Examination of Witnesses (Questions 480
WEDNESDAY 12 DECEMBER 2001
SPELLAR, MP, MR
480. I can recognise that. We are not here
to speak on behalf of local authorities but I am sure that those
local authorities would say that, if there are additional funds
being made available, good; it will make up for the years, or
begin to make up for the years, when we suffered year on year
costs and our ability to make the step change to provide alternative
transport facilities so that people can hopefully move from their
cars to public transport we need additional funds for. The point
is still relevant, I think. Is the Department considering seriously
the possibility of funds being made available so that a step change
can take place in those authorities that want it on the basis
of future income streams from workplace charging and congestion
charging? Is the answer yes or no?
(Mr Roberts) The Department considers all of the proposals
in the local transport plans. Where they put forward proposals
for big investments in public transport, such as light railway
schemes, the assessment will take account of other proposals concerned
with charging for workplace parking or congestion charging.
481. That means you will take account of
their plans or you will not?
(Mr Roberts) We do take account of all of their proposals
in determining the amounts made available under local transport
482. If a local transport plan had a particular
objective for a public transport scheme that was going to come
into operation in three years' time and that local authority wanted
to implement workplace and or congestion charging to help pay
for that but the facility does not come into operation in three
years' time, would your Department be prepared to say, "All
right. We agree with that. We will make the money available now
on the basis of that income stream in three years' time"?
(Mr Spellar) One of the key questions that we have
to address in that regard is who would bear the risk in that.
I think you are right to say that we have not yet resolved that
483. When do you expect to resolve it?
(Mr Spellar) I do not have a timescale on that. The
key underlying point is, in the event that an expenditure on local
transport was predicated on an income stream, who bears the risk
if that income stream does not materialise? That is a difficult
question and one for which there is not a resolution.
484. Are you considering this important
(Mr Spellar) This is a matter that has been raised
with me, although not in any formal sense, by at least one of
the authorities. We are looking at that question but the timescale
I am not entirely clear on.
485. The trouble with that is that if you
have entered this major caveat you have rather kicked the guts
out of your ten year plan figures, have you not? You are saying,
in effect, "Yes, we will look at the scheme if it is predicated
on this assumption. However, we cannot go ahead with it unless
we know who is going to take the risk." That must have been
clear to you before you included these figures in the ten year
(Mr Spellar) These are two different areas. One is
the question of whether there is up front money. The first question
is whether a local authority will be able to introduce workplace
charging or congestion charging or to make an application to introduce
such a scheme and then to dedicate the moneys generated by that
towards other forms of transport. The second question is essentially
whether the Department would pump prime that scheme so that those
other forms of transport were available at the same time or before
the scheme of congestion charging or workplace charging came in.
The plan dealt with the first one but I do not think that the
plan was definitive when it came out before my time as to the
486. I would like to press you slightly
on your comments about your powers in relation to London. One
of my concerns has been that decisions taken in London can have
a significant knock-on effect on the surrounding area. I am sure
that is something you will be taking into account in judging London
schemes but do you actually have the powers? You said you have
authority over the financial aspects of the scheme, but do those
powers give you the ability to block a London based congestion
charging scheme from taking place or do they not?
(Mr Spellar) They give the Department the ability
to not agree the scheme but only on the basis of the use of the
funds that are generated. That makes the London position different
from that in other local authorities.
487. In your view, based on what you have
seen so far, is the Department likely to be in a position where
it could take the decision one way or the other or are the schemes
that are likely to come forward from London going to be in such
a form that you do not have jurisdiction?
(Mr Spellar) We do have jurisdiction and that is in
terms of the use of the finance that is generated by the scheme.
It is a more limited power than is available to a minister in
respect of local authorities elsewhere in the country.
488. Would it be realistic to say that,
when the full proposal finally lands on your desk, you clearly
will consider whether or not it is appropriate for you to give
it the go ahead and you will have the power to say no if you are
not happy with the scheme in front of you?
(Mr Spellar) The minister has the power not to agree
the scheme if he believes it does not fit the requirements of
the London government legislation.
489. In the annual report, we are told that
environment and transport are linked so that we can connect up
interrelated policies and realise the synergies between them.
That link has now been broken. What has been lost?
(Mr Spellar) You mean in terms of their now being
in two different departments?
490. That is right.
(Mr Spellar) As a result of that, a lot of work has
been done in order to maintain necessary linkages between the
two departments at official level. They have always been in separate
buildings; it is just that they have moved to another departmental
building. There was concern at the time. I think officials were
fairly sensitive to that and have been working to ensure that
they maintain those aspects so that they are incorporating environmental
considerations into the work that we are undertaking, both within
modes and also between modes of transport.
491. Are you telling us that nothing has
been lost and there was no particular advantage in doing this?
(Mr Spellar) No. As always with departmental structures,
it is a case of balancing advantages in different areas. Obviously,
DEFRA would have to speak for themselves as to the advantages
that they have obtained particularly in linking up the very considerable
area of concern of the rural environment with agriculture. At
the same time, we did recognise that certainly there would be
a perception of a loss of linkage and that is precisely why officials
have addressed themselves to their work, always recalling that
there will have been strong linkages previously and obviously
they are working to maintain those. I do accept that it is an
area where there can well be a perception of a loss but a benefit
on the rural environment side.
