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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 342 - 360)




  342. Gentlemen, I apologise for keeping you waiting. Would you be kind enough to identify yourselves please?
  (Mr Plowden) My name is Ben Plowden, I am Director of Living Streets, formerly the Pedestrians Association, which is a national charity working for streets and public spaces which people on foot can use and enjoy.
  (Mr Mathew) I am Don Mathew, I am Policy Officer for Sustrans. Sustrans is short for Sustainable Transport. We are a practical charity which seeks to implement solutions to car dependency. The main thrust of our evidence is that these and a number of other issues are in many ways the real way forward and under-valued by the Plan itself. I think my colleague would like to say a little more, with your permission, about some of our overall views about the deficiencies of the Plan.

  343. Please do.
  (Mr Plowden) Thank you very much. I think it is fair to say that there are a number of aspects of the Plan which we welcome. I think it has applied a longer term horizon to transport investment than has been evident for a while; it does obviously represent a step change in investment in transport infrastructure; it does set some clear targets and outcomes which we have not had before at least in some areas of policy; but there are a number of problems with the 10 Year Plan. First of all, it does not attempt to tackle the underlying problem of rising mobility, particularly that by the private car. In effect it attempts to accommodate that rising mobility and mitigate its worst effects in terms of pollution, congestion and casualties. The funding in the Plan will go disproportionately on major schemes and long distance travel even though most trips in this country are still under five miles in length. There is a sense in which the Plan could undermine attempts to revive towns and cities by encouraging that long distance travel and also cut across efforts to reduce social exclusion because the travel undertaken on long distances is disproportionately made by people from richer households. Finally, the Plan gives insufficient attention and funding to local travel in general, and walking and cycling in particular. Both of these are crucial for local quality of life and particularly for disadvantaged communities.

  344. That is very helpful. Let us ask you some questions. The average journey length is now 6.6 miles, 16 per cent longer than it was 10 years ago. What do you expect the figure to be at the end of the 10 Year Plan?
  (Mr Plowden) It certainly will not have gone down, it is fair to say. I would suspect that the Plan will not change that historic trend in terms of the likely increase in journeys over that period. I think the key point is that people are travelling further and faster within what seems to be a fairly fixed time budget. The amount of time we spend travelling has changed very little over the last 20 or 25 years, so what is happening is that we are travelling further and faster within about an hour an day, and that is both encouraging and being encouraged by dispersed patterns of landuse and a general move away from town and city centres. It obviously may be exacerbated by the Plan, if you like, underwriting longer distance travel.

Mrs Ellman

  345. What changes would you like to see in the Plan to enable it to tackle social exclusion more effectively?
  (Mr Plowden) The analysis behind the Plan acknowledges that the funding in it will go in effect disproportionately to longer distance trips and because those trips are made overwhelmingly by higher income households, that will have a skewed effect. We would like to see much greater emphasis in the Plan particularly through local transport plans on small scale improvements in local travel—safe routes to school, cycle lanes, pedestrian priority measures, more pedestrian crossings, travel information for people on the ground—because most travel is still local and that is particularly true for people on low incomes, who tend to travel much less than people on higher incomes. So it is really about shifting within the overall budget of the Plan away from big capital schemes, not having none of them but looking at the marginal spend, towards local schemes aimed at improving local travel opportunities and their safety.
  (Mr Mathew) Sustrans is actually working with the New Opportunities Fund on precisely those elements and they are very much as my colleague describes. I think, Chairman, all through this conversation we are going to say that we are just beginning to see isolated bits of best practice here and there but it is still patchy and fragmented and still a little unco-ordinated, and we are looking for a step change in policy and funding and provision.

  346. Would you say that local transport plans recognise the issues you have identified but do not have the funds to address them?
  (Mr Plowden) I think they do recognise them. The guidance on local transport plans actually addresses these issues in quite a lot of detail. It is partly about the availability of funding over the lifetime of the Plan, although the amount for local transport funding has gone up as a result of the Plan, it is fair to acknowledge. It is also about the capacity of local authorities in particular to think creatively and plan systematically for these sorts of small scale schemes, which is partly about the availability of senior staff with the relevant skills, partly about the lack of data on local walking and cycling trips, partly about not thinking town- or city-wide about these things—you tend to get £10,000 here, £10,000 there, rather than spending £5 or £10 million on a whole city in terms of walking, cycling and local safety, which would obviously raise the political threshold of these sorts of activities.
  (Mr Mathew) There are one or two major institutional problems about the whole LTP process which you might like to quiz the Department on when they come. Primarily, they are split into major and minor schemes and different thresholds and appraisals apply. Surely a major scheme should be to traffic-calm a town or half a city. If that is not a major scheme in transport terms, I do not know what is. Living Streets and ourselves are part of a coalition which is doing some research into wider institutional barriers which we think skew the local transport process and the wider transport appraisal process. One clear example is that the current appraisal rewards savings in motorists' journey times, which obviously rewards longer, quicker journeys, often at the very places where we are trying to help make them slow up and make shorter journeys. So there is a real tension which needs to be addressed within LTPs and the appraisal process.

