion of the road network because, again, building more roads will induce more traffic, and that is what the SACTRA report in 1994 said and many other bits of evidence since.
Q247 Graham Stringer: Can I just follow up on a couple of points because you said a lot of things there. In our previous evidence session we had a distinguished Professor of Transport, one of the most distinguished professors I guess, saying if you had a pound to spend you would get most benefit from the road system. What cost benefit are you using that is different from the cost benefit analysis that professor was using?
Mr Smyth: I am aware of the RAC's report looking at the expansion of the rail and road networks. There are two main things there. One is they have used a previous version of the new approach to transport appraisal. The newer one, which came out in April of this year, takes into account things like physical fitness. You hear Lord Adonis, for example, highlighting how if you get more people cycling to stations that is a good example of how bike-rail trips have good benefits, and they are reliable because cycling and train tends to mean you get there on time, but also they give other benefits like physical health benefits. Another professor you had was David Metz and his argument was that people tend to spend the same amount of time travelling every day on average. Obviously different people travel different times, but on average the levels are the same. The benefits that Professor Glaister was referring to were time savings, people would save certain amounts of time per trip, but in reality they will simply travel a bit more rather than save time. I would question the figures put forward by Professor Glaister.
Graham Stringer: So what are the costs and benefits? On anything based on time, I do not mean the same time, you will be doing the same division sums. You have avoided what costs you are using compared to Professor Glaister and what benefits you are using. I understand all the benefits of integrated transport but we got very substantial figures from Professor Glaister, and we have had them from other people in the past, which show that the biggest cost benefit ratio is from investment in roads. I want some hard figures that show that is not the case.
Q248 Chairman: Ms Games, have you got figures on this?
Ms Games: Yes. Sustrans in 2007 published a report which suggested that investment in walking and cycling networks produced a 20:1 cost benefit ratio. That is a report which I can circulate to you later.
Q249 Chairman: Is that comparable to the report that Mr Stringer referred to?
Ms Games: This is comparable to the cost benefit ratio of roads which regarded that as 1:3.
Mr Smyth: Going back to Mr Stringer's point, the Secretary of State for Transport, Lord Adonis, in his transport manifesto speech mentioned the transport time budget as well. If you are saying building an extra two lanes on the M6 would save 10,000 people a day an extra minute, the fact is that over five or ten years these people will spend the same amount of time travelling. What they might benefit from is increased accessibility, but the trends are that where you increase the road capacity you will have people travelling further, they will not use their local shops, they will start shopping in a supermarket, the local schools will tend to shut down because people are travelling further and further, and the result is there is a drop in accessibility and those benefits they might have got the first couple of years from there being quicker journeys will gradually be eroded over a ten or 15 year period.
Q250 Chairman: So are you challenging the methodology of the study? Are you saying it is looking at different sorts of benefits?
Mr Smyth: Yes.
Q251 Graham Stringer: I cannot let you get away, like lots of people do, with misquoting the SACTRA report. It did not say that traffic was always induced, it does not say that if you look at it. What it says is that it travels where it previously could not travel, for instance over estuarial crossings and where there have been restrictions. It does not say that roads always induce traffic, does it?
Mr Smyth: Forgive me, I do not think I used the word "always".
Q252 Graham Stringer: You implied it. You said it induces traffic. What he really says is that where traffic cannot go because there is no road where people want to go, if you build a road it will fit the purpose it is there for, which is for traffic to go along it.
Mr Smyth: I would say that because investment is now targeted at places where congestion is worse there will be more inducement of traffic and the Government's figure that I mentioned earlier was 8%-10% per annum.
Stringer: That is just stating that if you build a road,
and the best example is to go over an estuary like the
Mr Smyth: No, I would disagree with that. Again, the figures show that where there is congestion that is relieved by increasing capacity and people drive more. Some people might be making a trip they would not make before, or it might be people going further on the same trip and so on, but I would say that evidence is crystal clear.
Graham Stringer: It is crystal clear that they
go where they could not go before and they wanted to. The implication of induction is that they go
somewhere they do not want to. In actual
Q254 Chairman: You do not agree?
Mr Smyth: I do not agree.
Graham Stringer: There are lots of empty roads
Q255 Mr Martlew: The Protection of Rural England says you do not give much attention to, or your campaign is not to help those of us who live in urban areas. Is it not a fact that in reality the majority of the road building has now been done and what we are seeing is very often bypasses, like in my constituency, that will go through rural areas which will relieve major congestion in urban areas and that is what you are opposing?
Mr Smyth: No, it is not. We are very keen on promoting urban regeneration. For example, with the discussion on eco-towns we have been pushing for the need to regenerate urban areas rather than build new towns in the countryside.
Q256 Mr Martlew: I can believe that, yes.
Mr Smyth: In relation to bypasses, most of the road building now if you look at the Government's recent announcement is for increasing the capacity of existing roads, because that is where the congestion is worse, rather than bypasses. It is interesting that a couple of weeks ago the Westbury bypass in the southwest was rejected by an inspector because he found that the case simply did not stack up.
Q257 Mr Martlew: So you are not opposed to bypasses of urban areas then?
Mr Smyth: We tend to be against new road capacity, yes.
Martlew: So really you do not care about the congestion
in the urban areas. Can I take you on to
the high speed train. I hope when we
come along with a plan for the high speed train that will leave
Mr Smyth: It is rather difficult to say whether we will object to something in principle or not when we have not seen any plans.
Q259 Mr Martlew: Did you object to High Speed 1?
Mr Smyth: There were discussions about the detailed design.
Q260 Mr Martlew: You did object to High Speed 1, did you not?
Mr Smyth: I think there were discussions about the detail of the design and where exactly it went, like many other groups.
Q261 Mr Martlew: So really you are objecting to new roads and new railways if they go through a rural area. What you are saying is we should manage on what we have got, is that not correct?
Mr Smyth: Certainly it is a good principle to make the best use of what we have already and in particular when there is pressure on government finances, but in relation to railways, for example, there is the Association of Train Operating Companies' report on Connecting Communities and that is something we very much favoured. Having the most number of people connected to the rail network at the cheapest possible price is a very good principle.
Q262 Mr Martlew: We cannot get down to specifics, but I suspect what ATOC were saying is that we should use disused railway lines.
Mr Smyth: Yes.
Q263 Mr Martlew: Ms Games, on the issue of the northeast - unfortunately my constituency is placed in the northwest but it should be in the northeast - there is an issue on the A69, for example, and over the weekend we had a very serious accident which blocked the road on the Cumbrian/Northumberland border, or near enough. There is a demand for the dualling of the A69. What are your views on that?
