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



Examination of Witnesses (Questions 900-919)

MR JOHN HENKEL, COUNCILLOR HELEN HOLLAND, MR RICHARD RAWLINSON, MR TONY CIABURRO AND MS SHEILA HENLEY

WEDNESDAY 20 MARCH 2002

Chairman

  900. I think Mr Henkel has provided us with a little list of some of the things he is trying to spread around. You are telling us there are other aspects of congestion which are a problem.
  (Mr Henkel) We have also done an awful lot of work on our local rail network. We have been short-listed as one of two authorities for a national transport award in the rail category later this year. There was discussion earlier about problems with the Channel Tunnel and the Sub- Committee may be interested to know that some of our rail vehicles have been delayed by some of the problems with the Channel Tunnel. We have new centre cars coming on to our Class 333 trains.

  Chairman: Come now, Mr Henkel, you must buy all your rolling stock in Britain. It makes it a lot easier. Thank you very much. Mr Grayling?

  Chris Grayling: Three questions for you, ladies and gentlemen. First of all, the balance between local and national. Do you feel that the balance in the 10 Year Plan between central projects and central decisions and local projects and local decisions is the right one and, if not, how would you change that balance?

Chairman

  901. Who is going to have a go at that first? Come on, one of you. Councillor Holland, put these men in their place.
  (Councillor Holland) I would say that the balance between local and national is about right. As I have already said, we welcomed the additional funding we have had through the LTP process. We alluded to this in our evidence to you. One of the issues that we have got at the moment is about decisions taken at regional level and the interface between local transport plans and regional transport statements as they are developing and where those decisions are going to be taken. Obviously, as a member of a local authority I would say this would I not, but the level of accountability at regional level is very important.

  902. Let's be quite clear about this, you are saying that this is not the normal fight between Bristol and the rest of the region?
  (Councillor Holland) I do not think it is. We were with colleagues on Saturday from Devon in a second meeting of the South West Public Transport Users' Forum, so there are a lot of new, very useful bodies growing in the region that we can work through.

  903. What is the problem with accountability then?
  (Councillor Holland) We also had a problem with seeing some of the accountable levels in the region going.

  904. Say again? So you are saying that within the region the accountability lines are not clear?
  (Councillor Holland) At the moment ahead of any directly elected regional government there are still decisions to be made at regional level and they are not necessarily decisions that are influenced at an accountable level, such as regional infrastructure. Whilst we all acknowledge that the old regional planning conferences were very cumbersome bodies, that has disappeared at the moment and there is some concern about the interface between local and regional.
  (Mr Henkel) I want to add two further points, if I may. The first is to come back to the issue of capital and revenue. We are pleased with the additional capital coming through the local transport plan and the increase in the threshold for major schemes to 5 million. That happened two years ago and that has encouraged local decision making. We have a very major problem with revenue funding to support our capital investment. I will give two examples. In the current financial year we are spending the best part of 500,000 on passenger shelters. But as we invest in new shelters we incur additional costs. On one weekend alone on one of our guided bus routes we incurred 5,500 of damage through vandalism which we then had to go and repair. Investment in new bus stations and electronic information all have very high revenue costs. I mentioned the growth in bus passengers in West Yorkshire. That is having an effect of nearly 1 million on our concessionary fares' budget, because we have had more people eligible for concessionary fares travelling on public transport so revenue is a very, very major problem for us. The second issue I would like to raise in terms of local decision making relates to rail. We are concerned by the 50 per cent target for rail passenger miles in the 10 Year Plan and the SRA Plan because we fear this will result in investment going towards the South East and into London and that our local network will suffer as a result of that.
  (Mr Ciaburro) A slightly different perspective. We too are very pleased with the outcome of the LTP settlement and the level of funding we have got, but the issue for us is what impact that investment has in terms of outcomes and therefore it is not always a question of scale and volume of funding. What we can bring at the local level and through local decisions is a whole range of other dimensions through working with the local community, through working with people and raising awareness, through dealing with issues of behaviour and attitude and through other land use decisions. We are able to have a significant effect and impact not just on the local network but the national network. The key issue for us is to make sure that we work together in a co-ordinated way at national and local level.

Chris Grayling

  905. Can I ask specifically to Hampshire and it may be something where there are lessons from the other two council areas as well. To what degree do you think the 10 Year Plan and the guff that goes underneath (which we do not see but I am sure is there in your discussions with the department) reflects the realities of putting large numbers of new houses, certainly into the South East of England and other parts of the country, which will inevitably generate transport movements which are going to have to be catered for in some shape or form? Do you think the 10 Year Plan addresses that issue at all or not?
  (Mr Ciaburro) It does not directly address it because the pressures around the country are quite different, and they are certainly in the South East in my part of the region quite significant, huge in fact, and the implications of that development, if it continues to be put in place as it has been in the past, means significant car movements. I do not think it directly addresses it but at the local level we are mindful of the spirit of what the 10 Year Plan is trying to achieve and we interpret it and the spirit of it in ways and policies which try to introduce sustainable development. So I think it is a question of our interpretation and our reflection of what Government intends.

