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


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 540 - 559)

WEDNESDAY 12 DECEMBER 2001

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

  540.  I did not quite ask whether it was at a satisfactory level, Minister, I put a specific point. Are you satisfied that the protection that was available under the Directive will be achieved under the agreement?
  (Mr Roberts) Could I just come in. There is not, in fact, a Directive at present. What we did have was a draft agreement, which had been negotiated by the Commission, and there was the possibility of drawing up a Directive instead of that draft agreement. What the Minister is saying is that by moving ahead immediately with the negotiated agreement we could achieve as good a result over that period as if we waited for a Directive, which was still uncertain. The possibility of a Directive still remains, and the Commission has made this clear, if the manufacturers do not deliver.

  541.  But if the Chairman will allow me, I am simply trying to get a handle on whether under the agreement process rather than the Directive process the same result in terms of pedestrian protection will, in fact, emerge. I wonder whether the Minister could give us some assurance that that will be the case.
  (Mr Spellar) The belief of the Commission and ourselves is that we will achieve that.

Andrew Bennett

  542.  You are aiming for a target in ten years' time to actually reduce the deaths per day from ten to six. Is that not a pretty feeble ambition in terms of road deaths?
  (Mr Spellar) I think it will be very desirable, not just in itself but in conjunction with a number of other measures that we are taking, for example to reduce deaths because of speeding on certain stretches of road and also evaluating stretches of road that have higher levels of accident, not necessarily just through that cause, and designing in more safety.

  543.  Taking all of those measures you are talking about a 40 per cent reduction, that is from ten to six. Would it not be reasonable to expect over that period of nine years now that we should do much better than that?
  (Mr Spellar) I would have thought that was still a pretty challenging target and one that we will be pleased to achieve. It does not mean we will then be complacent having achieved that or if managed to achieve it earlier that we would not look at what further measures we could undertake. I think it is much better, quite frankly, to have potentially realistic targets and then move on from there. Sometimes what are described as targets are aspirations and I do not think that necessarily builds in the right pattern of incentive.

Dr Pugh

  544.  Can I ask about specific areas of what is otherwise admittedly an awesome task. Cycling first. Between 1999-2000 the number of people cycling went down by 2 per cent, although during that period a lot of encouragement was given to cycling. I understand much of the expenditure that was committed to encourage cycling was done by local authorities, which I feel they ought to do. Is the Government going to give a more positive steer to this process to make it more effective or to encourage the sharing of good practice, because within that 2 per cent there may be areas where there have been appreciable successes and other areas where no effect has been achieved at all?
  (Mr Spellar) The actual figures I have are the average number of trips made by bike per person for the year in 1996 was 16 and 16 again in 2000, which would indicate a levelling out of the decline, which is precisely why we are launching a committee to drive on the process, particularly to spread good practice not just with local authorities but other transport authorities are a further target, for example with the rail companies. There is a lot of work being undertaken, and with success, to encourage a greater number of facilities for parking of bikes in safe and secure areas because the most effective way of encouraging someone to cycle is that their bike is there when they get back. Indeed, when I was out in Ipswich for some reason or another just recently, there were very considerable cycling and motorcycling secure parking facilities. We will be working with those transport authorities in order to increase that. We are also working on increasing the number of cycle paths. There is a whole number of those in the Local transport plans. Also building on the success of the Safe Journey to School Initiative, where we have had quite considerable success in some schools, we need to be rolling that out with best practice and we will be doing that from the regional government offices in working with local authorities to focus them on the potential for increasing cycling both amongst youngsters and also for leisure and for travel to work.

  545.  On the trip to school, clearly subsidising travel of pensioners encouraged a lot of pensioners to use buses, but for the working mum, putting her kids on to the bus for school is a very, very expensive trip indeed very often and, therefore, she takes the car. Although she had laudable reasons for not taking the car to school, again for financial reasons she uses the car, as Helen Jackson said before. In those circumstances, is the Government keeping under review the possibility of subsidising, as it were, school travel as well as pensioner travel?
  (Mr Spellar) We are also looking at and trying to ensure restoring levels of walking to school. We are setting up schemes, working with the schools and looking at opening up safer routes from where the locations of children are through to the school, as with cycling. At Kesway School in Ipswich around 80 per cent of pupils travel to school by bike as a result of initiatives to encourage cycling.

  546.  In certain circumstances it will be too far to go under your own steam by bike, so there is a choice between car and bus but often the choice of the bus if you have two or three children is not an economic choice as opposed to the car. Has the Government identified that problem or is it seeking to find ways to address that?
  (Mr Spellar) We can certainly look at that. Also in a number of areas, as you are aware, starting off in Yorkshire, we will be having school bus schemes which will be more specifically related rather than using the existing bus system.