Ms Games: NECTAR would very much view
the A69, or something equivalent, as a key link to the northwest. We have just produced a report, Within Living Streets, for information
about the links between northwest and
Q264 Chairman: Does that mean you want more roads built?
Ms Games: That is a place where there is an argument for improvement, for more roads possibly.
Martlew: There is an ongoing issue about whether roads
should be dualled or single carriageways, especially bypasses, and I was
fortunate to be told at the weekend that there is going to be a new bypass in
Mr Smyth: It depends what the purpose of that road is. Often it may be to bypass communities and in that case CPRE's position is if there is going to be a bypass then it should be to provide for existing traffic rather than to be for predicted increases otherwise it will simply lead to more traffic on that corridor, and although you might have a safety benefit at that place the increase in traffic along the corridor will mean more collisions and more risk overall.
Ms Games: With bypasses, sometimes dualling might be more effective but at other times it could be that these new roads are cutting swathes across communities and, therefore, we have to be very careful about managing communities and making sure that we are not creating new severances.
Q266 Mr Martlew: I presume it is accepted that new roads tend to be safer than the ones that they sometimes replace or are not there and, in actual fact, we have a very good road safety record in this country. Surely putting a stop to building roads would mean that more people would die, is that not the case?
Mr Smyth: No, I disagree strongly with that. Given there is a certain amount of money to spend on transport, if that money were spent on, say, reopening railway lines, making better walking and cycle routes, that would improve safety, get most traffic off the road and give people travel choices. Spending that money on road building, by contrast, would give people fewer transport choices, it would increase road traffic faster than otherwise and, therefore, there would be serious disbenefits. The actual road itself might be safer for motor traffic but often there would be severance with people trying to walk or cycle and the figures you might be referring to of how many deaths per hundred thousand miles does not actually refer to the risks of people walking and cycling.
Q267 Mr Martlew: But it refers to the number of people, whether they be pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists or motorists, who are killed. There is no doubt that new roads tend to be safer. Is that not the case?
Mr Smyth: That is ignoring the fact that people might be scared off walking or cycling in the first place. How can we say roads are safe if you can only use them in a metal chassis?
Q268 Mr Wilshire: Mr Smyth, why does somebody buy a car?
Mr Smyth: There may be a whole range of reasons?
Q269 Mr Wilshire: Such as?
Mr Smyth: They might want to replace their old one, because of social status reasons, they might have changed their job or moved house and then need a car to get to them, there is a long list of reasons and it is difficult to have a straitjacket or single reason.
Q270 Mr Wilshire: No, but I think it is important to understand exactly why people do buy cars if you are going to decide on a road policy. If somebody decides to replace their old car, why did they buy the old car in the first place?
Mr Smyth: They might have a whole host of reasons. As I said, they might change their job, someone might have passed their driving test and wanted to be able to drive when there were not public transport services or it was not safe to walk or cycle in that area.
Q271 Mr Wilshire: Could I suggest that you are prevaricating. There is one common thread to all the things you are saying, that they buy it to use it, is that right?
Mr Smyth: Yes. The classic car might be an exception.
Q272 Mr Wilshire: Let us not pick over those things. So you buy a car to use it?
Mr Smyth: Yes.
Q273 Mr Wilshire: Having bought your car you pay a very large amount of money in tax. What are you entitled to expect for having paid that tax?
Mr Smyth: You could say the same for anything you buy, you have to pay VAT, or if you are earning money you have to pay tax on that.
Q274 Mr Wilshire: No, we are not talking about VAT, we are talking about road fund licences and fuel duty, specific taxation on the ownership of that car. What are you entitled to expect for the money you just handed over to the Government?
Mr Smyth: I would say nothing in particular.
Q275 Chairman: Nothing in particular?
Mr Smyth: The same as if you pay VAT or income tax you hope that money will be used efficiently by the Treasury in general.
Q276 Mr Wilshire: Your view would probably be that you buy a car for status and you are not entitled to expect anything when you think you might want to use it. Is that your approach to this?
Mr Smyth: No, I would not say that. You want to have a reasonable expectation of safety on the roads, that the traffic law will be enforced so that other people do not get away without paying their taxes and are still able to drive themselves, things like that.
Q277 Mr Wilshire: Why do so many people aspire to having a car rather than using public transport?
Mr Smyth: Because at the moment the public transport network falls short in many areas and also walking and cycling is not an attractive option because of the perception and reality of road danger.
Q278 Mr Wilshire: So in your ideal world public transport will come to my front door and go to exactly where I want to go every time I want to go there. Is that your vision of the future?
Mr Smyth: No, it is not. There is a balanced future. There will be more use of car clubs so that rather than having to have a car you could use the car when you need it but also be able to use public transport when that is a better option, or walk and cycle. Land use as well is key in trying to make it not just easier to get from A to B but also make A nearer to B.
Q279 Mr Wilshire: How can you make A nearer to B? I thought they were fixed points, unless you know some means of moving the world about a bit.
Mr Smyth: For example, post offices, schools, shopping, all these things are affected by government spending decisions, planning policy and the private sector. Over time - not tomorrow - there can be changes in the spatial planning and where things are situated and it can therefore become easier to take public transport or to walk or cycle there. At the moment trip distances are increasing, people are travelling more per trip on average per year, and if that was stopped or even turned around then public transport, walking and cycling would be more of an option for more people.
Q280 Mr Wilshire: I thought I heard you arguing earlier that money was short and, therefore, some priorities had to be had and road building would not be one of them. Did I understand you correctly?
Mr Smyth: That is quite correct.
Q281 Mr Wilshire: But now you are arguing that an alternative is to spend a vast amount of money on opening lots more schools and post offices. Where is that money going to come from?
Mr Smyth: There is a balance there, yes. What I think is important is when deciding whether to close down schools, to close down post offices and so on, you take account of the money that people would have to pay to travel further, looking at the whole facts rather than just a few, of the impact on the public purse alone of closing these facilities and services down.
Q282 Chairman: Has any work been done on quantifying what impact could be made on car use by the sorts of policies you are talking about, by changing spatial policies or changing where facilities are? Has anything been done on quantifying what difference this could make?
Mr Smyth: There is not much. One thing that is in our evidence is the Highways Agency and their post-opening project evaluation which looks at road schemes one year and five years on after they are opened, and in particular the land use implications of opening road schemes, something that CPRE was very interested in. We had a meeting with them earlier this year but, unfortunately, we are still waiting for a large tranche of reports to come out so the jury is still out on this.
Q283 Mr Wilshire: Going back to why people use cars, could I suggest to you that it is a matter of convenience that people choose to do that.
