Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 520 - 539)



  520. But you do believe that for cycling?
  (Lord Macdonald of Tradeston) Yes, I think it is out of scale.

Mr Donohoe

  521. If you mean what you say, why do you not ring-fence? The Chancellor is now demonstrating that he can ring-fence some aspects of education by passing it directly to schools. Why do you not give that opportunity to local authorities, to say "If you spend money on walking areas I will ring-fence money, but it is not to be used for any other purpose"? As it stands, local authorities would not do that.
  (Lord Macdonald of Tradeston) Because I think it would go against the whole thrust of policy in terms of funding local government. I would perhaps hand it over to my colleague to take that in more detail, but if walking, why not ring-fence everywhere else in local investment? That would undermine, surely, the responsibility we are trying to pass back to the local level.
  (Ms Hughes) Local authorities would have a very different view. They already feel that we have gone too far in this year's settlement in terms of the proportion of total money that has been ring-fenced, which is about 10 per cent of their total settlement. They think that is far enough if not too far. So local authorities would not thank us for that. I think, secondly, it underlines what we are trying to get them to achieve, which is to take the lead role in developing priorities and strategies with their local communities. If government starts ring-fencing all of those types of money then clearly it constrains the potential for them to do that.

  522. You are not promoting the idea.
  (Ms Hughes) We are promoting—

  523. You are not doing it because it is clear, on the basis of the evidence we have been taking, that there is not any particular promotion of walking within cities and urban areas. There is no promotion of it. In order to be able to achieve that, surely, the one way to do it is to say "If you want to promote this locally there is a bag of money for you. If you do not do that, you will never get it and it will not happen".
  (Ms Hughes) I disagree on two counts, Mr Chairman. I do not agree that there is not any promotion of walking. There is a whole raft of policies we are encouraging local authorities, particularly, but also others, to include in their plans and in their visions, whether it is transport regeneration or whatever—and also through the planning system. Secondly, I do disagree with my friend; to start dictating on every single area is counter-productive at the end of the day, but it is also cutting across the principles of directly elected local government who are responsible to their own communities for setting priorities and for allocating resources.

Mr Brake

  524. In your opening statement, Lord Macdonald, you said that the Government is not anti-car. A number of our witnesses have suggested that the reason you have not brought forward a national walking strategy is because you are desperate to be seen to be not anti-car. Do you agree with these witnesses who hold that belief?
  (Lord Macdonald of Tradeston) No, I think that is utterly wrong. As I said, I do not see that having a national strategy would have any great effect on individual behaviour—and this is mainly about individual behaviour, whether it is people staggering down to the pub or going off for a walk on the West Highland Way.

Mr Blunt

  525. How many DETR staff are there whose primary responsibility is walking policy?
  (Lord Macdonald of Tradeston) About a dozen, but my colleague might be able to be more precise.
  (Mr Whybrow) For walking and cycling together.

  526. A dozen?
  (Mr Whybrow) Precisely, it is 11.

  527. Would you say that the number of civil servants in charge of walking policy, including research, monitoring and integration, is insufficient, generous or about right?
  (Lord Macdonald of Tradeston) I suspect it is about right, Mr Chairman, because most of us know how to do it. I am not being facetious there, I just think you can therefore take a lot for granted when it comes to walking. What I am more concerned about is where we get the money to pass on to the local authorities, with the right guidance, and how they might see best ways of spending it. As I say, I do not think motivation at a local level requires a whole band of civil servants to tell people to get out and walk a bit more.

  528. How much money will be spent on (a) promoting walking and (b) roads under the ten-year transport plan?
  (Lord Macdonald of Tradeston) By promotion do you mean in publicity?

  529. To encourage walking, which could mean, presumably, improving anything from promotion itself to also providing facilities to enable people to walk safely through towns.
  (Lord Macdonald of Tradeston) In England it is whatever proportion of the £8.4 billion the local authorities think appropriate.

  530. You told us in evidence shortly before how those proportions are going to break down. You said there will be 1 billion on new roads, 4.4 billion on public transport, 3 billion on maintenance of the existing road network. That would not seem to leave terribly much for much discretion by local authorities. You appear to know what they are going to do already.
  (Lord Macdonald of Tradeston) You have, inside the context of 4 billion spent on roads, the ability of local authorities to decide whether they have new lighting plans or whether they have new pavements.

  531. Given the state of roads in my neck of the woods, for example, and the fact that we have been waiting for a Reigate Relief Road since it was raised by my predecessor in his maiden speech in 1974, it would seem that that is not enough money to meet the backlog of roads, let alone extra expenditure on walking.
  (Lord Macdonald of Tradeston) We certainly inherited a dreadful backlog in terms of poor maintenance of local roads, but we have apportioned £30 billion in the ten-year plan to bring those local roads up to standard, and the £8.4 billion for the first tranche of local authority moneys is, in a sense, the down-payment on that. I do not know whether you live in a Labour, Conservative or Liberal-Democratic area, but I am sorry to hear about the dereliction of your local roads, and I hope this Government policy will help better fund it.

