Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 467 - 479)

WEDNESDAY 12 DECEMBER 2001

THE RT HON JOHN SPELLAR, MP, MR DENNIS ROBERTS AND MR BOB LINNARD

  Chairman: Could I have a declaration of those in this Committee with an interest?

  Mr Stevenson: George Stevenson, Transport and General Workers' Union.

  Mrs Ellman: Louise Ellman, Transport and General Workers' Union.

  Chairman: Gwyneth Dunwoody, Rail, Maritime and Transport Trade Union.

  Mr Donohoe: Brian Donohoe, a member of the Transport and General Workers' Union.

  Miss McIntosh: Anne McIntosh. Railtrack, a minor shareholding; BA and Eurotunnel.

  Chairman: Anything else?

  Miss McIntosh: My husband is a director of an American airline company still.

Chairman

  467.  Minister, we are delighted to see you here this afternoon. Would you like to introduce yourself and your colleagues?
  (Mr Spellar) John Spellar, Minister for Transport. I suppose I ought to declare myself as a member of the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Workers' Union.

  468.  We all make mistakes.
  (Mr Roberts) Dennis Roberts.

  469.  Perhaps you would like to tell us which union you belong to!
  (Mr Roberts) The FDA. I am from the Road Transport Directorate.
  (Mr Linnard) Bob Linnard, from the railway side.

  470.  Did you have something you wanted to open the batting with, Minister?
  (Mr Spellar) I do not think so particularly. It is a very wide ranging remit today and we should spend most of the time on questions.

  471.  There may be occasions when, because there is so much to cover, we will have to ask you for a written note. All the targets for the ten year plan are predicated on the assumption that things like road pricing, workplace parking levy schemes are going to be in place. How can you hit your targets for reducing congestion if that is not so?
  (Mr Spellar) Road pricing, or more particularly and more immediately, congestion charging and workplace parking are seen as appropriate tools that are available to local authorities for dealing with their particular local circumstances.

  472.  They are nevertheless part of the assumption in the ten year plan.
  (Mr Spellar) They are one of the tools that are there and local authorities will be looking at the local circumstances in their town or in their area in order to decide whether this will enable them to achieve the targets and also to facilitate transport in their area. For example, London is looking at congestion charging as their preferred mechanism for alleviating congestion in central London in the same way that Nottingham has looked at that but is now looking at workplace charging because they believe that that is a more appropriate mechanism for dealing with their local problems. In all cases, they are also looking in parallel at what improvements they need to make to public transport in order to be able to transport people as a result of the relief of that congestion.

  473.  I ask you again: if these are tools and for one reason or another the tools are not employed by either local authorities or those in your own Department, what is the alternative, because the calculations are done on the assumption that these mechanisms will be not only in use but in place?
  (Mr Spellar) There are a number of other alternative approaches to this. To give one example, one of the significant contributors to congestion and indeed to air pollution in towns is delivery during the rush hour. Quite a bit of that is brought about by either general lorry bans, probably dating back about 20 years, or specific restrictions as part of planning approval particularly given to supermarkets. If we went back about 20 years, we would have found a general atmosphere of approval of those limitations. As a result of the increase in congestion, concerns about pollution and also as a result of improvements in lorry design and lorry operation, there is a significant shift. For example, the Commission for Integrated Transport is conducting a study for us at the moment in cooperation with the industry to see whether relaxations of some of those bans would enable overnight delivery because many supermarkets open 24 hours now, quite apart from whether they are working 24 hours and stacking. Therefore, you could be taking a considerable load out of the system at an early stage.

  474.  That is fairly general. I do not think we would disagree with the arguments but do you have a formula that would indicate the difference that that would make? Do you have some indication of what this would do to your targets? If you do not impose congestion charging, what would happen for changing the hours of delivery? What are the changes that you would envisage?
  (Mr Spellar) As I am awaiting the outcome of a study by the Commission for Integrated Transport, I am anticipating that they will be putting figures on that as well. In terms of actual operation, there is still quite a bit of work being undertaken by local authorities across the country who are looking at congestion or workplace charging and still quite a bit of modelling work to be done as to the impact on reduction of numbers. That is quite different from whether that generates a revenue which may then facilitate and finance other transport alternatives and maybe encourage people to move to those other alternatives. There is still quite a bit of work being done as to the extent to which and at what level people are discouraged from using their cars or whether indeed restrictions on parking levels are more effective. These are areas where there is not as yet clear evidence one way or the other. That is why a number of authorities are looking at different approaches. We are awaiting the outcome of their work to see whether we believe they will achieve the objectives they believe are right for their community and they have involved their community and therefore as to whether this might be an appropriate mechanism. I think some others, quite frankly, are looking to see how those early authorities succeed in order to decide what may be an appropriate mechanism for their own area.

  475.  You are not insisting on urban pricing schemes at local authority level?
  (Mr Spellar) No.

  476.  When do you expect to have the results of these experiments?
  (Mr Spellar) The Greater London Authority and Transport for London are at the moment undertaking consultation. As you will probably have seen, there has been a slippage in the consultation procedure as a result of moving the end time from 7 back to 6.30. It was believed that that required an extension of the consultation. That is the belief of Transport for London, not a decision of ours. We will therefore be awaiting some time early next year to receive the results of that to decide whether that is appropriate for London. There is a lot of consultation going on with London boroughs—they are not of one mind on this—and indeed discussion within the Greater London Assembly.

  477.  You have said that you would be prepared to block congestion charging in London if you felt that other modes were not offering a viable alternative. If it cannot work in London, where will it work?
  (Mr Spellar) I do not recall that I said that either in the House or—

  478.  Mr Spellar indicated in The Financial Times that—
  (Mr Spellar) I think you will find in the actual bit that is in quotes in The Financial Times I state the legal position which is that the plan has to be submitted to us, differently in London than elsewhere in the country. The only area of discretion that the Department has or I have as a Minister is on the application of the funds that are received from the congestion charging scheme.

Mr Stevenson

  479.  When we produced our report on the White Paper, one of the sections that we devoted quite a bit of time to was exactly this issue on how you are going to attract people to use different modes of transport, particularly public transport, in place of their cars and how congestion charging and workplace charging where implemented were going to produce resources to help to support or to demote. One of the suggestions we made was that the government should consider urgently making resources available to those authorities that do implement these systems of charging on the basis of future income streams so that alternatives could be provided at the same time or as near as possible to the same time as the charging. I think I am correct in saying the government rejected that concept. Is that still your position?
  (Mr Roberts) The local transport plan settlement does provide considerable sums for local authorities to develop their public transport systems which will be done in advance of those charges coming into effect.


 
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