Mr Smyth: Yes, it is convenient, but in some communities there is an issue of social status. People being seen on the bus or on a bicycle feel they are not as high up socially as being in a car, so some people spend disproportionately more on cars than they would otherwise like to. In rural areas certainly people have much fewer transport choices and so they are locked in to having a car.
Mr Wilshire: Let us stick with convenience. You tempt me to say a number of things in your sweeping statement about status but I will give it a miss. As far as convenience is concerned, surely the great problem you have with any form of transport is that the difficulties come when you change mode of transport. Are you in the least surprised why the great majority of people, from my estimation, will always prefer to come out of the front door or the back door and get in the car, which means they do not have to go all the way down the lane to get to the bus stop, and from the bus stop to the station and from the station to the next station and then back on to another bus and perhaps walk the last bit? Is not the problem you have actually got not congestion but the convenience of the car and, however hard any of us try, the love affair with the car will always continue because that is the top of list of priorities for people when they want to move about?
Q284 Chairman: Do you agree with that proposition that whatever is done car use will always be more convenient for the individual?
Mr Smyth: I think that is a fatalist
assumption, to use the language of Lord Adonis.
It is difficult to generalise.
Yes, in rural areas it will be harder to make other options as
convenient as the car, but for trips into urban areas, given the amount of
congestion there is, public transport, walking and cycle can often do
better. Looking at
Q285 Chairman: Ms Games, do you want to add here? What, if anything, could be done to encourage people not to use their cars on the grounds of convenience?
Ms Games: There are a number of things
that we need to consider about car use, particularly when you are talking about
rural communities, for example older people who lose the ability to drive,
people who are unable to access public transport because it is not there. If I
can use the example of a success story, which is the
Clelland: Does that not bring us back to the argument
that CPRE were using before, that if the reduction in traffic volumes as a
result of the
Ms Games: The impression I have is that more people are continuing to use public transport. Let us face it, if we have a little bit of capacity at the moment, considering population growth we need some capacity, why should we not reduce now in order to make sure that the capacity is filled without having to over-invest in roads.
Mr Smyth: That is a very good point you make there, that if you free up capacity, whether by building roads or persuading people to get out of their cars, whether by congestion charge like in London or the measures Cynthia has just mentioned, you need to lock in that space otherwise it will fill with traffic again, particularly in urban areas where demand is highest and that means reallocating space to wider pavements, bus lanes, cycle lanes and so on.
Q287 Mr Clelland: How much additional public transport capacity would be required to make a significantly noticeable difference to congestion in the urban areas in particular?
Ms Games: It is difficult to quantify. However, if you consider a regular service so that people are able to travel after six at night, which in many areas of the northeast they cannot do, and even in Middlesbrough, for example, buses stop after half past six to certain areas within a very small distance, if we could have reliable, and that means not arriving early but arriving on time or a few moments later, public transport across many of the road networks we would see an increase. However, it is impossible to quantify exactly because it is a soft target and that is always very difficult to calculate.
Q288 Mr Clelland: I presume that as you cannot quantify that you will not be able to quantify the cost either. We can only assume if the buses stop after it is because the bus companies are not making any profit and, therefore, if you are going to run buses after that period somebody is going to have to pay for it. Where will that money come from?
Ms Games: There are other issues to do with the way that is calculated by private companies. Now that people are able to use their bus passes, is the peak time in the Tyne & Wear area for using the bus, no longer in the morning. That is because people are able to use the buses but, of course, that does not mean the bus companies are getting more money at in the morning. We need to find a fairer way of making sure that bus tickets are paid for to make sure that the bus services are reliable and regular.
Q289 Mr Clelland: You say we need to find a way, but all this is going to cost money. If we are going to have the kind of transport system which is going to make a noticeable difference to traffic moving about our roads that is going to take an awful lot of public money, is it not?
Mr Smyth: Can I suggest an alternative, the example of Freiburg in southwest Germany where they have a pretty much perfect transport system and there are far lower levels of subsidy there because the public transport is so good that lots of people have a weekly or monthly card and there is much less public subsidy needed for a much, much better public transport system. Hopefully the Local Transport Act 2008 will allow partnership arrangements to make that more of a reality in this country.
Q290 Chairman: Are you optimistic that will be achieved?
Mr Smyth: It is difficult because public money is being cut just at the time when new measures could be trialled, and that is very worrying, that the Act will not be given the time or the money to flourish.
Q291 Chairman: What criteria should be used for allocating transport funding?
Mr Smyth: It is difficult because if you are trying out new pilots you are going to have to put some money in that does not necessarily produce good results just so that you can innovate. Carbon reduction is obviously a key goal and so is equality of opportunity and economic benefits, but there will be a tension between them.
Q292 Mr Clelland: Can we just move on to freight. I presume that you, like most people, would like to see more freight moved off the roads and onto rail, but I come back to the point how much freight could realistically be moved off the road onto rail given the capacity of the railway system to take it? What real difference would that make to the overall movement of traffic around our roads?
Mr Smyth: It is difficult because there are so many different freight paths across the country. Certainly if we had more wagon loads rather than just long trains and more sidings, and also more smaller rail lines rather than just focusing on the main East Coast and West Coast, there would be great potential. Also, trying to reduce the distance that food travels, for example - CPRE is very keen on local food - is part of the problem rather than just having more freight travelling more miles every year.
Q293 Mr Wilshire: I do not know about you but I am horribly familiar with the A303. You both say that the road network is adequate. Does that apply to the A303?
Mr Smyth: We say it is a question of the use of the road network rather than the road network itself. The adequacy relates to how it is used rather than what is there.
Q294 Mr Wilshire: Whenever I use it, it is used for driving on, what else would you use it for?
Mr Smyth: What I mean is the way everyone is travelling, one person one car, and that makes inefficient use of the limited road space that is there.
Q295 Chairman: Does that mean you would look at active traffic management and use of vehicles?
Mr Smyth: It would be difficult on the A303, particularly the sections that are single carriageway, but as a general principle, yes.
Wilshire: So you make people fill up their cars rather
than have single journeys and when you get to
Mr Smyth: It might be a bit more complicated than that.
Q297 Mr Wilshire: I thought it might be.
Mr Smyth: The lift share service helps people match up trips and is a good example of how this can work and, indeed, is a very fast growing service.
Q298 Chairman: More generally, do you think active traffic management is a way of dealing with congestion?
Mr Smyth: As long as the extra capacity is used well. By that I mean high occupancy lanes, so prioritising freight movements where lorries are full rather than three-quarters empty, and also cars have more than one person in and coaches, buses and so on.
