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


Examination of Witness (Questions 480 - 498)

WEDNESDAY 13 FEBRUARY 2002

PROFESSOR DAVID BEGG

Chairman

  480. Like what?
  (Professor Begg) For example, much more focus on accessibility rather than mobility. The 10 Year Plan is quite good at trying to keep Britain mobile. That is okay if you have a car or you can afford to travel by train, but if your local shop is closing because there is a big out of town shopping centre being built, then that just marginalises people in society. We would like to see a lot more focus on accessibility targets. I know we need to do a lot on urban regeneration. What we need to come out with is some sort of measure, how are we measuring what the Government are doing on urban regeneration. Do we look at the turnround in businesses and retail trade in town centres as the measure of urban regeneration and vitality?

Andrew Bennett

  481. You have just about hinted that there is this problem about most of the money has been spent in the 10 Year Plan on the well off, the people who travel long distances, rather than the people who stay, say, in Denton and hardly ever move out of Denton. Ought the balance of investment be skewed more to the least well off people who do not have cars?
  (Professor Begg) The Commission's view on that is yes, we need to find out who is doing that.

  482. How can we do it?
  (Professor Begg) We need to find out just how local authorities are spending their money. A third of the money in the 10 Year Plan is going to go to the local authorities and what they do will be critical for bus passengers, many of them on very low incomes and marginalised. It is very critical to the road safety targets and it will be very critical in terms of what happens to cycling and walking. The first thing we need to do is to monitor how local authorities are spending this additional money, and to make sure that what local authorities spend is skewed towards people on lower incomes. If it is not then we have some serious problems to try and address. I go back to some of the earlier issues that were raised. We will look very closely at the relative price of public and private transport. If, as we fear, private transport falls but public transport fares stay constant and indeed rise, that is going to make it very difficult to achieve a lot of the public transport growth targets and that is going to be very bad news for people on low incomes, especially bus dependent people who are going to find that their service might be cut or their fares might rise.

  483. On the question of investment, have we got the balance wrong between large and small schemes?
  (Professor Begg) We have to look at that again. I am not convinced that we have got it right. I would put a strong plea in favour of putting more money into the smaller schemes, but what I cannot do yet, and the reason why I am a bit reticent, is that I cannot produce you any hard evidence to show that that is going to produce bigger returns.

Chairman

  484. Nor can you say that they would be carried out if they were in fact accepted and the local authorities did not have the personnel to do it.
  (Professor Begg) Yes.

Mr Campbell

  485. Professor Begg, I know you are familiar with the Regional Transportation Strategy in Northern Ireland. I am just wondering if in the development of the 10 Year Plan there are any lessons that could be learned from the Transportation Strategy.
  (Professor Begg) I have to declare an interest here as a consultant to the Northern Ireland Assembly on transport. It is a good document. The problem is going to be that where Northern Ireland are going to fall behind in terms of England is on finance. I just know how desperate the financial position is and how there is a huge shortfall of cash for health. There is a big question mark over whether you are going to find the money you need in that Regional Transport Strategy but the document itself is really good. I think the lesson that could be learned as far as Great Britain is concerned is to try and realise that there are different targets for different parts of the country. You have a very different set of targets for the Belfast metropolitan area and a different set of policies than you have for the deep rural parts of Northern Ireland, and a different set of targets for the strategic road network. What they have done is to put different emphasis on reducing congestion and social exclusion and the environmental gains depending on which part of Northern Ireland you are looking at. I am concerned about aggregate targets for England which may not be appropriate for all regions and all parts of the country.

Mrs Ellman

  486. The Audit Commission is going to be asked to assess the performance of local authorities and high performing and low performing. High performing authorities will qualify for more latitude in how they spent central government funds. What transport measures and targets would you like to see incorporated into those assessments?
  (Professor Begg) Local authorities need to come up with targets on traffic reduction. Our advice to government was that there should be a bottom-up approach. Rather than the Government come out with a grand target they should ask local authorities to set targets and build from the bottom up. There are a number of deep rural areas who probably do not want a traffic reduction target, but I think large parts of the UK do need traffic reduction targets. That is easier to set in one or two of them than the congestion target but that will flow from that. I think we need targets on accessibility, proximity to bus stops, proximity to local shops, how far do you have to walk to buy a pint of milk and all of that. I think we need targets on bus use. I desperately think we need targets on walking and I think, with regard to the report that you published on a walking strategy, the Government would be wise to listen and adopt the policies contained in that; I think it is a neglected mode. I would like to see local targets on cycling. The output targets are easy. If you want to have far more people on the bus and more people walking, they are the easier ones. The difficult ones are the outcomes. How do we measure whether our transport policies are creating a more inclusive society and dealing with the exclusion agenda? How do we know if the transport policies are helping people to be healthier or not, and to what extent is transport the big driver in terms of people's waistlines and how fit they are and all of that? These are the difficult ones to measure.

