WEDNESDAY 12 DECEMBER 2001
Mrs Gwyneth Dunwoody, in the Chair
Examination of Witnesses
THE RT HON JOHN SPELLAR, a Member of the House, Minister of State for Transport, MR DENNIS ROBERTS, Director, Road Transport Directorate, and MR BOB LINNARD, Director, Rail Delivery Directorate, Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, examined.
Chairman: Could I have a declaration of those in this Committee with an interest?
Mr Stevenson: George Stevenson, Transport and General Workers= Union.
Mrs Ellman: Louise Ellman, Transport and General Workers= Union.
Chairman: Gwyneth Dunwoody, Rail, Maritime and Transport Trade Union.
Mr Donohoe: Brian Donohoe, a member of the Transport and General Workers= Union.
Miss McIntosh: Anne McIntosh. Railtrack, a minor shareholding; BA and Eurotunnel.
Chairman: Anything else?
Miss McIntosh: My husband is a director of an American airline company still.
(Mr Spellar) John Spellar, Minister for Transport. I suppose I ought to declare myself as a member of the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Workers= Union.
(Mr Roberts) Dennis Roberts.
(Mr Roberts) The SDA. I am from the Road Transport Directorate.
(Mr Linnard) Bob Linnard, from the railway side.
(Mr Spellar) I do not think so particularly. It is a very wide ranging remit today and we should spend most of the time on questions.
(Mr Spellar) Road pricing, or more particularly and more immediately, congestion charging and workplace parking are seen as appropriate tools that are available to local authorities for dealing with their particular local circumstances.
(Mr Spellar) They are one of the tools that are there and local authorities will be looking at the local circumstances in their town or in their area in order to decide whether this will enable them to achieve the targets and also to facilitate transport in their area. For example, London is looking at congestion charging as their preferred mechanism for alleviating congestion in central London in the same way that Nottingham has looked at that but is now looking at workplace charging because they believe that that is a more appropriate mechanism for dealing with their local problems. In all cases, they are also looking in parallel at what improvements they need to make to public transport in order to be able to transport people as a result of the relief of that congestion.
(Mr Spellar) There are a number of other alternative approaches to this. To give one example, one of the significant contributors to congestion and indeed to air pollution in towns is delivery during the rush hour. Quite a bit of that is brought about by either general lorry bans, probably dating back about 20 years, or specific restrictions as part of planning approval particularly given to supermarkets. If we went back about 20 years, we would have found a general atmosphere of approval of those limitations. As a result of the increase in congestion, concerns about pollution and also as a result of improvements in lorry design and lorry operation, there is a significant shift. For example, the Commission for Integrated Transport is conducting a study for us at the moment in cooperation with the industry to see whether relaxations of some of those bans would enable overnight delivery because many supermarkets open 24 hours now, quite apart from whether they are working 24 hours and stacking. Therefore, you could be taking a considerable load out of the system at an early stage.
(Mr Spellar) As I am awaiting the outcome of a study by the Commission for Integrated Transport, I am anticipating that they will be putting figures on that as well. In terms of actual operation, there is still quite a bit of work being undertaken by local authorities across the country who are looking at congestion or workplace charging and still quite a bit of modelling work to be done as to the impact on reduction of numbers. That is quite different from whether that generates a revenue which may then facilitate and finance other transport alternatives and maybe encourage people to move to those other alternatives. There is still quite a bit of work being done as to the extent to which and at what level people are discouraged from using their cars or whether indeed restrictions on parking levels are more effective. These are areas where there is not as yet clear evidence one way or the other. That is why a number of authorities are looking at different approaches. We are awaiting the outcome of their work to see whether we believe they will achieve the objectives they believe are right for their community and they have involved their community and therefore as to whether this might be an appropriate mechanism. I think some others, quite frankly, are looking to see how those early authorities succeed in order to decide what may be an appropriate mechanism for their own area.
(Mr Spellar) No.
(Mr Spellar) The Greater London Authority and Transport for London are at the moment undertaking consultation. As you will probably have seen, there has been a slippage in the consultation procedure as a result of moving the end time from 7 back to 6.30. It was believed that that required an extension of the consultation. That is the belief of Transport for London, not a decision of ours. We will therefore be awaiting some time early next year to receive the results of that to decide whether that is appropriate for London. There is a lot of consultation going on with London boroughs -- they are not of one mind on this -- and indeed discussion within the Greater London Assembly.