Q299 Chairman: How far do you think the Planning Act 2008 will affect the issues you are concerned about?
Mr Smyth: It is a very good question and we will find out more in the autumn when the National Policy Statement on national networks is published. We would be very keen for that to make clear that any new capacity on the road network will be prioritised to space efficient and carbon efficient transport.
Chairman: Thank you very much for coming and answering our questions. Thank you.
Witnesses: Chris Mole MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, and Mr Martin Jones, Head of Strategic Roads Division, Department for Transport, gave evidence.
Q300 Chairman: Good afternoon. Could you identify yourselves for our record, please?
Chris Mole: Chris Mole, Member of Parliament, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Transport.
Mr Jones: Martin Jones, Head of Strategic Roads Division, Department for Transport.
Q301 Chairman: Thank you for coming to the Select Committee and welcome to both of you. The Prime Minister last week said that the spending profile of capital projects would change as a consequence of the current recession. What impact is that going to have on transport?
Chris Mole: I think we will be waiting for a Comprehensive Spending Review in order to assess any impact between the departments. In the first instance we have our long-term spending profile and we are working within that. What we would be confident of is that our business cases for a lot of our transport projects are offering good value for money and, therefore, we hope we would be able to make a good case for them to continue in the future.
Q302 Chairman: What is that future likely to be?
Chris Mole: I think it would be to speculate to try and work out where those reductions would come if they would come between one department or another, let alone the Transport Department.
Q303 Chairman: So you cannot give us any assurances on what projects will be protected and where cuts might occur?
Chris Mole: I would make the point again that we believe particularly many of the road schemes offer good value for money, good benefit cost ratios and, therefore, we think we have got a strong case for them going forward.
Q304 Chairman: We have heard a variety of evidence on the major road network. Do you think in general the major road network needs to be expanded or is satisfactory?
Chris Mole: If you refer back to Sir Rod Eddington's report, his assertion was that the network that we have got is essentially the right one, some 7,000 km of strategic road network split between motorways and A roads, other trunk roads, some of which are directly in the responsibility of the Highways Agency and some of which fall to the responsibility of local authorities. We think that balance is about right.
Q305 Chairman: What about de-trunking, do you think any of that should be reversed?
Chris Mole: De-trunking finished in March this year, having started at the turn of the Millennium. Some 3,000 km of road have been de-trunked and the resources have been switched to the local authorities to enable them to support those through maintenance and to develop them as appropriate. We are happy that has got the balance right in that those roads which have been de-trunked are ones which essentially are of regional and local importance in terms of the traffic that is on them.
Q306 Chairman: But are you satisfied with the way they are now being maintained or do you think there is a case for reversing the proposal?
Chris Mole: We allocated the resources to local authorities to maintain them in line with what we had anticipated.
Q307 Chairman: Is it being done though? Are you happy with the consequences?
Chris Mole: Government has had wider objectives, as all of us with a background in local government will recognise, not to continue significant ring-fencing, so it is for the local authorities to determine what their investment should be.
Q308 Chairman: Nevertheless, are you satisfied with the results?
Chris Mole: I do not think I have seen any evidence that there is a particular problem with them, but perhaps Martin might be able to give you some more detail.
Mr Jones: The Department has been monitoring the condition of the local authority road network. Over past years there has been a declining level of condition of the road network but that appears now to have been reversed. We have also given a significant amount of money to local authorities to help them to monitor that because obviously being able to measure the problem is the first step towards being able to do something about it.
Q309 Mr Wilshire: Going back to the Chairman's first point about the current financial crisis, I do not want to go down the generality of that but since there is difficulty there, and it is reducing spending power, have you been able to see any impact on traffic levels at all?
Chris Mole: I think we have seen a 2% or 3% reduction in traffic volumes as a result of the economic climate that we are working our way through at the minute.
Q310 Mr Wilshire: Is that spread across all types of vehicle or is it focused on particular sorts?
Chris Mole: I think if you look at the longer term trends where we have seen the volumes of cars on the road begin to become decoupled from economic growth, the area we have seen continue rising is the small and light van traffic which has grown very strongly, even at a time when car numbers have begun to tail off a little. In terms of the current downturn, Martin, I am not sure if I have seen any figures splitting that downturn.
Mr Jones: The provisional figures, and they are only provisional at this stage, do indicate that there is a much greater fall in heavy goods vehicle traffic, I think the figure is something like 10% or 12% as opposed to a rather lower average figure.
Q311 Mr Wilshire: How soon will you have some definite figures?
Mr Jones: I believe the provisional figures are due to be confirmed later this year, but that is from memory.
Q312 Mr Wilshire: The only reason I ask is if it was going to be ahead of us finishing our report it would be useful to have them, but if they are not ready, they are not ready. If they are and you could send them, it would be helpful.
Chris Mole: I think it is one of those things where we have a regular publication date and it will be when it is, I am afraid.
Q313 Mr Wilshire: Have you looked in your crystal ball at all to see how long you think the downturn effect on road traffic will last?
Chris Mole: That is the sort of question we would all like an answer to in general about the length and depth of the downturn. What we would be more confident about would be when we do start to come out of that downturn we would anticipate that traffic volumes would continue to grow, perhaps more sharply at first and then back in line with the longer term trend with GDP which we have seen over decades. I only make that assertion because I think we have some evidence from previous recessions that you get a downturn in traffic volumes which then picks up very quickly before returning to the general trend.
Q314 Mr Wilshire: What are your current estimates of traffic growth over, say, the next ten to 15 years?
Chris Mole: I think we are anticipating that by 2025, which is a bit further away than you are suggesting, we are looking at something like a 32% growth in traffic volumes.
Q315 Mr Wilshire: Again, is that the same sort of figure you are looking at for all types of road vehicle or are you anticipating it varying between the types of vehicle?
Chris Mole: As I was just saying, we have seen a relative slowing in the growth in car traffic compared with other vehicular modes and that is something that we hope would continue at a slightly slower pace than everything else.
Q316 Mr Wilshire: But you are expecting the increase in white van man to continue?
Chris Mole: It has been a very marked trend and I cannot suggest we see any evidence that it will do otherwise at this stage and that is what we are assuming in the forward modelling.
Mr Jones: From memory, I do not think the forward modelling makes too much of a distinction between different vehicle types, it just gives overall traffic levels. It is quite difficult to predict some of these variations within the overall vehicle fleet. On some internal consideration in the Department we suspect that part of what might be driving the increase in use of vans, apart from the fairly obvious things like growth in Internet shopping and the like, might be some other factors, such as changes to the company car tax regime which might be driving people towards vans for personal transport. This is speculation largely and the truth is we do not fully understand what is happening with vans and, therefore, it is quite difficult to project it forward.