Chairman

  487. What ought to be the priority of this Plan: making journey times shorter or saving lives?
  (Professor Begg) I would always go for saving lives.

  488. Does the Plan do that?
  (Professor Begg) The Plan will continue to ensure that we have got this downward trend in road fatalities.

  489. So would it be better to invest in road safety schemes, safety improvements?
  (Professor Begg) I would put more emphasis on road safety compared with time saving reductions and congestion reductions than perhaps has been the case.

  490. What about congestion charging? Do you think it is a good idea to have it for the whole national road network?
  (Professor Begg) Eventually yes. Let us assume all the technology was available this year and the Government had the will to do it. Would that be wise?

  491. Is that what your research is showing?
  (Professor Begg) No. In order for this to work some motorists are going to have to pay more and some will not pay any more. Some might indeed pay less if they are driving on less congested roads. Our worry is that public transport does not have the capacity, nor indeed the quality yet, to make sure that motorists who are forced to change their behaviour have got somewhere to go. We think it is really important that the 10 Year Plan is delivered and that we have got that step change in public transport quality before there are big increases in congestion charging and so on.

  492. So you get the transport in place before you try and price them off the roads?
  (Professor Begg) Yes, but that is with the national scheme. The difficulty with that, say, in London, is that a for lot of the Mayor's plans to improve public transport the finance is going to come from congestion charging, so the answer is not clear-cut.

Andrew Bennett

  493. Would it be better, if you are going to have congestion charging, to aim it to change people's behaviour in terms of when they travel rather than where they travel?
  (Professor Begg) Absolutely. I am amazed. If you look at access to our roads, it is the only utility where we do not pay at the point of use. We are all used to paying differential charges between peak and off peak if we travel by train or we use our telephone or electricity. It is a much more efficient way to provide a service. We are convinced that there are huge gains to be had, not just by trying to switch people by the pricing mechanism from road to public transport but, as you say, changing the time they wish to travel.

  494. How much earlier would someone have to get up to go to work at a cheaper rate on the motorway to make a significant impact?
  (Professor Begg) The reason I cannot be precise on that is that it depends on the level of congestion.

  495. Are we talking about half an hour or are we talking about people having to get up at three o'clock in the morning? People might not want to get up at three o'clock in the morning but if it is half an hour earlier they might do it.
  (Professor Begg) You would have a graduated charge. You would start to pay at 6.30 in the morning, and it would be more expensive at 7.30. There are an awful lot of people who do not need to be on the road at a certain times. There are a lot of people who can change their time of travel. Road hauliers in particular do not always have to be on the road at peak times, for example. There could be a price incentive which kicked in that would encourage them to deliver at different times. We think a lot more emphasis needs to be put on making much more efficient use of the road capacity we have before we start to talk about big increases in road capacity.

Chairman

  496. Professor, I hope you will not misunderstand this question. It is not meant in any way to be impolite, but what is the point of the Commission if the Prime Minister is taking advice on long term planning not from those of you who know about transport but from The Lord Birt whose qualification seems to be that he does not know about transport?
  (Professor Begg) Our roles are different.

  497. I hope so, but that still does not answer my question.
  (Professor Begg) The point of the Commission is that we do have this specific task to monitor Government progress on the 10 Year Plan. It is a bit like being a referee really. If we think that the Government are off course and what they are doing is not consistent with the 1998 White Paper or the 10 Year Plan then we have to call them to account publicly. We have a very different role from that of Lord Birt. This blue skies thinking that Lord Birt is reported to be doing and the work that we are doing on how to pay for road use in the future, there is an element of duplication there.

  498. You have been very tolerant and very helpful. Can I remind you that sometimes referees do extremely badly?
  (Professor Begg) I know, and they are always hated.

  Chairman: Thank you very much, Professor.





 
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