  906. But do you get the resources within your local transport plan or do you see a correlation between the resources you are getting year by year and the expansion in the number of houses? Is that adequately reflected?
  (Mr Ciaburro) Personally I think it is because again if you look in terms of the impacts and outcomes, the land use issues in Hampshire that we have investigated and researched suggest that it would only add in strategic terms about a 5 per cent increase into overall traffic movements by car. So therefore in the totality of the picture the land use issues are only a small proportion of the overall situation. What is pretty critical, of course, is where you go wrong in terms of putting land use in the wrong place or of the wrong type. So at that locality, the situation becomes quite critical but in the strategic sense it is only a small impact.
  (Mr Rawlinson) I was trying to link it with the previous point about the distribution of investment in the 10 Year Plan. There is some concern in local authorities now that some of the local transport element may be siphoned off into the rail side of things. It is very important that we maintain and sustain the amount we have been given because local transport plans do accommodate structure plan allocations for housing applications, for example. The investment programmes, whether it be for road or public transport, are trying to accommodate the growth in the residential areas. That certainly is the case in the Bristol area. We would be very concerned if we suddenly saw the financial allocations predicted over the next five years dropping away because clearly we would not be able to put the infrastructure in to sustain the housing residential development that is planned.
  (Mr Henkel) I have two comments. One is that we have a discrepancy in time-scales between regional guidance, local plans, transport plans, the 10 Year Plan. They are not in tune in terms of timescale. Where we put them is of fundamental importance because if it is in the wrong place we are lost from day one. Even when it is in the right place development tends to occur incrementally and we have had examples of local residential development and employment sites where part of the site was developed and there is not enough demand to support a bus service so people drive there, so when the next part is developed there is still not the demand. There is a real need for some pump priming which again comes back to either operators having more of a social inclusion and environmental agenda or additional revenue being available.

  Chris Grayling: How are you going to avoid congestion charges killing your town centres in the way that one-way systems and pedestrianised areas have in large parts of the country?

Chairman

  907. A nice unbiased question; not accurate, just unbiased.
  (Councillor Holland) Firstly, I would be interested to see the evidence of where pedestrianisation has killed off retail centres. The opposite is true, certainly in Bristol.

Chris Grayling

  908. Leatherhead, Warrington.
  (Councillor Holland) We have retailers who are clammering to have pedestrianised areas outside their shops. The way that we have worked our congestion charging scheme consultation has meant that major retailers in the city centre have been part of that and they acknowledge that what we are trying to do is address the problem we have got, which is the commuting problem in the peak hours. Most people do not set off at 8 am to go shopping in the city centre by car and the people who work in the shops largely, regretably, are on fairly low wages and are using public transport in any case. The Broadmead manager (Broadmead being the city centre shopping centre) is fully conversant with the plans and I would not say he warmly welcomes them but he certainly understands what we are trying to do, especially in terms of getting the additional transport in first and he is very happy to see the sort of work we are doing.
  (Mr Ciaburro) On the latter part of that question, we have evidence in Hampshire, particularly in relation to Winchester—where we have introduced strong parking policies, pedestrianisation, one-way systems, and a programme of reallocating road space in favour of pedestrians and cyclists and public transport—that trade has risen year on year.
  (Mr Rawlinson) The studies we have done in Bristol demonstrate that. We are very concerned about competing centres. What these studies have demonstrated is that total trips into the central area increase. Even with conjestion charging all that happens is a change of mode—public transport or walking or some other form. There is no trip diversion but instead an increase of trips into the city centre by a different mode.

Mrs Ellman

  909. First, I want to clarify the comment Councillor Holland made earlier about regional accountability. Did you mean that it would be better if regional assemblies were directly elected so that there is direct accountability?
  (Councillor Holland) Yes.

