The Department for Transport has the chance to build on many of the positive steps it has taken on sustainability and to lead other Departments, local government and the transport sector in the pursuit of sustainable transport. But to do so it must improve the way it communicates its commitments to, and progress on, this important part of its remit. Its Single Departmental Plan does not adequately identify what outcomes it is aiming for from the commitments it has made; and its Annual Report could do more to provide the sector with a clear understanding of how well it is doing against Government and other targets, including decarbonisation and renewable energy use. More broadly, the Government appears to be weakening the way all Departments report against sustainability. This is deeply concerning.
Following the UK’s vote to leave the European Union, investors will be seeking clarity about the future of the Government’s environmental policy. On ultra-low emission vehicles, the Department needs to be more ambitious to drive uptake in the short term and provide the sector with a post-2020 plan to increase uptake in the medium term. On air quality it must provide local government with a clearer remit to invest in sustainable transport, by reassessing the weight it accords to sustainability, in terms of NOx emissions in particular, and the emphasis it places on economic benefits.
The Department needs to develop a detailed picture of the cumulative impact of its transport projects on sustainability. This will help to ensure that any single justification for environmental impacts such as net biodiversity loss from one project is not replicated, leading to overall impacts that would be unacceptable to a single project.
We call on the Government to ensure Volkswagen speeds up its recall programme to replace cheat devices. We recommend that the Competition and Markets Authority, the Serious Fraud Office and the Transport Secretary expedite their investigations into the carmaker to determine whether legal action can be taken against it.
Finally, we call for the Department to work with the rail sector to set realistic decarbonisation targets, and we recommend that Network Rail, as a public sector body, be subject to the Greening Government Commitments to reduce the environmental impact of its operations.
1 August 2016