(Mr Spellar) I do not recall that I said that either in the House or ----
(Mr Spellar) I think you will find in the actual bit that is in quotes in The Financial Times I state the legal position which is that the plan has to be submitted to us, differently in London than elsewhere in the country. The only area of discretion that the Department has or I have as a Minister is on the application of the funds that are received from the congestion charging scheme.
(Mr Roberts) The local transport plan settlement does provide considerable sums for local authorities to develop their public transport systems which will be done in advance of those charges coming into place.
(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, this will often take account of other proposals concerned with charging for either workplace parking or ----
(Mr Roberts) We do take account of all of their plans in determining the amounts made available under local transport plans.
(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 particular issue.
(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.
(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.
(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 second one.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(Mr Spellar) You mean in terms of their now being in two different departments?
(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.
(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.
(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 or 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.
(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 as well.
(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 seeing -- and it is a regular source of complaint from Members of Parliament -- the 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.
(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.
(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 more effective.
(Mr Spellar) On the detail, that would be done at official level.
(Mr Roberts) The urban renewal unit and the neighbourhood renewal unit were part of the Department and do deal with us on a regular basis on these things. 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 of the arrangements would be done on an ongoing basis throughout the year with the officials on that side.
(Mr Roberts) Yes. The main work of 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, not just our own Department but other government departments as well, so that the officials within the government offices will be looking across the whole range of issues for those areas and with the local knowledge of the areas.
(Mr Roberts) Yes, because we have a PSA target on bus patronage.
(Mr Spellar) Two different areas there. If we are talking about bus patronage, in some areas it has stabilised. The West Midlands is an example where it has stabilised. London is an example, as you have rightly identified, where there has been an increase in bus patronage.
(Mr Spellar) Elsewhere, as car ownership is rising, there is still a decline, although that seems to have levelled off a bit. It is still moving down slightly but reasonably stable. It is a fairly slight decline. In a number of areas, the use of the showcase routes where you are having a very regular bus service going down the major routes, particularly into city centres, is achieving an increase in patronage. Unfortunately, that can be sometimes seen to be at the expense of the peripheral routes in those areas. There is a real dilemma there as to whether resources should be concentrated on increasing patronage or how this balances with the question of social exclusion.
(Mr Spellar) What does that relate as a percentage?
(Mr Spellar) With respect, there are two different issues here. One is about the level of bus patronage and we are able to arrest the decline and even achieve slight increases by focussing resources onto the main routes, the high volume routes, and increasing that volume. That works. We do then get a criticism within those same areas that, at the same time, a number of those operators are trimming their peripheral routes which does not do much for volume but may be very important on social exclusion ground. We do have to look at both of those areas, but they are not the same thing.
(Mr Spellar) If we are looking at the social exclusion issue and the numbers, it is availability.
(Mr Spellar) It is also, on a number of routes, the regularity of the service and the safety of the service. When we do any surveys of passengers, those are rated more highly in the scale than the cost of the service.
(Mr Spellar) Not for the tendered services because some of these are on competitive routes but also facilitating those routes, providing bus lanes, making improvements at junctions that facilitate the bus routes and therefore enable a faster journey. This is particularly on commuting into the centres of towns and it has a significant impact on volume. That is quite different from the issue of travel on to peripheral areas and the question of social exclusion, although these are not mutually exclusive.
(Mr Spellar) There are a number of factors involved in declining bus usage. It is quite interesting to look at a number of areas of the country. Where we are seeing the greatest reduction in bus usage is precisely in those areas, on whatever your base date is, where there was a lower level of car ownership. This is particularly the case, for example, in the north east of England, where a number of those areas have been moving up closer to the national average in levels of car ownership; whereas in London there has not been such a dramatic narrowing of that gap on levels of car ownership and bus utilisation has increased and equally in the Midlands as well where there has been a marginal increase. There is that factor as well. It is not just one simple factor that is influencing the utilisation of the system.
(Mr Spellar) There are substantial resources but I equally accept that they are putting the case to us that, as a result of substantial increases in costs in the bus industry, not least because of shortage of drivers and wage increases, there are pressures on their budgets in that area.
(Mr Spellar) All the evidence coming from local authorities is that they are seeing significant increases, particularly where operators are tendering for services. That is quite different from when they are operating services on a commercial basis. Presumably the same factors are having an impact there as well.
(Mr Spellar) The rationalisation of operators in areas is not something that is exclusive to the fringes of London. Right across the country, there has been a steady move towards a sole operator provision in many areas, as different companies have exited from different areas. That may be part of an inexorable logic.