Q317 Mr Wilshire: In making your estimates you must have had some idea of what the cause of the growth is. What do you see overall as the cause of this increase?
Chris Mole: I think it is the same that we have experienced for probably four or five decades now in terms of a strong relationship between economic growth which we anticipate we will have in the future and traffic volumes. That has been pretty consistent over a long period of time. One of our objectives is to try and decouple some of that, but the extent to which we would be able to entirely hold traffic volumes at today's levels is unlikely by any other sorts of measures that can be put in place.
Q318 Mr Wilshire: We have been told by some people that the current major road network is adequate to handle the present and the future. Do you consider the current road network adequate to handle the increase that you are predicting?
Chris Mole: I think we can be quite confident about the majority of the network but would anticipate there would be pinch points within the network where we would need to undertake some investment in order to ensure that we would not see delays and congestion at those points that were going to be unacceptable to road users in the future.
Q319 Mr Wilshire: Can I take that as being, "No, it is not adequate, not in a major way"? I am not trying to trip you up on it. You are accepting that as it is at the moment it will have to be improved or increased or altered.
Chris Mole: We would be saying that doing nothing would not be an acceptable position.
Q320 Mr Clelland: Do you think the funding for the major road network is sufficient and is it distributed evenly across the country?
Chris Mole: We have got some reasonable evidence that the investment across the country is a fair reflection of where the population is, although what we primarily do is seek to respond to the hotspots that I was referring to just now in my answer to Mr Wilshire.
Q321 Mr Clelland: We had a recent debate in Westminster Hall, which albeit was about regional rail systems, and statistics were produced there to show that transport funding in the south of England is many, many times more per head than it is in the north of England. Is that fair?
Chris Mole: I am aware that some figures were produced during that debate, but if you were to look at the current six year period the national roads which could be broadly considered to be in the north are getting some £2.47 billion of investment compared to the national roads in the south which are getting some £3.95 billion of investment. Given some weighting for population, I do not think that looks too out of kilter.
Q322 Mr Clelland: Do you think the regional transport allocation system is really adequate and an appropriate mechanism to meet the priorities of the regions that it serves?
Chris Mole: Looking at what is going into regional funding allocation over the next period of some £10.6 billion we think that the RFA mechanism is the most robust way of informing ministers in the Department of the priorities that exist within a region, whether that is between roads, rail or public transport schemes. At the end of the day we feel that the people in the region have a better view of what those priorities should be than we can, so we are happy to take their advice on those.
Clelland: As you might be aware, the system can lead
ministers to an incorrect conclusion.
Let us take the northeast, for example, where one of the big priorities
that everybody agrees on in the northeast is the dualling of the A1 from
Chris Mole: It is true that we have been told their regional priority is investment in the Tyne & Wear Metro where some £230 million is going in the next funding period. We understand that is the regional priority and we are happy, therefore, to support that. I would not have thought there would be anything to have stopped the regional partners from parcelling up schemes on the A1 if they wanted to put something forward that might fit in with the resource that was available to them.
Q324 Mr Clelland: I accept that, but all I am pointing out is they have to decide their priorities not on what they think is more important but what is affordable and, therefore, what you are getting is not a view of their priorities so much as what they can afford.
Chris Mole: I can only take your assertion on that, Mr Clelland. We can only go with the guidance and advice that the regional partners give us.
Q325 Mr Clelland: Does the recession mean there are going to be cuts in the transport budget?
Chris Mole: I do not think the recession as such means that. To an extent this is the same as the question we have already had about forward public expenditure which will be a matter for a Comprehensive Spending Review at some stage.
Q326 Chairman: Does that mean that at the moment you just do not know what the cuts might be?
Chris Mole: At the moment we have to work with the figures that we have available to us which are in forward published Treasury publications.
Q327 Chairman: Have there been any discussions about possible cuts?
Chris Mole: Between the Department and the Treasury?
Q328 Chairman: Yes, or within the Department.
Chris Mole: Not significantly. We all know there are going to be challenging times ahead.
Q329 Chairman: Have you discussed what those challenges might be?
Chris Mole: We know what the Pre-Budget Report has done in terms of shaping the forward spend and we know where that looks in comparison with our previous long-term expectations and we know we will have to begin to manage within the new envelope.
Q330 Chairman: What is the difference between the two?
Chris Mole: I cannot give you a cash figure on that over a number of years, but clearly there is a difference.
Q331 Chairman: A significant one?
Chris Mole: I think it will be challenging but manageable.
Q332 Mr Clelland: The tightening of the purse strings would then put you in the same position as the regional transport authorities in having to allocate your priorities on the basis of what funding you have. In those circumstances, would road spending be curbed in order to protect funding for high profile projects such as Crossrail, the Olympic transport corridors and High Speed 2?
Chris Mole: Those are judgments that we are nowhere near making yet. Ministers will make those judgments on a mixture of what information we have about the business case for different projects and other views that might help us in that prioritisation.
Hollobone: Good afternoon, Minister. Congratulations on your appointment. I can confidently predict that for the rest
of your ministerial career I shall use every opportunity to ask you about the
A14, which is a Highways Agency road that bisects the
Chris Mole: Not a single figure.
Q334 Mr Hollobone: Do you have a range of figures?
Mr Jones: Not as far as I am aware, although it is possible that those who do the detailed planning do have formulae to deal with this. As far as I am aware, the way this is done is you look at the development in question, the new homes that are being built, how those might link with businesses, and attempt to model the additional traffic that might come from those. You would need to look at any conditions that surround that development in terms of limitations on parking spaces and that sort of thing. It would be done on a place-by-place basis. It may be that there is some formulaic basis of which I am unaware, in which case I will try and find that out and let you know.
Q335 Mr Hollobone: If there is a formulaic basis, is it the Department for Transport's formula or is it a formula used by other government departments? Are you providing that information to the other government departments?
Chris Mole: I think we provide some guidance to local government, perhaps through CLG or directly, which would give them advice on handling new development and the impact that it might have on the nearby network. One of the reasons it is so difficult to answer your question about number of journeys generated would be that we would anticipate engaging in a process with developers which would seek to discourage individual car trips by a number of methods, either promoting public transport or the design and layout of the development, all of which could help with that.