  910. I thought you did. How important do you think decisions are on land use planning for transport?
  (Councillor Holland) From our point of view in Bristol they are absolutely vital. One of the things about our local transport plans (for which Bristol was commended) was that we had looked at land use planning, at regeneration areas, and at potential redevelopment areas. One of the problems in Bristol is that we are very tight against our boundaries. There are not lots of green field sites for us to talk about developing anyway, even if that is what we wanted to do. We have looked at mixed use development, all of those things, bringing people back to live in the city centre. We have got five times as many living in the city centre than we had five years ago, thus reducing the need to travel. In South Bristol, the part I represent, where employment was decimated when Wills and all the attendant industries closed down, those people at the moment still have a long way to go to get to work, so bringing employment through regeneration programmes and inward investment to South Bristol and linking them with policies has been very much how we have addressed it. Land use is at the heart of it for us.
  (Mr Ciaburro) It goes back to what I alluded to earlier on. Whilst land use decisions and location policies are extremely important on the critical path of things, the overall impact as far as our research investigation shows is limited. Our view is that it brings about 5 per cent of the change we need in the transport system to move towards a sustainable overall system. The main reason for that is because we are talking here about new development. Our problem is that there are limitations because the majority of development are in place. The problem is there and tackling that is critical to us. I do want to emphasis that the decisions on land use are critical but we need to have a much clearer idea about the limitations.
  (Mr Henkel) Decisions are critical. The relationship is fundamentally important. I would add that the decisions we take now on land use planning we are going to live with for 100 years or more.

  Chairman: That is a good point.

Mrs Ellman

  911. Mr Henkel, do you agree that the allocation of resources in the 10 Year Plan is fair to the northern regions, in particular your region?
  (Mr Henkel) Could I ask for the question to be repeated.

Chairman

  912. Are you being carved up, Mr Henkel?
  (Mr Henkel) We fear that we are going to be carved up on the rail network.

Mrs Ellman

  913. Is the allocation of resources fair to West Yorkshire or weighted towards the South East?
  (Mr Henkel) We are very concerned that the achievement of the passenger targets in the 10 Year Plan of 50 per cent growth will mean that the investment will go to the South East and the Trans-Pennine route and our local commuter routes like Leeds/Sheffield will not get the investment they need.

  Mrs Ellman: Do you have enough flexibility and discretion in the local plans to get on with them as you want to or is there too much interference?

Chairman

  914. There is a leading question! Come on, Mr Henkel, are you being interfered with?
  (Mr Henkel) We are very happy with our partnership arrangements in West Yorkshire between ourselves, our government offices and regional bodies. We feel having a five-year horizon

  915. It is nice that you are happy but it is not what we asked. Are you having your judgments double-checked?
  (Mr Henkel) Our judgments double checked?

  916. Is anyone altering your view of how your transport plan ought to go?
  (Mr Henkel) No.

  917. Councillor Holland?
  (Councillor Holland) We are happy with the local transport plan process. I think that some of the other barriers to implementation are the ones that we are struggling with at the moment. One of them is the skills shortage, having the people within the authority or even the consultants to be able to deliver schemes. It is about keeping people's credibility on side with the fact that we are going to be delivering. Another bus is coming but it is some way down the line and people want to see things happening. We are just about to open our third park and ride. It is a couple of months later than it should have been because of some imponderables like slow worms found on the site. You can never legislate for those situations but there are things that obviously do hinder our progress.
  (Mr Ciaburro) On balance, we are happy, we see no interference, but what is happening now is the devil is in the detail and the public are seeing some of the difficult decisions that have to be made and the implications of them. They are challenging us and we have to reassure them that we are doing the right thing.

Andrew Bennett

  918. You are whingeing about skills shortages. What needs to be done about it?
  (Mr Rawlinson) What we are trying to do in Bristol is be positive about it. We are working with the University of the West of England to try and develop some specialised courses for traffic and transport in particular, and hopefully they will come on-stream in September. There is also an opportunity for on the job training for staff as well. We are trying to grow our own staff. We are recruiting at the very low end of experience but we are losing a lot of experienced engineers into the private sector so although we are recruiting overall, we are running 20 or 30 per cent vacancy rates, and it is very, very difficult because the market supply is not out there. You are back into supply and demand and as the supply dries up so you have to pay higher prices in higher salaries to attract people back to the market. There is a real dearth and a real skills gap there in terms of experience.
  (Mr Ciaburro) Again we have a slightly different view. Yes, we agree that there is a dearth of skills out there but I do not think that we as a nation are optimising what is there. I say that through experience of our new partnership arrangements that we have made with private sector consultants where we have engineers and planners all over the country, from Glasgow to Bristol to Wales, working on schemes in Hampshire. We are recruiting people to work in Hampshire from Australia and Sweden and other countries around the world.

  919. So you are responsible for the skills shortage elsewhere!
  (Councillor Holland) They have got all ours!
  (Mr Ciaburro) I made the point about optimisation of what is already out there. I am sure there is a finite element and a limit to this, but through careful partnership working we are able to harness some of the resource that exists.

 


 
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