(Mr Spellar) One of the requirements of our policy is to try and achieve a shift towards public transport, particularly in the conurbations and particularly in London. That is a mechanism for dealing with very considerable congestion problems in London. If there are consequences of that as a result of the greater efficiency of utilisation of the London services, that is a difficulty but one that is very much in line with trying to achieve more people travelling by bus on those services.
Chris Grayling: Given that bus patronage outside London, in other parts of the country, is falling, one of the consequences of what is happening in London -- and I hope your Department is going to be very mindful of this -- is that bus patronage is being driven down through the consequence of a subsidised geographic area bumping into a substantially less subsidised geographic area. The consequence is that outside patronage is going and routes are disappearing.
(Mr Spellar) I do not know that social exclusion is increasing because of bus fares going up. The complaints that I get are much more to do with the availability of services. That is particularly the case not just on peripheral estates but also at certain times of the day.
(Mr Spellar) Yes. That is about availability more than about price. There are considerable concerns being expressed regarding availability of early buses but about the trimming of routes. Some of that is to do with public safety issues, I fully accept. Some bus companies are withdrawing from certain areas, even ironically in an issue raised with me by a member of the public and also by a Member of Parliament, withdrawing from one particular area between the hours of four and six in the afternoon, which you would think would be peak usage. Unfortunately, it is also the time when youngsters come out of school and they have been bricking the buses. Therefore, the bus company have withdrawn from that area during that period. These are some of the broader reasons why routes are not being covered and that obviously requires a multi-agency response.
(Mr Spellar) That is very considerable in its own right. It is estimated up to a million cars are not registered in this country and by definition a very considerable percentage are not insured.
(Mr Spellar) It is very hard to get a handle on the exact numbers and therefore on the trend line save that we are aware of it being a very considerable number, not least from the measures that we are now putting into place to deal with abandoned vehicles, but also in operations such as Operation Cubitt in Kent, where we are dealing with unlicensed vehicles as well and also linking up with the Association of British Insurers in order to match the two databases.
(Mr Spellar) We would know how many people might have driving licences. That would not necessarily tell us how many at any particular time actually own cars.
(Mr Spellar) It would give an indication as to the potential scale but accurate figures and therefore the percentage increase would be more difficult.
(Mr Roberts) We have some information about vehicles without tax. We do a survey every two years where we try to monitor this. It is quite difficult. There are quite wide areas around the estimate, but the trend is broadly flat in recent years. In the last year or so, we have been putting a lot of effort into reducing tax evasion and that has an effect. Indeed, the steps that the DVLA have been taking have been quite effective, as has the work in the Cubitt experiment that the Minister referred to, which was primarily about abandoned cars but had the knock-on effect of considerably reducing tax evasion in the area.
(Mr Spellar) Part of the negotiations that take place, and one of the reasons why they are probably so protracted, is about the level of the dowry that accompanies the transfer of the trunk road when it is being detrunked from the Highways Agency to a local authority. That is exactly where the local authorities are seeking to ensure that they receive sufficient money in order both to get the road up to standard but also to maintain it in an appropriate standard.
(Mr Spellar) In many cases, it is going on for a while, precisely because of arguments about those levels.
(Mr Spellar) We already have the Channel Tunnel Rail Link which is an extremely successful public/private partnership. We are looking with regard to major new schemes on the railways with special purpose vehicles which are fairly similar, using the model of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link precisely in order to benefit not only from bringing in private sector capital but also from bringing in private sector expertise in the running of these major projects. That is exactly what is happening with the Channel Tunnel Rail Link which is both on time and to price and moving very rapidly across the Kent countryside.
(Mr Spellar) It is undoubtedly a major problem. I have had representations not only from EWS but also from a number of other freight handlers and those who are running freight depots in this country. There is a very real concern at the impact that this is having on their business. I was at the European Transport Ministers= Council last Friday and raised this directly with the French Minister again, as I have done at previous meetings. There are further discussions this week at official level. There are other mechanisms, quite apart from increasing the levels of security at Sangatte and Freton B for example, running trains straight through, assembling at Lille and running straight through and therefore not sitting in the yards, vulnerable to these mass attacks of groups of refugees trying to get onto the trains. We are exploring that with the French authorities as well.
(Mr Spellar) Two separate issues there, obviously with regard to passengers and to freight. I in no way disguise that the difficulties in cross-Channel are giving us some concerns with regard to freight levels. In other areas, there are some quite encouraging developments of shift of even goods which have traditionally gone by road. Quite a number of motor manufacturing companies are using rail to take their goods to and from Felixstowe, Southampton and so on and I think we are working well with them. Also, there are proposals for increasing that capability.