Chris Mole: I am aware that the junction
7-9 development and some associated works are very much aimed at assisting with
the growth of the town of
Q337 Mr Hollobone: May I give you an educated guess. That is because between junctions nine and ten flows the River Ise across which is a major bridge. I suggest that if the road were to be widened between those two junctions the cost of the necessary bridge works would be expensive, which I suspect is the reason that it is not in the Government's programme. The reason I am pressing you on this is because we are looking at the major road network against the background of an at least one-third increase in traffic by 2025 but there will be areas of the country, and Kettering is one of those, where traffic growth is likely to be way in excess of one-third because of all of the housing growth being encouraged by another government department. Following on from that theme, can I urge you, Minister, to look at the controversy around the plans for a proposed new junction, junction 10A, which is designed to support the development around Kettering, plans for which are badly needed but which have not come forward. I was wondering, Mr Jones, if you were aware of where they might be in the pipeline?
Chris Mole: I do not think we have that sort of level detail to hand today, Mr Hollobone, but we will commit to looking at it for you and letting you know.
Chairman: Perhaps you could let us know
Q338 Mr Hollobone: The other point I wanted to pursue about the link with planning is what I believe are called section 14 directions whereby if the Highways Agency is concerned that housing development might lead to too great an increase in traffic, the Highways Agency can basically stop that development from taking place. I wondered if you would be kind enough to advise us what triggers that mechanism and whether residents are able to ask the Highways Agency to get involved at that level.
Chris Mole: The Highways Agency is a consultee in terms of the proposals that come forward for new development, and particularly at a strategic level we would anticipate that the regional planning process would clear with the Highways Agency any concerns that it might have at an early stage about the impact on the network. The intention would be to respond to those through the regional transport proposals in order to meet any impact beyond the capacity of the pre-existing infrastructure. I do not know whether there is anything much we can add to that.
Mr Jones: There is probably not much more to say except I think that the Chief Executive of the Highways Agency touched on this sort of issue when he was here, stressing that the starting position is they wished to be co-operative rather than confrontational, so I do not think the approach of the Agency is to use their powers to stop things; it is rather to let us discuss it and come up with a sensible solution.
Q339 Chairman: Should the Highways Agency be expanded?
Chris Mole: I would be interested to understand in what way you felt that it should be further expanded given that if you look at its capacity in terms of employees it has grown significantly with the introduction of the Traffic Officer Service over recent years, which has become a key component of the Highways Agency's role, having moved from essentially just being a provider to an Agency that also manages the strategic road network on behalf of the Department
Q340 Chairman: Who is responsible for the strategic development and oversight of the major road network?
Chris Mole: I would describe that as a joint responsibility between the Agency and the Department. We would anticipate that the Agency would have the expertise to know what can be done and where it can be done, but the Department would take the responsibility for looking at the national infrastructure as a whole and ensuring that where there were areas that needed reinforcing we were ensuring that that could happen.
Q341 Chairman: And are you satisfied with that allocation of responsibilities?
Chris Mole: Yes. We have just republished the Framework Document which sets out that more clearly. In fact, in the past the Framework Document really only set out what the Highways Agency's responsibilities were and in the new one we have set out what the Department's responsibilities are alongside that, so I think that there is more clarity than there has ever been in that relationship which I would assert should remain a joint responsibility.
Q342 Chairman: How much does congestion cost?
Chris Mole: I would argue that that is not a question to which there is a direct answer. What we can talk about more meaningfully is what we anticipate the increase in cost would be from failing to address congestion over a forward period.
Q343 Chairman: You must have a figure on the cost of congestion.
Chris Mole: We would refer you to the 22 billion figure which splits 50/50 between the cost to business and the cost to individuals of lost time anticipated from congestion that would grow as a result of the projected forward traffic volumes that I gave the answer earlier on of about 32% by 2025 and the costs associated with that similar period.
Q344 Chairman: Is that a reliable figure?
Chris Mole: We think it is the best figure that anyone can give you at the minute based on the modelling and analysis and input from economists using known labour costs from lost time and related information.
Q345 Chairman: Is that a figure that your Department works with?
Chris Mole: It is certainly the same approach overall that we would use in the economic appraisal of individual schemes so, yes, it is a consistent approach across the piece.
Q346 Chairman: Do you regard congestion as a major problem or the major problem? How would you rank it?
Chris Mole: We think that it is one of the key challenges over the coming period and it is a view that we think is shared by the general public, who will refer to congestion in surveys as a concern that they have along with the concern about the reliability of journey times, which is another thing they put very highly. We know that congestion is the primary cause of significant delays, as I say, at a number of pinch points in the strategic road network.
Q347 Chairman: The RAC say that investment in roads produces a better return than investment in any of other mode of transport. Do you accept that?
Chris Mole: You can get very good value transport schemes across all modes. Certainly road schemes can have good benefit/cost ratios but so can some public transport schemes and so can some interventions to encourage people to switch modes of transport.
Q348 Chairman: Have you looked specifically at the RAC calculations and what is your view on that specifically?
Chris Mole: We are still looking at them because we want to have analysed them very carefully before we respond to them.
Q349 Chairman: And you have set up a body, Infrastructure
Mr Jones: As I understand it, the First Secretary's proposal is for a body which will look across all sorts of infrastructure - telecommunications as well as transport, water, whatever - and be lobbying and making the case for investment in infrastructure as it has a role in supporting the economy, and I think that is a positive and welcome thing. Whether it will fundamentally change our relationships I am not so sure.
Q350 Chairman: Who will give that body its remit and what will its criteria be?
Chris Mole: I am not terribly clear in my own mind about that one.
Q351 Chairman: Mr Jones, can you tell us what remit will that body have?
Mr Jones: I am not clear at the moment. I think we are at a relatively early stage in government in establishing how that organisation will operate and what its remit will be, but we will research it a bit further perhaps and come back to you.
Q352 Mr Wilshire: Could I pursue the planning issues that arise out of this. The Planning Act of 2008 sought to bring together more than just land use planning in deciding what one does about the growth of population of ten million and 200,000 extra houses in the South East. You have referred to your local government experience and I have got the t-shirt for that as well, and I think my memory of it is that as a consultee one was at a distance if one was the highway authority or the Department for Transport and, generally speaking, directions to refuse were seen as utterly negative rather than anything better. Will the Planning Act enable the highways authorities and yourselves - and I know there is a conflict between those two - to play a more positive, proactive role in the process of land use planning?
Chris Mole: Do you mean the Highways Agency or do you mean local authority highways authorities?
Q353 Mr Wilshire: Both?
Chris Mole: I am not sure that the Planning Act 2008 does specifically find a role for ourselves or local government in those discussions. Across the piece the Planning Act seeks to ensure that where developments come forward they are done within the framework of national policy statements. We anticipate that will be producing ours for the strategic road network for national networks in the autumn and then the Infrastructure Planning Commission will do the detailed work on individual transport schemes within that context.