  347. Why do these schemes you are talking about get insufficient attention at a local level? Is it that your organisations do not lobby enough?
  (Mr Plowden) I think it is a mixture of things. There is a political issue which is that historically it has been more politically interesting to be involved with the big by-pass, the big road improvement scheme, nowadays the big tram scheme, rather than lots of fiddly little road safety schemes. The consequence of that is that the money and the professional kudos has gone with those major schemes, so the sorts of people who have the skills which would favour schemes we would like to see tend to be relatively junior, tend to have very little budget of their own if any, tend to not have much political control within the profession. So historically the money and the kudos, both political and professional, has gone with the big schemes and consequently the system is then geared up to look at those first and to plan those best. There are some examples where that has applied to small schemes. The Gloucester Safer City project has spent £5 million in five years looking at a city-wide road safety strategy, which is actually quite a lot of money in road safety terms over a sustained period. That has raised the political profile and the institutional commitment to that sort of investment, but that is a city-wide scheme with a large budget which is quite unusual.

  Andrew Bennett: You talk about local transport plans, can you give one or two examples of ones you have looked at which are really good and one or two examples of ones which are not?


  348. When you agree, please do not repeat one another.
  (Mr Plowden) For example, specifically in relation to walking, I would single out Camden Borough Council's Walking Plan as part of their preparation in their budget for Transport for London, which has got a very broad-based approach to the issue, has looked across a set of issues around walking in the borough, not just infrastructure but issues like safety, perceptions of the environment and so on. I would say that is a good example of a local walking strategy as part of an LTP. Also, as is often quoted, York City Council has done over many years a lot in strategic terms around walking and cycling, and that has been built into their LTP bids and process. I cannot cite particularly bad examples here but I can certainly send the Committee a note about bad examples. Oxford Brookes University has done some very interesting research looking at the treatment of walking and cycling in local transport plans, which we can certainly send you a summary of, which suggests relative to other forms of transport they have done quite badly in how they have been treated in LTPs.
  (Mr Mathew) Could I cite my own highway authority of Suffolk County Council as a good example. Committee members will know they have pioneered slower speeds in villages, they have been I think very good at not only participation, which is a key element now of transport planning, but also target setting. They have a target to treble cycle use and they integrate very well. I will get into trouble if I mention a bad authority, but I think our colleagues in the neighbouring county of Essex say that the balance there is slightly more in line with transport planning and less in line with what they would like to see. Could I make one other point. Under the old TPP process, it was very easy for community groups and environmental groups to track what was going on. It had its fault but you knew what was happening. With the start of a new five year LTP process, which we do welcome, we have found it slightly more difficult now to have that sort of annual progress report. I know authorities do do them but they do not seem to be quite so easily aware. I see that the DTLR have just let a contract to see how LTPs are working out. We welcome that but we rather thought the Department itself would be scrutinising them as they went along and taking cognisance of them.

  Chairman: Yes, it might be nice if they told us all.

Mr O'Brien

  349. The 10 Year Plan is specific about money and Living Streets believes that the Safe Routes to School should be installed to every school in the country for between £2 and £2.5 billion. If we take into consideration what is happening now, what reductions in casualties and improvements in cycling and walking have been achieved to date in such projects?
  (Mr Plowden) I can give you one example which I only heard about last week in terms of the outcomes. It is not specifically about Safe Routes to Schools but it is about Hull and their commitment to 20 mph roads. They have had a long-standing commitment to a city-wide programme of 20 mph zones of which there will be a hundred by this summer, covering about 20 per cent of the city area. The total cost they think of that to date is about £2.5 million, so again we are talking about quite significant sums. The consequence of that in terms of casualties has been very striking. There has been a 56 per cent fall in all injuries and accidents, a 90 per cent fall in killed and seriously injured, a 64 per cent fall in child casualties, a 54 per cent fall in all pedestrian casualties and a 70 per cent fall in child pedestrian casualties, a 45 per cent fall in casualties for cyclists and a 69 per cent fall in child cycle casualties. Those figures are very striking and it is because the city has spent a lot of money, taken a strategic approach to the whole city and has had very clear and direct results in terms of the casualty reduction.

