Winter 2010-11 was the UK's third cold winter in succession. December 2010 was particularly cold and snowy, causing extensive disruption to the UK's transport networks. Most significant was the closure of Heathrow Airport from 18 to 20 December but other airports closed for a time during the month; rail services were badly affected, especially south of the Thames; and there was disruption on the roads. Most dramatically, the severe winter weather reduced the UK's GDP by 0.5% and we were told that travel disruption cost the UK economy £280 million per day.
There is more that could and should be done to ensure that the UK's transport networks are more resilient to severe winter weather and we are sympathetic to the argument that more money should be spent on this. Areas for additional investment and co-ordination by the Government include:
- Improving the resilience of the third rail network south of the Thames. We recommend that the Secretary of State should lead work on this and commit the Government to the long-term aim of replacing the existing network with a more resilient form of electrification.
- Having oversight of airport snow plans and other major incident plans, to make sure additional investment in winter resilience is delivered. This is particularly significant in relation to Heathrow, to help maintain its status as an international hub airport.
- Publishing online practical advice about how individuals and communities can overcome problems caused by severe winter weather.
- Launching a high profile campaign about motorists' winter preparedness, with the aim of increasing the proportion of motorists taking precautions against severe weather next winter.
- Investigating the case for providing the Met Office with additional funding to improve its long-range forecasting capability.
We also recommend that the Department's climate change adaptation plan should include reference to the risk of severe winter weather in future, particularly in view of uncertainties in climate predictions identified by Sir John Beddington, the Government's Chief Scientific Adviser.
Inadequate information provision was raised by witnesses as an issue for rail, road and air travellers during December 2010. A related issue was passenger welfare, especially for passengers caught up in the disruption at Heathrow. The problems at Heathrow have been thoroughly analysed in a review led by Professor David Begg. The Begg report and the evidence we received from the aviation sector give the impression that Heathrow was totally unprepared to recover from any major incident which necessitated its closure.
We agree with the Begg report's recommendation that airports should develop passenger welfare plans. We would support measures by which airport operators could reclaim the costs of providing support to stranded passengers from airlines which had not discharged their legal responsibilities to look after passengers. We also welcome the Government's intention to revamp the regulatory regime applying to airports and look forward to scrutinising the draft bill on this.
The rail industry needs to do far more to look after the interests of passengers during periods of disruption. Culture change is urgently required: the legacy of privatisation cannot be used to excuse the continuing inability of train companies to provide accurate information to passengers about delays and cancellations. We fully support the Office of Rail Regulation's initiative to clarify responsibilities for providing accurate information. This should be achieved by next winter: failures in information provision should cost the firms responsible money.
Finally, we recommend the development of clearer 'travel warnings' to specify more precisely which journeys should not be undertaken in severe weather and consideration of the Freight Transport Association's suggestion of snow and ice warnings for HGVs, akin to strong wind warnings. We also call on the Highways Agency and police forces to ensure that blockages on the strategic road network are managed more proactively and that greater use is made of roadside information and in-car information systems to provide motorists with real time information about road conditions and disruption.