Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40-59)
LORD FALCONER OF THOROTON, QC, MS SALLY KEEBLE, MS JOYCE BRIDGES AND MR PETER MATTHEW
TUESDAY 21 MAY 2002
40. Does the Department do any breakdown of the Local Transport Plans, as it were, between the amount of spending for highways and bridges and the amount for pedestrians?
(Ms Keeble) We do an analysis obviously of the annual returns on the Local Transport Plans and that is something I have been particularly pushing, and we look at how they are meeting a whole range of targets. I do not think we do a breakdown of the spend in precisely the way that you are suggesting. It is certainly something we could go back and look at. I would be very happy to do that. At the moment, because the whole Local Transport Plan process is quite new, the last annual returns we had were the first and they tended just to set a base line, rather than being very helpful in terms of analytical data. We are doing work to improve that and hope in the coming years we will be able to extract much more comparative information out of that. I will certainly take that one back.
41. The Institute of Civil Engineers' tell us in their annual survey they believe half of the Local Transport Plan funding is expected to be on highways and bridges, and 5-10 per cent on pedestrian measures. Would that breakdown surprise you, and would it give you any concern?
(Ms Keeble) It would not surprise me; it would give me a certain amount of concern. I will certainly go back and have a look. We have only had one round of annual returns back on the Local Transport Plan; we are due for the next one in July. I will take that back and see if we can get some kind of analysis that will pick up on the issues you have identified. If you look at the work that is being done on road safety, on pedestrian access and on Home Zones in particular, I think we are starting to get a different look at the way in which roads and pavements are used.
42. Do you know how many new pedestrian areas have been put forward in the Local Transport Plans?
(Ms Keeble) No. I can go and check again and see if we have got that information through the Local Transport Plans, but I doubt it.
43. What about a public realm strategydo you ask local authorities if they have a public realm strategy; and is that something the Department is pursuing?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It is not a question that they raise at the moment. It is something in the context of raising public realm up the agenda that we need to consider in the context of the Cross Cutting Review and the policy conclusions that come out of that. It is part of a process of focussing local authorities and other players as well on the issue.
44. Could I ask you quickly if one of the other items you will have a look at again is the regulations governing residents and parking schemes because they are a nonsense at the moment. You can have a typical Victorian terraced street where you have vehicles parked on both sides. I do not know if you are aware but when a residents' parking scheme goes in you can only have that on one side of the street because of the width of the designated spaces. In fact, from a pedestrian/public safety point of view, the conditions are worse after the scheme has gone in. Are you aware of that; and, if you are not, will you have a look at it?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I was not aware of that. Presumably it depends on the particular street. We will certainly have a look at that.
45. No, they are national rules.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I thought you were saying it blocks the street if there is parking on both sides?
Christine Russell: No, what I am saying is, at the moment there is parking on both sides and, therefore, vehicles have to travel at quite a low speed to go between vehicles; but when a residents' parking scheme goes in, because of the regulations the width of the parking boxes has to be so wide that you can only have the scheme on one side of the street, which means you then have a race track on the other side.
Chairman: Perhaps you could look at that for us.
46. CABE and DTLR have commissioned a report on the institutional obstacles to raising quality in the public realm, which we were just discussing. Some say that a really good example of an institutional obstacle in the public realm is the DTLR's Traffic Advisory leaflets.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) That is an institutional obstacle?
47. Apparently so. It is an example of an institution providing an obstacle to progress in this area, because the critics say that Britain's streets are turning into a bit of a dog's breakfast at the moment. We have got all sorts of technicolour road markings going every which way; we have got uncoordinated street signs going up. It is all right if you are on acid but otherwise it is an obstacle and all over the place. What people would like to know is, what is your Department doing to reduce the clutter that is accumulating in the public realm of Britain's streets?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) In terms of road signs?
48. Yes, because you know that the Traffic Signs Regulations and Parking Act has led to a plethora of uncoordinated signs going up.
(Ms Keeble) There are actually some very tight regulations around signs. We have huge design manuals with all the different types of signs and discussions about the colours of them as well. I have to say that there are probably more representations about people who want to do their own signs than people who are prepared to forego their independence and to stick with the kind of signage and the conformity that the Department encourages. If people have made comments it is interesting and we ought to look at it. I have to say, it runs somewhat against some of the experience in the Department with people wanting very, very specific types of street signage which are just particular to their village or their locality.