  350. What improvements have there been in cycling and walking?
  (Mr Plowden) I do not know. That is a very good question. Whether the levels of walking and cycling have remained constant and the accident rates have fallen, I do not know.

  351. Do you believe that investment in widespread implement of Home Zones and Safe Routes to Schools will offer better value for money than investment in road and rail?
  (Mr Plowden) I think intuitively the answer to that question is that they would certainly compete very well with road and rail investment. One of the problems which the Government has recently acknowledged to your own Committee is that they do not actually know, and we certainly cannot work it out for them, whether if you spend £1 million or £1 billion on these sorts of local schemes you would get better returns than if you spent the same amount on a major road or rail scheme. I think it is quite important that the Government finds out because unless we know whether the marginal billion is better spent here or there, we do not know whether we are going to get these benefits. Our view would be that intuitively if you improve the safety and attractiveness of the local environment for people's local travel choices, you would certainly achieve a bigger bang for your buck at the margin than if you spent that same money on further improvements to the road and rail network.

Mr Stevenson

  352. I was wondering about cycling, and this is particularly to Mr Mathew. The 10 Year Plan includes targets for trebling cycle use, but I understand that the latest statistics show a slight fall. I wonder what your interpretation would be (a) of the target and (b) can it be met?
  (Mr Mathew) You are quite right that the overall figure was re-interpreted for the sake of the 10 Year Plan. We have a very mixed picture about cycling. In fact in 1999 we thought we had turned the corner because nationally cycle use was 5 per cent up, and that was very encouraging. That was followed by an extremely wet summer, followed by foot and mouth, et cetera, et cetera, and the figures are quite disappointing. I am confident that the targets can be met, I think we have sufficient European experience, which CfIT has graphically drawn on and very well illustrated, and I think we have sufficient pockets in this country to show we can do it. Chairman, I commend the papers of the Velo-City International Cycling Conference held in Scotland, but it was an international conference, last September. I had not been to Edinburgh for four or five years but use there has actually gone up from 1.9 per cent of all journeys to 3.2, and they are aiming for 10 per cent. In Glasgow as well, journeys to work, starting from, I have to say, a fairly unpropitious background in cycling in some instances, the increase is happening there. With the right package of measures, I think we can increase use.


  353. What has made the difference?
  (Mr Mathew) There has been political leadership, which with so much of transport is necessary, and we see that in places like York. There has been a commitment by all parties, recently re-committed in an all-party way by this Government reappointing Steven Norris to a reinvigorated National Cycle Board. It will be very interesting to see the way in which that Board drives on and hits those targets. Sustrans' view, and it links to our criticisms of the 10 Year Plan, is that it is horses for courses, you need to look at journeys to school, to work, to shops, and you need sometimes different measures for each, but each of those is often very propitious for an increase in cycling.

Mr Stevenson

  354. You say you are confident the targets will be met. Are you confident now on a critical path? Do you know what that critical path is and, if so, would you care to tell us how you interpret that?
  (Mr Mathew) I am searching for a cutting from Surveyor Magazine of August in which Willy Rickett said that the first 2002 target had been abandoned. It was interesting that the reasons he gave were historic time lag and under-investment. I understand there were some discussions about targets at one of your other meetings. Here again we simply do have the historic time lag. It takes time for the new policies and new measures to come into place. In a slightly curious way, we actually had a national cycling strategy before we had the Transport White Paper, and I still feel there is a lack of policy integration there.

  355. You will forgive me for thinking that your quite direct answer to my first question about your confidence in meeting your targets I do not think has been reflected in the subsequent comments you have made. You seem to be confident that targets will be met but now you are indicating that there are a number of reasons why there are time lags, delays and indeed the first target has been abandoned.
  (Mr Mathew) Sorry, I was endeavouring to explain what I thought was the rather uncertain start to the national strategy. Could I say, and our evidence says this, where Sustrans has provided high quality cycle routes on the continental model, for example in the year when national use went up 5 per cent, use on our routes rose 11 per cent. We think the spread of the national cycle network with further high quality safer routes will be a key element in eventually meeting the more ambitious targets.

  356. Are there resources in place or have they been identified to achieve your plans?
  (Mr Mathew) I would repeat the endemic query about sufficient transport skills, particularly at the local level. If we look at the table of investment in the 10 Year Plan, it does show a noticeable dip and we are suffering from under-investment. We do need a step change in policy increase for the smaller scale schemes we are talking about, and we are hoping that a realignment of resources within a revised 10 Year Plan will give the sort of financial and visionary thrust to make those targets. The CfIT Report shows that in places culturally very similar to this country, such as Denmark, these sort of increases are taking place.