  547.  My third point is with regard to local transport plans and road links. The process of detrunking roads and progressing road schemes by local transport plans is admirable compared to what preceded it but it does create problems where you have road schemes that overlap a number of different areas which have different local transport plans. What is the role of the Government in progressing schemes of that nature which otherwise will never get done because they will not quite have the same priority for all the authorities at the same time?
  (Mr Spellar) True, but the Government can facilitate that through the funding programme.

Mr Donohoe

  548.  Do you cycle yourself, Minister?
  (Mr Spellar) I think that would be adding to the road hazards.

  549.  So you do not. It is a pity that you do not because some of the aspects of what has been programmed by the Government just do not make sense if you are a cyclist. Who do you rely on to give you your information?
  (Mr Spellar) A number of the cycling organisations. We can send the Committee a list of those we have at the regular consultative meetings. I have met with them and we will be arranging a further meeting with them in the New Year. Also they are in regular exchange with the officials as well. We are pulling those together, together with the local authorities, in the committee whose role will be to drive on the cycling strategy, partly encouraging and opening up the prospects to the groups that they come from and also to give much wider publicity to the advantages of cycling but also to look at where there are gaps in the system and to put to us where additional funding would enable us to complete much of the system to facilitate cycling. That is both with regard to leisure cycling but also very much travel to work or travel to another transport system in order to get to work, which is why I focused on railway stations.

  550.  Would you have information to monitor the number of bikes that were bought last year against the previous year or five years ago? Would you have any information like that in your Department?
  (Mr Spellar) Yes, we get that from the traders' association.

  551.  What is the trend as far as the buying of bikes is concerned?
  (Mr Spellar) My recollection is that it is rising. I can certainly send you the figures on that.

Chairman

  552.  One of the indicators in Transport Statistics Great Britain shows cycle traffic fell by 2 per cent, so they are buying more bikes but they are not riding them, is that what you are telling us?
  (Mr Spellar) That is quite possible.

  553.  You do not find that interesting?
  (Mr Spellar) Not necessarily. In some areas that could be a reduction in numbers using them on a daily basis but a greater use —

  554.  Oh, stationary bicycles!
  (Mr Spellar) No, a greater use of them in a leisure capacity. This is one of the reasons why we are encouraging other transport facilities to provide safe, secure parking facilities for bikes, precisely so that people can ride to their nearest bus station or rail station and then take one of those forms of transport to work. One of the other factors that may be having an impact is we are seeing there is a trend for people to be working further away from where they live than they used to which may mean either going by car or bus or rail may be more attractive than if they were cycling one or two miles to work.

Mr Donohoe

  555.  We have the worst record in Europe as far as that is concerned in terms of commuting to work. You are talking about something like 46 minutes in this country, which is the highest in Europe, and it is an indication that we are not looking at the overall position in trying to drive it in a different direction. You have got the craziness of half the population of Glasgow travelling to Ayrshire every morning and half the population of Ayrshire travelling to Glasgow every morning. Nothing seems to be being done by anybody to address that trend, which is just a nonsense. There is no direction coming from your Department, is there?
  (Mr Spellar) But that is based on people's individual choices as to which employer they seek to work with.

  556.  But it is your job, Minister,—
  (Mr Spellar) Not to direct people.

  557.  Not to tell them how to travel but to make it more attractive for them to work closer to home than it is to work 30 miles away, as is the case in my town. That is seen by everybody as being nonsensical. If you made it attractive, if you dangled a carrot at it—After all, you approved the idea of congestion charging, that is the Government taking a decision to move people in a different direction, but you are not doing it with something that makes absolute commonsense to me.
  (Mr Spellar) How people went to a job at a distance might be a different issue as to whether they chose to take a job in another town. You are absolutely right that there is an increasing trend of people travelling further to work or taking jobs further away. Some of that has been as a result of deliberate planning decisions, in other words to separate out resident, industrial and commercial premises in the way that in many industrial towns they did not use to be separated out. A considerable number of people in my constituency used to just walk to work to the factory at the end of the street. A lot of those factories are gone now but, quite apart from that, there has been a trend towards industrial estates and residential areas and that has certain advantages but also has a downside, as you are indicating.

  558.  What is your Department doing in terms of the new technology that is all around us, with the Internet, for instance, where people do not need to move out of their house to buy goods any longer? What are you doing to promote that in your Department or have you done anything that means car journeys will be reduced, bus journeys will be reduced and train journeys will be reduced?
  (Mr Spellar) Internet purchasing does not necessarily reduce the volume of traffic on the road.

  559.  It must do. Five per cent of shoppers are now using the Internet to buy all their shopping, that must cut out a tremendous amount of travel.
  (Mr Spellar) It also puts a lot of extra vans on the road and one of the real growth sectors in travel is actually delivering services. You are precisely indicating with regard to groceries and so on a very substantial increase and a projected further increase. There are balancing items in that as well. I do have to say what you are talking about here are much broader economic issues than ones that are strictly the province of the Department of Transport.


 
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