Q354 Mr Wilshire: But the Planning Act introduces community infrastructure levies on developers. Will you be able to use some of that for spending on roads?
Chris Mole: I think the idea of the CIL was that it would enable some resource to be made available for infrastructure schemes that were of a regional priority rather than a local priority, so to differentiate it from the section 106 resource which could be acquired from developers to address very local impacts of an individual development. I think part of the idea of the CIL was to recognise that the aggregation of schemes could have a wider impact on regional infrastructure such as transport and therefore that was part of the purpose of that. Whether that will come significantly into play until after the recession I think we will all have to wait and see.
Q355 Mr Wilshire: In terms of the planning issues, the Planning Act and everything else, in your written evidence to us you said something that sounds very grand but I have great difficulty in actually working out what it really meant. You say: "The Department's response to housing growth includes an element of capacity increases" - and I am pleased to see that is spending money on building roads - "supported by high levels of sustainable transport, smarter choice initiatives, good quality land use planning and ambitious application of demand management techniques." It sounds good but what does it mean to me the layman that I will see you doing?
Chris Mole: Looking across the generality of transport, and here your point about local highways authorities and local authorities in general comes into play, I think good master planning of a development allows you to ensure that as the development proceeds the opportunities for people to travel in ways which have less impact in terms of vehicle growth/traffic growth both on the local roads and the strategic network come into play. I would give you an example from my own local area where developer contributions were used to pay for a bus service from day one of a development essentially rather than, as a bus company would normally do, wait until there were sufficient houses in the development to justify the passenger numbers. This was essentially paying to get the bus there so that people would get into the habit of it, otherwise if you start building a new housing development and there is no bus service people will get into the habit of using the car. That is a one positive mechanism that you might use. Others would include the design and layout of the development to perhaps promote bus priority measures within a development from an early stage.
Q356 Mr Clelland: How much of the 2050 target for an 80% reduction in carbon emissions is going to come from road transport?
Chris Mole: We know currently that something like 20% of C02 emissions come from transport and half of that is car journeys.
Q357 Mr Clelland: Will we see an 80% reduction in emissions from road transport by 2050? Do you think that is achievable?
Chris Mole: That is what the Government's carbon budgeting targets are all about and we have our obligations to make our contributions within that across the gamut of transport. Just last week we published Low Carbon Transport; a Greener Future which anticipates as a first step a 14% reduction by 2020 in carbon emissions.
Q358 Chairman: How much was that?
Chris Mole: 14%.
Q359 Chairman: A 14% reduction from transport?
Chris Mole: From transport, yes, across all modes.
Q360 Mr Clelland: That is 14% of the current emissions from transport?
Chris Mole: Yes, from the 2008 figures.
Q361 Mr Clelland: And going back to road transport in particular, how is the reduction
going to be achieved? Is it going to
come through better technology? You will
have heard of the welcome announcement today in Sunderland that Nissan is going
to produce batteries for electric cars and the recent announcement by
Chris Mole: I think we see some significant gains to be made from the switch to clean technology vehicles and, as you say, there have been a number of announcements this week and over the last few weeks from Nissan, from Toyota, and I think from Honda as well, about their intentions with regards to clean technology and the Government is also putting £250 million into the promotion of clean technology vehicles to try and ensure that Britain can become a leading nation in terms of these technologies and hopefully an exporter of the best vehicle technology in the world.
Q362 Chairman: Is technology going to be the main area that you are counting on to reduce emissions?
Chris Mole: I think at this stage that is where our priorities should be focused because we think that is where the most gain is to be made.
Q363 Chairman: We have had evidence previously that advance traffic management technology is tried and tested but there is no political will to use it.
Chris Mole: Sorry, which technology was that?
Q364 Chairman: The advance traffic management technology is there but there is no political will to use it.
Chris Mole: There are a number of different technologies. I think we might regard active traffic management as something we do as part of, for example, managing motorways and controlling vehicle speeds. Is that the sort of thing you have in mind rather than some of more complex, co-operative road vehicle technologies?
Q365 Chairman: We had specific evidence on advance traffic management technology where we were told that the technology existed to manage the traffic much more effectively but that there was not the political will to use that.
Chris Mole: I think we are doing some of that already. If you look at the managed motorways programme, of which hard shoulder running is but one part, a lot of that is about ensuring that we keep traffic moving smoothly, because one of the things we know is that if vehicles bunch you get a more disturbed flow in the highway which actually leads to an overall reduction in average speeds. There are a number of things we can do such as where we have variable message signing putting up speeds that we expect people then to follow that allows the traffic to smooth out to a higher average speed. There are other things we can do. For example, Mr Hollobone will be aware of some of our ramp metering proposals around junctions onto the A14, and there are another 200 or 300 schemes I think around the country, where we can control the flow of traffic on to particularly busy routes in a way that we can then demonstrate increases the average speed of the traffic on the trunk road.
Q366 Chairman: But you have put a lot of faith in technology as a means of reducing emissions in a significant way. Are you satisfied that there is enough connection with the motor industry to make sure that is a reality?
Chris Mole: In terms of what can be done to promote better driving in-vehicle information systems are an area for development where the driver can get feedback about the efficiency of the driver. We actually have a programme coming up for lorry drivers which is called Safe and Fuel Efficient Driving (SAFED), which is aimed at identifying the skills for people to drive in a way that is both safer and, as the name implies, makes better use of fuel. That is something that I would envisage we might come to in the future with motorists in private cars and, as I say, possibly facilitated by some requirement for new vehicles to have information that gives drivers feedback about how efficiently they are driving. A number of the hybrids that are coming on the market at the minute have those sorts of systems built into them and do appear to be impacting on driver behaviour. I say that from personal experience rather than anything else.
Q367 Chairman: If I can go back to the production of greener vehicles, are you satisfied that there is enough connection between the Department of Transport and manufacturers to make sure that greater knowledge is actually used in more efficient vehicles that are greener? Is that going to happen? We had an announcement last week from the Prime Minister about certain measures but is that going to happen?
Chris Mole: Martin, can you put more flesh on the bones?
Mr Jones: Alongside that you have got the EU Directive on CO2 emissions from new cars, which effectively has imposed an obligation on each vehicle manufacturer to ensure that their new car fleet over the years becomes cleaner so, if you like, that is an EU-wide imposition on them just to go away and get on with it and make sure that they drive the technology otherwise they will not be allowed to sell their less fuel efficient vehicles. That is separate from the initiatives that the Government has been pursuing on electric cars.