Mr Donohoe

  357. What representations, if any, do you make at the preparatory stage when proposing these routes? The impression I get is that they are put in for recreational uses mainly rather than for going to work or school. The difference you mentioned in terms of Glasgow and Edinburgh is on the basis of going about your business rather than for recreation. Is that not why we have the major problems we have insofar as the use of cycling is concerned?
  (Mr Mathew) Sustrans has worked in partnership with a huge range of people in the public, private and voluntary sector, and some of our routes are as different from one another as roads around the country are different from one another. Some are clearly used for high quality commuting routes, others are a key part of our Safe Routes to Schools programme, which is starting to show major reductions in car use. Others do track through very beautiful, wild and interesting parts of the countryside, and we would like to see within revived rural planning—and we did make comments about perhaps the lack of a rural dimension in the 10 Year Plan—the importance of rural recreation and rural tourism which, as foot and mouth has reminded us, can be a vital element in the countryside.

Chris Grayling

  358. Can I ask you to touch on cycling again for a moment. One of the issues in encouraging cycling, particularly in urban areas, is, frankly, fear of traffic. All too often the implementation of cycle routes is basically painting a line down the side of the road and having a narrow strip into which cyclists weave and motorists try not to dodge. There seems to be very little strategy to try and create entirely separate routes for cyclists except in the odd case where they do it by taking away a chunk of the road. Have you looked at solutions which would create a wholly independent cycle network from the road network, and what contribution could such a route make to achieving the goals you both have as organisations?
  (Mr Mathew) A good number of Sustrans' routes are off-road, and if we are again talking about kinks in our appraisal system, use of off-highway routes by cyclists and indeed pedestrians is not actually recorded in NTS data, and that may give us a quite misleading impression of what is going on. Our aim is to have high quality routes on road and off and to have continuous ones. Again, the evidence of the CfIT Report and of continental cities is that such routes need to be continuous, they basically need to be in 20 mph areas, they need to give assurance, they need to tackle difficult junctions, particularly we need to redesign many of our roundabouts for greater safety. I suspect we will come on to some of these issues when we talk about your inquiry into speed as well, because a major thing at the moment is that excessive and inappropriate speed is a major deterrent and depressant of cycle use. Cycle planning for years has been driven really by the four Es—engineering of facilities, enforcement of road traffic law, education of all road users and encouragement, and we have got elements of those. It goes back to what I was saying about the difficulty of trying to appraise the LTP process. The LTP guidance is very clear, authorities should develop a full-blown cycle strategy, not just route building, although that should be a key part of it. These are starting to come along but again we would be very grateful if the Committee could probe what we think the current national picture is, because for pressure groups to buy 150 LTPs and read them all is at the moment beyond our resources.


  359. Can I ask you finally about the need for revenue. You have mentioned that small schemes are quite extravagant of engineering time, you have mentioned some of the problems in not having an integrated plan for whole cities, have local authorities got enough money, have they got enough staff? Can you tell us whether they can actually implement the range of capital schemes you have in mind?
  (Mr Plowden) I think there are three areas in which adequate revenue resources are essential in this context. One, as you have suggested, Chairman, is in relation to the staffing. It is relatively staff intensive to do a proper scheme, certainly city-wide, with the planning of these schemes, their design, consultation with the local community, auditing streets and public spaces to see what changes are needed; it requires a lot of information gathered in consultation. The second issue is around promotion and marketing. There is very encouraging evidence from other parts of the world, such as Australia, where relatively small amounts can achieve big reductions in car usage and switching to other modes by targeting information at people specifically for their particular journey requirements. Again that is a revenue-funding issue. The third issue is maintenance and management. The classic mistake we make in this country is to spend a lot of money on town centre pedestrianisation and Safe Cycle Routes and then, five years later, there are weeds growing up, litter, graffiti and filth everywhere. We have to commit long-term resources to sustain and maintain the resources once we have put them in. It is not clear to us that the Government has taken adequate account of the revenue funding support which needs to be there to support the 10 Year Plan capital investment, to actually make that investment work to greatest effect.

  360. So at Government level you need not only clear plans, you need support, you need commitment of funds over a long period of time, and you need the understanding that this is going to be extravagant in all sorts of other ways in terms of training and staff?
  (Mr Plowden) Indeed.

  Chairman: Thank you. I am very grateful to you both.

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