Transport minister, Norman Baker, was forced to defend the Government’s record on sustainable transport this week in light of new analysis suggesting councils were failing to implement smarter travel choices.
A new report, by built environment consultancy Halcrow, studied councils’ local transport plans (LTP), reporting back that ‘just a fraction’ of the £6bn allocated funding would go to measures to promote cycling, walking, public transport and car sharing.
The report revealed just 70p-perperson would be spent annually on smarter travel choices compared with £5.65 spent in the Department for Transport’s sustainable travel towns.
These projects brought about an impressive increase in public transport patronage and reduced private journeys made by car.
Speaking exclusively to Surveyor after Thursday’s (11 August) emergency Commons debate, Mr Baker said he was ‘genuinely disappointed’ by the report commissioned by campaign groups Friends of the Earth and Sustrans.
He claimed huge progress had been made greening the transport system since the coalition came to power.
‘The money provided through the local sustainable transport fund (LSTF) beats what the previous administration made available for such projects – and you have to remember this was done against a backdrop of cuts,’ he said.
The minister pointed out the bikeability scheme to get people cycling had been saved, £10m was provided for community transport schemes, and reforms had been made to give more weight to low-carbon projects in the transport appraisal scheme.
Asked if the LSTF would be a permanent fixture or ditched by the next Spending Review, Mr Baker said: ‘It’s too far away to tell if the LSTF could be carried on again. This will obviously depend on how well it works. But every council applied to it so that proves its popularity. We will evaluate it.’
The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) – the Government’s climate adviser – said a widespread roll out of smarter travel measures was needed for the UK to meet its carbon reduction requirements as set out in the Climate Change Act 2010.
CCC chief executive, David Kennedy, told Surveyor: ‘Encouraging people to rationalise car journeys through smarter choices programmes is an effective and low-cost way to reduce emissions and road congestion.
‘The LSTF committed in last year’s Spending Review could support roll out of smarter choices to much of the country. Given environmental and economic benefits, it is important that the Government now prioritises funding for smarter choices projects.’
Bob Donaldson, chair of the Local Government Technical Advisers Group’s transport committee, told Surveyor both Whitehall and councils had to do more to promote sustainable travel. But he warned that with conflicting budget interests and rising road maintenance backlogs, it was difficult for local transport chiefs to maintain spending on smarter travel and travel planning work.
Bruce Thompson, chairman of the Association of Transport Co-ordinating Officers, said the report was a wake-up call for both levels of government to recognise the value of public transport, due to environmental goals and wider health, economic and social benefits it brings. He told Surveyor:
‘Given falling budgets, retrenching to older traditional spending priorities which do not recognise this will mean we fail to meet future challenges.’
Please read the report at this link.