Q368 Mr Hollobone: Major roads are physically designed and built to allow cars and other vehicles as well to travel up to 60 miles on hour in some cases and 70 miles an hour in other cases yet very many miles of the major road network have speed restrictions on them. Is that not a factual indication of the degree of congestion we have got on our road network because if it was working properly presumably we would not need those additional speed restrictions to be imposed? My question to you both is: what proportion of the major road network has additional speed restrictions upon it?
Chris Mole: Gosh, I would suspect that is a bit of a moveable feast because it will be dependent on any one day on what is going on in the network and whether there have been accidents.
Mr Jones: Just speaking about the motorway network, the only parts of the motorway network where there are variable mandatory speed limits are the M42 active traffic management trial around Birmingham and the south west quadrant of the M25 around Heathrow, although it is anticipated that for any new enhancement scheme variable mandatory speed limits will be introduced as standard so that we can control and manage the motorway. Otherwise any other speed control on other parts of the motorway will simply be the advisory signs which you see in the middle of the road quite often which do not have any legal force.
Q369 Mr Hollobone: You mentioned, Minister, about ramp metering and I actually wrote that down as a question so I am pleased that you have raised that. People in Kettering, Rothwell and Burton Latimer in my constituency are very worried that when this ramp metering is introduced effectively local traffic will back up into the town because its access will be blocked on to the A14 causing unnecessary congestion in the town itself. What would your response to that be?
Chris Mole: It is not the intention of ramp metering to have a significant impact on the local road network. As I understand it, the ramp metering system has a trigger at the top of the ramp and if the queue reaches that point then the traffic is released on to the trunk road.
Q370 Mr Hollobone: We spoke earlier on about section 14 directions. Do you have a figure for how many of those have been issued by the Highways Agency because that would be a factual indication of the degree to which the local authority planning process is not dovetailing with the transport process?
Chris Mole: Not offhand, sorry.
Q371 Mr Hollobone: The organisation J5.SLIPS has contacted us to make clear its concern that the Department is not indicating they want to go ahead with improvements to junction five of the M25 in a development of the major road network. I wondered, Minister or Mr Jones, if you could explain why you have decided not to go ahead with the improvement of that junction?
Mr Jones: This is the junction around Sevenoaks on the M25 where I believe the request is that there should be slip roads to take you east onto the M26. The only answer I can give is that it was not considered a priority when the priority schemes up to 2015 was being put into place. It will have to be considered again when priorities are next considered.
Q372 Mr Hollobone: Would you be able to provide us with more details about why you do not consider it a priority?
Mr Jones: We can provide that.
Q373 Mr Hollobone: My last question is about roadside litter which seems to be a growing problem on the major road network. Some local authorities do play an active role in trying to address that problem. I know in my own constituency Kettering Borough Council, of which I am a member, makes regular efforts to try and clear the roadside verges and the amount of rubbish that is collected is absolutely huge. Other authorities do not seem to bother very much and I am not sure what the Highways Agency's role is in clearing up litter itself. I wonder if either or both of you would be able to explain what the policy is on roadside litter and whether you regard it as an important issue and what is going to be done to tackle it?
Mr Jones: As I understand it, it is the Highways Agency's policy to sweep the sides of the roads on a regular basis. I cannot tell you exactly what that is. I am sure Mr Dalton would have been able to fill you in in more detail. I am hoping that the Highways Agency might shortly be raising its profile on this issue.
Q374 Chairman: How much freight can be moved from road to rail and what is the Department doing to facilitate that?
Chris Mole: We have been spending considerable capital investment to assist in switching freight from road to rail. I think at the moment about 8% of freight by weight and distance travelled goes on the rail, so it is a relatively small component of freight overall but, as I was saying, I think it is over £700 million that we have been spending on infrastructure investment to enable that freight to be switched where it can be. At the same time I think we are spending something like £20 million annually on support for freight that travels by rail. Actually freight on rail is a success story. We have seen something like a 59% growth in freight on rail over the last ten years or so, admittedly with quite a sharp downturn over the recent year or so with the economic downturn, so there are some concerns at the moment from the rail freight industry, but it is a success story overall and one that we hope can return to being a success story going forwards. However, to answer your question, Chairman, I think there are challenges in the rail network in terms of finding the capacity. There is congestion and other problems that we would face in terms of vastly increasing the amount of freight that we can get on to rail in the short term, although that is our objective overall.
Q375 Chairman: What could be done? We have had evidence that the cost of changing over to freight is prohibitively expensive and there were other issues of transfer and inter-modal depots and interchanges and all those things. Have you any specific plans to make that change easier?
Chris Mole: I think the immediate challenge for us is around ensuring that we
have a strategic freight network, and we have set out our vision for that. It focuses largely on issues such as ensuring
that we have gauge clearance for the sorts of containers that are coming into
Q376 Chairman: And in terms of passengers, how many more passengers could the public transport system take in an effort to move people from cars into public transport? What is the capacity?
Chris Mole: How many more passengers could the rail system take?
Q377 Chairman: The public transport system. If we are serious about changing people's mode of transport, how realistic is it to move people from cars on public transport?
Chris Mole: I think I would have to try to separate public transport into rail and perhaps local public transport. With rail, again, we have had very significant growth in passenger numbers, again over 50% over the last ten years. It has been a real success story from that point of view, but it is the sort of success that brings with it again the problems of overcrowding on some railway routes, which is why a lot of our investment on rail is going into addressing that, whether that be by trying to add coaches through the high-level output specification for the railways, which seeks to address those capacity issues, to longer stations in some parts of the network so that those longer trains could actually stop and carry the volumes that we anticipate in some of the more crowded parts of the rail network. In terms of local public transport, I think the answer would be 'how long is a piece of string?' We would positively want to encourage people to mode-switch and use good, high-quality public transport. We have had the Transport Acts that have introduced the notion of quality partnerships which are all about increasing the availability of local bus services in order to give people those choices. We can do it more through things like giving people access to the information that they need to make those decisions. When we talk about smarter choices that is not just an empty phrase. It really is about getting away from the pro-car and anti-car arguments of the 1980s and 1990s, which were non-productive, and actually getting people to accept that if they make just one journey to work less in a working week of five day by car then we can take 20% out of journey numbers pretty quickly.
Q378 Chairman: And is the capacity there to enable them to do that?
Chris Mole: What I was going to say is I think that capacity will respond to the demand. The more people that make that choice the more the bus companies will find that services are viable and continue to provide them. I was going to go on to say that it is not just about public transport. Some of those journeys could be made on foot, some of those journeys could be made by cycling, and maybe people will work from home for one or more days a week, so these are all factors which hopefully can help with demand management going forwards.
Chairman: Thank you very much.