Launch of local transport plan

The government’s strategy on sustainable local transport hands responsibility for emissions reductions to local authorities

The government has published a white paper on local transport, aimed at cutting transport emissions and promoting economic growth at the local level.1 It leaves the job largely to local councils, while their overall funding for transport is being cut.

Key measures include a new local sustainable transport fund worth £580m, simplified funding streams for councils, and the promotion of alternatives to the car.

The new strategy, Creating Growth, Cutting Carbon, says: “It is at the local level that most can be done to enable people to make more sustainable transport choices.”

Its major feature is the overhaul of funding streams for councils, with the current 26 being reduced to just four from April.

First, a major schemes programme will support major local transport schemes that cost over £5m (capital). While the pot is £1.5bn over the spending review period (2011-2015), Stephen Joseph, chief executive of the green transport group Campaign for Better Transport (CBT), told ENDS only about £800m of this is new money – the rest has been committed to existing schemes.

Second is a £3bn capital fund for local highways maintenance, accompanied by a £6m ‘highways maintenance efficiency programme’ to help local authorities secure better value for money.

Third is a £1.3bn capital funding pot for small, integrated transport schemes. This is intended to cut congestion and carbon emissions.

The local highways maintenance and integrated transport schemes funds will be allocated according to a formula grant system. They are not subject to bidding.

Finally, a new local sustainable transport fund (LSTF) of £560m will provide both capital (£210m) and revenue (£350m) to councils for tailored local measures that support growth and cut emissions.

Eligible projects could include sustainable workplace and school travel plans, improvements to bus or community transport services, those promoting more use of park-and-ride schemes and gains to the existing transport network through traffic management initiatives. The fund will not support major rail, passenger transport or road infrastructure projects.

Any English local transport authority out­side London can apply to the LSTF. Each transport authority will be allowed one bid, though DfT guidance issued with the white paper says there may be exceptions.2  Schemes that demonstrate strong partnerships with voluntary community social enterprises and local businesses will be “looked upon favourably”, it says.

DfT expects most LSTF proposals to be small projects requiring contributions of under £5m over the spending period. Submissions should be made by 18 April 2011 to be eligible for ‘tranche 1’ of funding, with outcomes announced in June.

However, a ceiling of £50m has been set for a few individual bids to the LSTF. To apply for this upper tier of funding, applicants must go through two stages with initial proposals being submitted by 6 June 2011. A shortlist will be announced in July, with final decisions expected in June 2012.

The application guidance states proposals must support the local economy, cut carbon emissions, and show “value for money, deliverability, and affordability”. Other assessment criteria include aims to improve air quality and safety, and increase levels of physical activity.

A spokesman for the Local Government Association told ENDS it had lobbied hard for the government to give the LSTF direct to councils to spend. “Instead, the government has set up a complicated bidding process that will use up scarce resources to prepare for bids.”

The white paper says it expects the new local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) (ENDS Report 430, pp 60-61) to play a “positive strategic role” in local transport and help “implement the devolution of transport decision making to local areas”.

But the Campaign for Better Transport’s Mr Joseph said it was not known how this would work. “It’s all to be invented. LEPs currently have no statutory power, no clear funding mechanisms, and transport often doesn’t fit neatly within their boundaries.

“You simply cannot do strategic planning at the LEP level”, he added.

Much of what the government says it aims to do to shift away from the car for local journeys to walking, cycling and public transport use, rests upon the LSTF.

While the new fund has broadly been welcomed, Mr Joseph warned it risks being undermined by cuts elsewhere: “The government is giving with one hand and taking away with the other”, he told ENDS.

Local buses

A great deal of local authority transport revenue funding comes from the communities department’s (DCLG) Formula Grant, which is facing cuts of 28% over the next four years under last October’s spending review. Local buses, which are supported by local councils when not commercially viable, are likely to be hit hard.

Some 70% of councils are now planning major cuts to their bus budgets, with some planning to cut all services, says the Campaign for Better Transport.

 “In some areas, we’re likely to see the complete disappearance of some routes combined with increased fares on others”, said Mr Joseph.

The white paper stresses local transport’s role in cutting UK transport emissions, focusing on the 67% of trips that are under five miles.

But DfT’s 2008 figures state it is medium distance trips (10-25 miles) that are responsible for the highest volume of emissions. Trips longer than five miles represent about 77% of domestic transport emissions.

And while the white paper talks enthusiastically about promoting walking, cycling and public transport, it has no targets for the number of car journeys switched to lower-carbon alternatives.

It prefers to avoid forcing drivers to get out of their cars, instead promoting ‘softer’ alternatives that fall lower on its “ladder of interventions”: a hierarchy of policy responses that range from doing nothing to eliminating choice through regulation.

By encouraging councils to provide better information and education, it seeks to “enable choice” rather than restrict it.

The white paper briefly promotes the ‘nudge’ concept of encouraging good behaviour, using insights from economics and psychology, something the prime minister’s office promotes. The thinking is that free cycle training, enhanced travel planning information or more attractive street environments may nudge people into making more sustainable transport choices.

“People indicate a willingness to make different mode choices for some journeys where they have viable alternatives”, it says. However, an opinion survey commissioned by DfT – also published in January – found only 46% were willing to reduce their own car use on climate change grounds.

Between 2004 and 2009, nudge measures were explored by the previous Labour government in three ‘sustainable travel towns’ – Darlington, Peterborough and Worcester. A total of £15m government funding was invested over five years, with some notable successes (ENDS Report 409, pp 34-38).

Car trips per resident reduced by 8% in number and 5–7% in distance; bus and public transport trips per resident rose by 14% overall; cycle trips rose by 26%; and walking increased by 13%. The interventions fell into the DfT’s “high value for money” category, with congestion and CO2 emissions cut alongside increases in physical activity.

The improvement of “end-to-end journeys” has been identified as a priority in making public transport more attractive.

There are now 24 pilot schemes covering 31 railway stations where more sustainable travel modes are promoted. Real time information with ‘live’ display boards, smart and integrated ticketing and better timetable integration are among measures the DfT hopes more councils will now adopt.

The white paper says the DfT will publish a carbon plan later this year, setting out departmental policies and deadlines to ensure “real action on climate change”.

It also plans to publish a carbon tool for councils this year, which will include a carbon calculator, advice on data sources, and guidance on research and best practice. The department says it is reviewing how investment decisions can ensure that carbon implications are fully recognised.

The white paper makes no mention of congestion charging and road-pricing schemes, favoured from time to time by the previous Labour government but which came to nothing outside London.

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