Examination of Witnesses (Questions 342
WEDNESDAY 6 FEBRUARY 2002
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.
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
travelsafe routes to school, cycle lanes, pedestrian priority
measures, more pedestrian crossings, travel information for people
on the groundbecause 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
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 thingsyou 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
348. When you agree, please do not repeat one
(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
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
(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.
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.
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.
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 planningand we
did make comments about perhaps the lack of a rural dimension
in the 10 Year Planthe importance of rural recreation and
rural tourism which, as foot and mouth has reminded us, can be
a vital element in the countryside.
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 Esengineering 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
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