  532. This is, in a sense, a reflection of the politics of it. We can get into an interesting discussion about the politics of the money spent on roads, not least the cancellation of road schemes when you came into office in 1997. There are enormous sums of money involved. Why is it that walking appears to have such a low priority in terms of both expenditure and policy input, given its importance in the overall scheme of transport as opposed to roads? Do you think the balance is right, or do you think there really is an issue here?
  (Lord Macdonald of Tradeston) To repeat what I hope I made plain earlier, I have an open mind on how this money should be apportioned. I recognise that in the first instance it is for the local authorities to make those decisions. I hope as they report back on their progress we will become better informed. If there is a change in the balance of investment in favour of walking that can be recommended I would very readily help to do that right across England.

  533. I think it would come as a surprise to local authorities that only ten per cent of the money that is allocated to them is ring-fenced?
  (Ms Hughes) No, that is about the figure generally.

  534. That is ring-fenced for special schemes, what they have discretion over in terms of their expenditure is a pretty minute portion in the end, given the responsibility laid on them by government?
  (Ms Hughes) No, that is not true. Clearly they have some statutory responsibilities, but in the overall scheme of things it is a matter for local authorities how they allocate the vast majority of the resources that they get from government.

  535. It is not a reflection of a rather sad state of affairs that local authorities are expecting a strong lead from the centre in terms of targets for policy, guidance evaluation, best value and resource distribution. Do you accept that that is the case, they are looking for that leadership from the centre? It may be regrettable that they are, but do you accept that that is the case?
  (Ms Hughes) I accept that in terms of local government reforming modernisation there is now a level of performance indication across a whole range of policies that we expect local authorities to try and meet. We are also encouraging them to set their own local targets for locally determined priorities, that is clearly where a focus on walking in the context of the wider strategies that an individual local authority might have for regeneration and for fulfilling their well being in power would come in.

  536. Coming to the final point on transport targets, why has the Government not adopted targets based on modal share, as happens in Germany?
  (Lord Macdonald of Tradeston) We have gone mode by mode as you know. In buses, for instance, we are looking at a 10 per cent increase in the number of people travelling by bus. If you take rail freight, for instance, we are looking for rail freight to increase its modal share.


  537. Why not give the same challenge to walkers?
  (Lord Macdonald of Tradeston) Because, Chairman, to repeat, I do not think it is meaningful if the Government announce that we want everyone in Britain to walk another 17.5 yards a day. I do not think that it connects at that level, if there was a government demand, because this is a personal activity. It is much better to give the money to the local authorities and let them create the conditions in which their local people might choose to walk.

Mr Blunt

  538. There are some who say that the average number of trips per person per day has remained constant for several centuries. I am including the average amount of time people spend travelling, at an average of one hour a day. I have no idea whether the academic research that supports that is sustainable or not. The people who advise this Committee and have expertise in this area maintain that. Therefore, if you have a modal system, as they do in Germany, and if you increase your target for walking you should then see a corresponding decrease elsewhere. Do you think this idea has merit?
  (Lord Macdonald of Tradeston) It has a logic to it, but I do not think it is a logic that would necessarily apply to the complexities of transport in Britain which, no doubt, is very different from transport in Germany for all sorts of historical reasons. I find it extraordinary that if a couple of centuries ago, given the profound changes in the way that people work and live, their transport needs were in any way similar. I would be very happy to look at any historical research that you can offer. While I find these historical or international comparisons of some interest they are not really central to our considerations.

Mr Benn

  539. In answer to an earlier question, Lord Macdonald, you talked about the difficulties in trying to quantify expenditure on walking. If a local authority spends money on a 20 mile per hour home zone, would you agree with me that that is an expenditure on encouraging walking because more people might go walking. Would you accept that argument?
  (Lord Macdonald of Tradeston) I accept it. I think it is a very interesting example because it raises the question of how you measure, for instance, the nine pilot schemes we have at the moment, how many houses are in each of them; how much money is spent on each scheme. You can come up with an average of £1,000 per home in an area for the introduction of a home zone scheme. Would you then be confident rolling that out across the country and saying, if instead of nine we had 900 or 9,000 or 90,000 such schemes what would the total cost be. Once you start getting into the process you can begin to quantify the investment required and, indeed, the benefits that would be gained from it. I hope that the framework that we have created for the local transport plans would now allow us to do that for the first time.

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