492. Why have you not retained responsibility
for national air quality controls? You keep referring to the rural
environment but surely that is important for the urban one, given
the importance of traffic in polluting the atmosphere?
(Mr Spellar) If you are talking about who retains
lead authority, that is quite different from whether we incorporate
that into the work that we are undertaking. We engage very much
obviously in discussions not just here but on a Europe wide basis
on levels of fuel efficiency, engine efficiency, and the ongoing
negotiations as we move between different generations of vehicles
and the very substantial reductions in pollutants and emissions
from cars but also heavy goods vehicles in the way that I was
describing with the developments of truck technology. One of the
key driving forces, quite apart from congestion, although linked
with congestion, for looking at night time delivery in urban areas
is precisely to try and avoid that peak of pollution at the time
when we have the rush hour. Therefore, you get a very real spike,
particularly when there are a lot of people, including youngsters,
out walking on the streets and therefore being particularly affected.
With regard to our road programme, tomorrow when I announce local
transport plans, you are looking at considerations either of improving
the environment or of mitigating the projects that we have undertaken.
That is very much at the core, in the same way with bypasses.
Some bypasses, we believe, contribute to the environment by reducing
congestion and therefore the build up of traffic and a reduction
of air quality. Others, such as for example the Hastings bypass,
which was an early decision to reject that certainly created some
contention locally in Hastings, this was one where we believed
that the balance of environmental issues outweighed the proposed
but we believe not so substantial economic benefits. We deal with
these matters very much at the core of our business.
493. How do you assess the cost effectiveness
of traffic management in relation to air quality?
(Mr Spellar) Traffic management is much broader than
air quality although it has an impact on that because stationary
vehicles, particularly vehicles that are stopping and starting
at fairly regular intervals, are a major contributor to worsening
of air quality. Therefore, something that ensures that traffic
moves smoothly, both on an inter-urban basis and also within towns,
is extremely important. Again with the local transport plans,
you will see that there will be a very considerable number of
schemes which are improvements at junctions, improvements of traffic
lighting systems and so on. I think, in terms of looking at this
in the broader context, there are a whole number of measures which
are relatively minor in themselves although, for example, on the
M42 round the Midlands conurbation about £40 million worth
of active traffic management, which has a whole number of advantages
in predictability of journey time but also we believe has significant
advantage in terms of smoothing traffic flow which has a considerable
advantage in fuel efficiency, CO2 emissions and also in air quality
494. How does your Department ensure that
transport addresses issues of social exclusion?
(Mr Spellar) One of the key areas for dealing with
that is in an area that is not particularly well covered by the
media and that is to do with buses. If you look at patterns of
travel, the use of buses, this is part of the problem of bus travel;
it is perceived as being a service that primarily relates to those
in lower economic groups and as a result of that it makes it slightly
more difficult to achieve modal shift from cars. In order to enable
people to get to facilities, shops, hospitals or other facilities
or indeed to get to work, buses are enormously important. One
of the great difficulties we are having at the moment is, while
we are doing well with showcase routes going on main routes into
city centres and getting quite significant increases in traffic
there, we are seeingand it is a regular source of complaint
from Members of Parliamentthe trimming or even elimination
of some peripheral routes, which is having an impact on a particular
number of urban estates. It is also an issue in rural communities.
It is one of the reasons why my colleague, Sally Keeble, announced
a move for enabling greater flexibility between quality partnerships
with buses and quality contracts, in order to provide a tighter
framework. We are in discussions with local authorities and transport
authorities precisely in order to monitor this because we believe
there has been a deterioration around the country in peripheral
routes, with an effect on social exclusion.
495. What is it that your Department is
doing to ensure that those peripheral routes are covered?
(Mr Spellar) That is with the powers that we are giving
to local authorities. That is why I described the quality contracts
which are more route specific.
496. How are you going to ensure that this
(Mr Spellar) With difficulty, but we will then be
monitoring that to see if that has an impact. If that does, fine;
if it does not, we will have to engage in discussion with local
authorities as to what further measures may be required in order
to ensure that we have a fairly comprehensive coverage although,
in rural areas, we do have to look at the balance between a scheduled
bus service and possibly an organised taxi service which may be
497. Let us look at urban regeneration programmes
and programmes pursued within the Department. When programmes
for neighbourhood renewal are being pursued, such as New Deal
for Communities, what specific involvement does your Department
have to ensure that transport is addressed as part of the regeneration?
I am not talking about monitoring; I am talking about ensuring
that something happens.
(Mr Spellar) On the detail, that would be done at
(Mr Roberts) The urban renewal unit and the neighbourhood
renewal unit are part of the Department and deal with us on a
regular basis on these matters. The main funding mechanism from
the transport end is through local transport plans. That is where
the local authorities would eventually bring forward their proposals,
but the working up of the proposals would be carried out throughout
the year with the officials in those units.
498. When you assess those proposals, do
you ensure that transport issues are addressed and that transport
is made available to people in those communities?
(Mr Roberts) Yes. The main work on these proposals,
the assessment of the proposals, is done within the government
offices which is where all of the Department's work is brought
together, as well as the interests of other government departments,
so that the officials within the government offices will be looking
across the whole range of issues for those areas and adding their
local knowledge of the areas.
499. That is not an answer. Let us
take the fact that outside London, with two exceptions, bus patronage
is still falling. Does that concern your Department?
(Mr Roberts) Yes, because we have a PSA target on