(Mr Linnard) Given that we are only a few months into the ten year plan, we are on track for hitting the targets of 50 per cent passenger growth and up to 80 per cent freight growth. The detail of the schemes that are going to be put in place to realise those targets will be set out in the Strategic Rail Authority=s strategic plan which is coming out on 14 January. That will contain a lot more detail than is in the ten year plan about exactly what needs to be done, what the priorities are and where the investment is going to be going.
(Mr Spellar) With regard to walking and the report on walking, there is further work to be done on that. As you know, we already have a consultative group on cycling. I had a meeting with the various pedestrian organisations quite recently. We are looking at how we can take that on further. In cycling, we have appointed Steve Norris as the chairman. After all, he was the Minister who set the targets so we thought it was a good idea to get him to lead the campaign to achieve them. We are looking at how we can engage further, always trying to get away from the inevitable tag of Monty Python sketches, to address a serious issue and get some positive work on that. We are looking at the broad guidelines for local authorities to see how those can best be updated but leaving them reasonable discretion in order to run their local schemes. With regard to spending levels, contrary to press reports, there is not an underspend on the roads programme, either locally or nationally.
(Mr Spellar) There are two quite different issues here. One is on departmental spending across the board. In some areas that are ring fenced, for example on regeneration money, there is year end flexibility under three year spending plans. Answering on the transport side, we are not facing an underspend on roads, as I indicated. Contrary to reports, there is not an underspend either locally or nationally.
(Mr Spellar) Yes. We are only a few months into the ten year plan and for the first time local authorities and the construction companies and others are able to work on a fairly steady ordering programme. We see no reason why we would not meet that target.
(Mr Spellar) I think it is quite reasonable that people raise issues surrounding any form of transport undertaking because any development requires a balanced judgment and that is partly about congestion, economic viability, being part of a national transport system and the impact locally. There will also be effects on households, whether noise, air quality levels or visual intrusion and also the impact on the habitat, whether animals, birds or plants and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It is a case of getting that balance. My judgment on Hastings was that the proposed economic benefits of the question of the number of people who were from the areas of high deprivation in Hastings, which undoubtedly there are areas of high deprivation in Hastings, that whether the bypass would have a sufficiently favourable impact on them or on the economic activity in the area, balanced against the environmental considerations.
(Mr Spellar) Again, it is a question of balance. It is also a question of mitigation. It is a question of whether you have double glazing in order to cut out noise and also best estimates as to the impact on air quality. Traffic that is moving at a steady pace has less of an impact on air quality in the immediate area than traffic that is congested and stalled, stopping and starting. Again, it is evaluating the individual circumstances, taking the broad criteria, evaluating the data with regard to a particular project and, at the same time, making a judgment on where the balance of advantage lies for that scheme. That is partly local but it must also be on a regional and national basis.
(Mr Spellar) It certainly has to be a factor taken into account, yes.
(Mr Spellar) In many cases, we have the very real, current problem of congestion, from the representations not just from Members of Parliament and local authority members but also from communities, very much seeking to be relieved of the pressures in their area that have a very significant impact on their quality of life. This is true in many northern towns where the road system runs very much through residential areas that are very close to the highway. There is very real concern about being able to achieve a bypass in those areas.
Mr Stevenson: Concern has been expressed that local authorities may not have the numbers or the expertise in their staff to effectively draw up local transport plans. Do you share that concern?
(Mr Roberts) Most authorities have the skills still within the authority or have access to them. They have developed links with consultants who have also developed those sorts of skills and they do rely on consultants for a lot of the work and they are experts in that.
(Mr Roberts) Yes.
(Mr Roberts) It costs money whether it is done in-house or out-house. Using consultants who are skilled in the work does not necessarily cost any more than using in-house staff.
(Mr Roberts) I thought you were still on the point of whether it was in-house or out-house.
(Mr Roberts) Internal or external. I am saying that the cost of external is not necessarily greater than the cost of internal staff. That was the point I am making. The point overall on resources is covered in the Standard Spending Assessment which meets the general needs of administration, preparation of plans, as well as delivering the main in-house services.
Mr Stevenson: Moving on to another area very quickly. Given that planning and planning guidance is critically important in developing transport plans and policies, why did the Government relax the maximum parking spaces available, for example, to food store developments in the final version of PPG13?
(Mr Spellar) I would have to write to the Committee on that.
Chairman: We will accept a note on that.
