Sustainability in the Department for Transport Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

Policy and policy making

1.The Department for Transport needs to spell out more clearly and in more detail its commitments, timetable and progress on sustainable transport. Its Single Departmental Plan (SDP) does not adequately communicate to the transport sector what outcomes the Department envisages from the commitments it has made; while its annual report has to date provided little indication of the DfT’s progress in meeting existing commitments. This makes it difficult for the sector to plan and invest with certainty, and for Parliament and others to hold the Department to account for the work it has done. We recommend that the Department communicate to the sector more SMART—specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-related—commitments on sustainable transport, through its SDP and the forthcoming carbon reduction plan, and ensure that its annual report sets out clearly its progress against those commitments. (Paragraph 12)

2.We are concerned that sustainability is falling down the Government’s annual reporting agenda. Recent annual reports have failed to cross-reference departmental progress against important metrics such as Sustainable Development Indicators; and, unless Departments already have a good understanding of sustainability, forthcoming changes to annual reports may mean it is overlooked and public information on sustainability being diminished. We recommend that all departmental annual reports across Government refer to progress on sustainability against identifiable SMART indicators. (Paragraph 15)

3.The Department’s projected market share for ultra-low emission vehicles of between 3% and 7%, with a mid-point of 5% by 2020 is too vague. It leaves the UK playing catch-up with the 9% market share that the Committee on Climate Change advises would keep the country on the lowest-cost path to its overall 2050 emissions reduction target, risking cost inefficiencies. We recommend that the Department identifies the figure it intends to work towards up to 2020 so the DfT can be held accountable for its progress. (Paragraph 19)

4.The Department has yet to articulate how it will develop the ULEV market in the medium term. With the Department’s central scenario forecasting a market share for ULEVs of 5% by 2020, we have no confidence that the UK will achieve 60% market share by 2030. This issue, important before the EU referendum, has been given added urgency in light of the result. Investors crave stability and certainty, and one way the Department can provide this is through policies that signal to industry its intention to incentivise ULEV uptake. We recommend the Government set out in its response to this report its assessment of the following proposals: changing light van licensing conditions to take into account the additional weight of a battery and/or hydrogen tank to enable makers to produce such vehicles; supporting ULEV fleet procurement by underwriting risk or guaranteeing buy-back; helping workplaces invest in charging points; and introducing a national grant scheme for ULEV taxis beyond 2020 to reduce their price. It should also produce a timetable, setting out how and when it intends to incentivise further take-up of ULEVs and what targets its commitments are intended to meet. (Paragraph 25)

5.Fiscal measures are also important, and they need to be joined up across Government. The Department and the Treasury must develop a clear policy that incentivises ULEV market development and maintains long-term revenue streams for the public finances. We recommend that the Government set out a timetable for communicating its fiscal proposals to increase uptake and maintain revenue to the Exchequer, including measures relating to company car tax and vehicle excise duty. (Paragraph 26)

6.When the Department decides that an identifiable target is required, it is right to consider whether the sector itself might be able to devise an appropriate measure. But, as the experience with the rail sector and its carbon emissions reduction targets demonstrates, the Department could communicate its objectives in more detail and work more closely with industry to ensure that, when targets are set, they are well evidenced, well established and robust. We query not only the level the rail industry set, but the measure, given that a simple increase in rail passengers could lead to a reduction in emissions per passenger. We recommend that the updated rail sustainability strategy include new emissions reduction targets, and show how they have been arrived at and how progress against them will be measured. (Paragraph 28)

7.Committee on Climate Change advice on the lowest-cost pathway to the UK’s 2050 emissions reduction target included an interim 2025 decarbonisation objective, which the transport sector is projected to miss by almost 50%. Transport is now the largest emitting sector; emissions have increased for the past two years running. We recommend the Department set out in the Government’s forthcoming carbon reduction plan how it intends to deal with this shortfall in decarbonisation. (Paragraph 32)

8.The EU’s 2020 renewable energy target, and the Department’s difficulties so far in staying on course to meet the transport sub-target, show how short-term, measurable objectives can help decision makers and scrutineers to track progress and refine policies. Following the UK’s vote to leave the EU, the sector will look to the Government for certainty about the future of these targets. We welcome the Department’s work to meet recent concerns about transport’s ability to meet its share. But time is running out. We recommend that the Government retain the overall renewable energy target in UK law, incorporate the transport sub-target into it, and set out how it intends to work with other Departments to meet this objective. (Paragraph 37)