49. When you say you encourage them to not go down their own route
(Ms Keeble) There are detailed manuals, and we can make sure the Committee has them. They are of mind-boggling length, and they have pictures of all kinds of street signs and all the possibilities. If you have too much different signage it is actually unsafe because the drivers become fixated by it; there are restrictions on what people can do. For example, one of the things people do is write to the Department applying to have their village's slogan on the street sign; and there is a lot of angst when you say, "They're not supposed to be doing this" for just the kinds of reasons you have identified. We can go back and have a look at that. There are strong counter-arguments that come from local interest groups who want their own street signs.
50. That is because there is not a degree of clear thinking from the Department about what its priorities are. The villages in my constituency want very clear and pretty hideous signs which say "Slow 30mph", because they have had deaths, because they do not comply with the terms the police use as being sufficient evidence to have all sorts of extra constraints. Therefore, they want to take action. One of their immediate actions is to look for some kind of signage which is not acceptable. If the Department had some way of coordinating its transport schemes so that there was certainly a feeling in rural areas there was some protection, then there would not be this drive to have independent schemes, would there?
(Ms Keeble) I think there actually would be. We can obviously look, and we would look very carefully, at anything CABE has got to say in terms of the impact that street signs have on the design of roads. I do think it is fair to point out that there is pressure from particular areas that might want particular colours on their street signs or might want particular slogans.
51. All they want is safety actually. If you convinced them that your signage is so effective they will respond well. Villages want constraints outside schools; they want some control over speeds through the urban part of the village; they want clear indications that the Department has thought about the implications. What happens is that, of course, all the standards used are formulaic (and one can understand why) and dependent upon how many deaths and how many bad accidents.
(Ms Keeble) No, it is not. Would it be helpful if we provided to the Committee the guidance and the information on street signs (which is very, very compendious) of some of the things people want to enforcea particular character of a village, or put up some sort of general slogan, so people do have particular views. We will let you have the documentation and guidance we have and, of course, we will look at what CABE has got to say about the design of street signs.
52. In your response to our report on Walking, the Government indicates that it was going to publish consolidated guidance on street design. Do you know when this will appear; has it already appeared; and what is its main thrust?
(Ms Keeble) We have issued some documents, and I will make sure you have them.
53. One of the issues that really annoys people is the issue of roadworks and pavement works. As I understand it the Government has issued the attempts to improve the quality of the public realm By Design and Best practice in street works and highways works. Are we seeing any effect from that; or when will we see some effect from that?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) There are various things we are doing. There is that; there is lane rental; there is the charging once the agreed timetable is exceeded, and some millions of pounds have been received in terms of over-payments for going over the extended timetable. I do not know what the figures are to suggest what that has done. I can provide the Committee with that. They remain, as you have said, an issue that is constantly raised and constantly irritates people.
54. Do you have any information about the lane rental schemes that have just started, one in Middlesbrough and one in Camden?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) They started in April, but I have not got any information.
(Ms Keeble) We have not got the data yet because they have only just now started.
55. April rather than the beginning of the year. Can we have some information about any monitoring about that. Have the Government any other suggestions about how we might tackle the issues in the future?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The lane rental proposal is, as you rightly say, only Middlesbrough and Camden at the moment. The issue is, once one sees how it works, how one expands that. Also, how one ensures that there is better coordination and that, I assume, means more guidance.
56. The principle of lane rental is one the Government supports, and is merely looking at how it is implemented in practice?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Obviously we have got to learn the lessons from Middlesbrough and Camden. I think the issue is how, and not whether.
57. I was a local authority member in 1979 and we were talking about these problems then. How much information does the Department require? It would be interesting to find out how many surveys have been carried out over the last 32 years. Yet, in the area where I live at the present time, the Gas Board is there on the green space one week and the Electricity Board is there the next week. It has gone on now for the 30 years I have been involved in public life and we do not seem to be making any progress whatsoever.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It is a real problem. The problem is about getting the utilities, local authorities and relevant users to actually coordinate they way they do it.
58. You just put a regulation down and you enforce them to do it.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) There is an Act of 1991 that gives power to local authorities to coordinate but it does not actually provide that they can prevent the utilities; because the utilities frequently in emergencies have got to dig up the road.
59. Do we not require new laws requiring them to do so?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I think the issue is: will the time-tabling, the coordination and the lane rentals, which is what has just started in Camden and Middlesbrough, make a difference?