Mr Stevenson: Perhaps I can help the Minister because, as we understand it, for example, the maximum parking spaces available to food stores has been relaxed by no less than 30 per cent. The question is how is that consistent with integrating our transport provision and discouraging the use of cars?
(Mr Spellar) Yes, we will give you a note on that.
(Mr Spellar) I think basically because it was felt that most of the objectives could be achieved by agreement but also, more importantly, could be achieved in a much shorter timescale.
(Mr Spellar) This will be very much at a European level because this is a European-wide issue. In other words, all the manufacturers are selling very heavily in each of the markets and that is why nearly all of these developments, whether on fuel efficiency or on pedestrian safety, are at a European level and, therefore, we will be working with the Commission on that.
(Mr Spellar) We believe that we will get a satisfactory level of protection and we will get that sooner by the negotiation with the manufacturers.
(Mr Roberts) Could I just come in. There is not, in fact, a Directive there 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 then 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.
(Mr Spellar) The belief of the Commission and ourselves is that we will achieve that.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(Mr Spellar) True, but the Government can facilitate that through the funding programme.
(Mr Spellar) I think that would be adding to the road hazards.
(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.
(Mr Spellar) Yes, we get that from the traders= association.
(Mr Spellar) My recollection is that it is rising. I can certainly send you the figures on that.
(Mr Spellar) That is quite possible.
(Mr Spellar) Not necessarily. In some areas that could be a reduction in numbers using them on a daily basis but a greater use C
(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 Spellar) But that is based on people=s individual choices as to which employer they seek to work with.
(Mr Spellar) Not to direct people.
(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.
(Mr Spellar) Internet purchasing does not necessarily reduce the volume of traffic on the road.
(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.
(Mr Spellar) And we do.
(Mr Spellar) And we do. We also have to take account of the choices that the public exercise in a number of areas. While we can be having an input into policy we also have to deal with the results of individual choice as well.
(Mr Spellar) I think that there has been considerable investment in the South East in a variety of modes of travel. The Channel Tunnel Rail Link is not just for Eurostar, it will also have a significant impact on travel into London from the Kent, Thames Gateway area. A considerable number of the developments that are taking place in Central London are, in fact, designed to deal with those who commute in from outside of London, a point that the Mayor makes regularly when he is indicating that he would like to have greater influence or control over the rail system in London and the surrounding area. The work that we are doing on Cross Rail, while again it is focused on the City and Heathrow, part of the work on that is work going out in the Home Counties both east and west of London. There is a considerable amount of widening that has been undertaken on the M25 and on a number of other local roads work being undertaken on them as well.
(Mr Spellar) It might move up with the Hindhead Tunnel Project, which has recently been approved and added to the TPI.
(Mr Spellar) That was the question on access to loan money, was it not?
(Mr Spellar) So that is not grant.
(Mr Spellar) As I have said, at the moment that is not a grant, that is a loan facility which will be on the balance sheet of the company.
(Mr Linnard) It has been provided for in the Winter Supplementaries. It is a loan facility, as the Minister said, of up to ,1.6 billion, which will then be repayable, so it will not be a net call on public spending. It is not taking money away from the provision that is allocated to the Ten Year Plan.
(Mr Linnard) And then it is replaced by a commercial loan, repaid.
(Mr Spellar) No, we believe we will be maintaining the balance of the Ten Year Plan which, again, I remind you, we are only a few months into. We will be maintaining that over the period of the ten years between the various modes of transport.
(Mr Spellar) Quite apart from that I think our feeling was, amongst other results of the deficiencies of Railtrack, delays in these programmes were one of our concerns. If you are asking if we are actually looking to an improvement in that then we are certainly looking to an improvement in performance in pushing these programmes through.
(Mr Spellar) No, for two reasons. One, because we believe we can get those programmes back but, equally, we believe that there is considerable scope in running the network that we have with investment in that network and actually managing that better. That is one of the key objectives that the Chairman of the SRA, Richard Bowker, is addressing and will be focussing the industry on and will be looking towards that in the statement coming out on 14 January focussing the industry on actually managing the network in the way we were describing with the road network as well. We need to look at new build, we also need to look at how we manage the network that we already have and whether there is the ability to put through more capacity on that network. In both cases, road and rail, we believe that there is.
(Mr Spellar) Not yet because it has still to be evaluated by the SRA before they put a ----
(Mr Spellar) The SRA have done an evaluation of it but they are doing a further evaluation of that in order to look at a number of issues, particularly with regard to the utilisation of existing track and questions that conflict with passenger use and how that impacts on our targets on passenger use as well.