9.The Department has an opportunity to act as an intermediary where transport issues intersect with the responsibilities of other Departments. Air quality is an important example, where the transport sector contributes significantly to air pollution but Defra is the policy lead and other Departments, such as Health, Communities and Local Government and the Treasury have their own stake in the issue. Stakeholders have welcomed the Department’s recent work with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on this issue and its positive approach in general. But such cross-cutting, cross-departmental activity should be standard when addressing complex, long-term issues. (Paragraph 44)

10.This approach is all the more significant, now that the UK has voted to leave the EU, as its air quality targets emanate from EU directives. We recommend that, even after the UK leaves the European Union, DfT retain in UK law and continue to work towards the targets set out in the EU Ambient Air Quality Directive. We recommend also that it work with the Departments of Health, for Communities and Local Government and for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and, most importantly, with the Treasury to ensure that the price of air pollution is accurately reflected in Transport Analysis Guidance. Air quality needs to be given greater weight in transport appraisal, and devolved or dedicated funding, so that local authorities are able to target their sustainable transport measures on air quality in particular. (Paragraph 45)

11.The VW emissions case and subsequent revelations that real-world driving emissions are much higher than those under lab conditions have called into question the accuracy of the existing COPERT emissions calculation model. If it has failed to calculate the full extent of emissions and, therefore, air pollution, it will render the national air quality plan out of date and in need of revision. We recommend that the Government, first, press the European Research for Mobile Emissions Sources to set out a timescale for concluding whether the model is accurate; and, secondly, set out when, following those conclusions, it intends to state whether the UK’s air quality plan will require revision. (Paragraph 51)

12.The Government’s response to the VW case also highlights the UK’s close working with member states to develop EU-wide legislation regulating vehicle manufacturing and type approval. We regret that the UK may no longer be able to play such an active role in the development of such legislation. (Paragraph 52)

13.We find it deeply disappointing that VW continues to lag behind the Department’s preferred timescale for recalling vehicles that contain emissions test cheat devices. Although the economy and safety of VW vehicles with such devices are not at stake, the solutions required to ensure these vehicles are no longer capable of producing misleading emissions tests results are, nine months on, long overdue. VW owners in the UK have faced, and continue to face, uncertainty and delay while waiting for the cheat devices in their vehicles to be dealt with. This is unacceptable. We recommend that the Government set out a recall timeline it expects VW to keep to, and the action it will take if VW does not. (Paragraph 55)

14.We are concerned that, some nine months on from the emergence of the VW story, the Competition and Markets Authority, the Serious Fraud Office and, most notably, the Secretary of State himself appear to have let down UK VW owners by letting slide the opportunity to investigate VW’s behaviour and, potentially, to take legal action. One important aspect of this process is the Transport Secretary’s ability to gather evidence. He can pursue this through the Vehicle Certification Agency. Therefore, reiterating the Transport Committee’s call, we recommend that the VCA measure the exact contribution that VW’s cheat device software made to meeting Euro 5 emissions standards, which might then facilitate investigations and court action in the UK and further afield. (Paragraph 58)


15.The Department’s positive approach to sustainability is demonstrated through its robust project appraisal system. If such decisions on the environmental impact of individual projects are made in isolation across multiple projects, however, they may lead to an aggregate impact that cannot be fully mitigated. The Department could do more to assess in detail the full cumulative impact across its transport projects, so that it can state definitively whether natural capital is being at least maintained. This has particular implications for assets such as ancient woodland, which cannot be easily or instantly offset through new planting. It might consider taking a similarly broader view of matters by looking for solutions to project issues outside individual transport sectors. We recommend that the Department put in place a detailed cumulative impact assessment, including non-monetised impacts on biodiversity and landscape, of all its projects. We recommend also that the Department consider whether key environmental issues are considered sufficiently below board level, particularly when decisions about the environmental impact of a particular project are being considered. (Paragraph 62)


16.We welcome the Department’s good performance against the majority of the Greening Government Commitments, and we expect the Government to continue to report against these during this Parliament. Network Rail is a major landowner, with responsibility for almost 16,000km of track; its sustainability strategy is already well aligned with the GGCs; Highways England, a similar organisation, has to report against these commitments; and the Government envisages new “cross-agency” goals to meet its greening commitments. We recommend that Network Rail be included in the list of departmental bodies that must report against the Greening Government Commitments. (Paragraph 65)

17.We welcome the Department’s improved compliance with Government Buying Standards. We note, however, the sharp decline in food procurement performance over the past few years and will look out for its improvement when the 2015–16 figures are produced. (Paragraph 68)

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1 August 2016