(Mr Spellar) Some time next year. I would hope sooner rather than later.
(Mr Spellar) I am almost tempted to say that is a matter to direct to the Chancellor.
(Mr Spellar) I think matters of taxation are a matter for the Treasury.
(Mr Spellar) One of the main areas that we are looking at, and I hope I have described a number of means towards that, is actually to create the opportunity and facility for using public transport systems ensuring - to use the well hackneyed phrase - they are interoperable, as indeed we are investing considerable sums in ensuring that we have train and bus facilities, or light rail facilities.
(Mr Spellar) If they are living in an urban area, to access other facilities which may be shopping, may be health service facilities, maybe leisure, maybe work, we are looking at the pattern Brian Donohoe was describing, that we do need to be recognising that they will be making journeys, we need to have the facilities. I hope I have described a number of mechanisms - not all of them because light rail is an area we have not really touched on today - where we are creating those opportunities and we are seeing where we are providing facilities that people are taking. If you take the Croydon Tram Link there has been a huge increase in the number of people using that, some 15 million already, and, interestingly enough, a big increase on the take in the main stores in central Croydon but a reduction in the receipts from car parking to the local authority, which indicates a significant shift through the creation of that capability, and again from Croydon to Wimbledon. Those are real examples where we are creating a facility where people are taking that opportunity. I do not think we have to have a one-size-fits-all on this.
(Mr Spellar) There is a measure of congestion, whether ----
(Mr Spellar) I think you would argue it is possibly reliable. Whether it is satisfactory as to how the average motorist or even, indeed, the average pedestrian perceives congestion is more open to question.
(Mr Spellar) That is very much, is it not, about active traffic management and it is about flow of traffic? One of the key areas I addressed, for example, was the amount of money we are putting into tomorrow=s local transport plans on junctions and traffic light systems precisely in order to facilitate flow and I hope to achieve steadier flows of traffic but also more predictable times.
(Mr Spellar) I think we are giving sufficient weight to those. I am slightly concerned in terms of media comment that there is huge emphasis - I say this not by way of complaint, I hasten to add - on rail and tube, which are important but we must still recognise that more people go to work by bus in this country than by those means. We do need to be focussing on that, which is why I have such concerns regarding the reduction on some routes, and why we are discussing with the Passenger Transport Authorities and others what we can to do improve that.
(Mr Spellar) I am advised, Mr Bennett, that both the Notes recommend practices to be followed and are clearly a form of guidance and will be supplemented by new guidance.
(Mr Spellar) I would hope my officials will be working with the local planning officers and local transport officers precisely in order to make them easy to work with.
(Mr Spellar) I have no indication of that. I can consult with the planning part of our Department to see if we have an estimate on that.
Andrew Bennett: Thank you very much.
(Mr Spellar) I did not know we had not.
Mr O=Brien: There is a reference to the sister document on waterways but nothing else.
(Mr Spellar) Chairman, I am advised that waterways is actually covered by another Department.
(Mr Spellar) By DEFRA.
Andrew Bennett: It is no longer transport?
(Mr Spellar) Or ask another department.
(Mr Spellar) We will do you a note on it.
Chairman: I am asking you to do me a note on your responsibilities in this annual report and why it was not included. Thank you very much.
(Mr Spellar) I will include that in the note.
(Mr Spellar) We will give you a note on that.
Chairman: Are we agreed that we are now up to about six notes?
Mr Donohoe: I make it seven.
Chairman: I make it six. Minister, you have been ----
Miss McIntosh: Chairman?
Chairman: Very briefly.
(Mr Spellar) We have not formed a view on that particular course, although, of course, right the way across the industry there is a substantial number of redundancies taking place as a result of the downturn in traffic. I see from reports today for Christmas bookings there seems to be a fairly robust pattern. On those airports that are dealing with the low cost, short haul traffic, a number of those, such as Glasgow and Stanstead, have seen an increase in their through traffic. We are keeping engaged on a fairly regular basis on airport security, Transec are in regular discussion in all of the airports on that. We do recognise that these are very difficult times for the aviation industry, however we also recognise that on previous downturns there has been a recovery of the trend line within about a year to 18 months and sustained growth. Obviously those are issues that we will be addressing when we produce the regional airport studies, the southeast region is the one that is receiving the most public attention, also the regional airport studies for the other regions as well, which we will be publishing in the Spring.
Chairman: Minister, you have been very helpful. Thank you very much indeed.