Below is the full text of an open letter, sent today, to the Secretary of State for Transport from 32 Transport Professors in the UK and two professional societies (Transport Planning Society and the Royal Town Planning Institute) asking for a fresh look at where transport strategy is heading and to look again at investment priorities.
The Rt Hon Patrick McLoughlin MP
Secretary of State for Transport
Department for Transport
Great Minster House
33 Horseferry Road
Dear Secretary of State
Transport strategy – where should we be heading?
We write to you as a collective voice of professional concern and advice in relation to UK transport policy and investment plans.
Undoubtedly, the task of planning for the future mobility of the UK is more challenging than when we wrote to your predecessor in 2002. Operating within significant fiscal constraint the Department for Transport is seeking to stimulate economic recovery, tackle climate change and improve the well-being of the population. However, we are concerned that a perception of the economic imperative is leading to a series of important decisions on all of the major transport modes being taken in the absence of a coherent and integrated national policy framework for passengers and freight.
Recent evidence from the UK and internationally shows signs of road traffic growth leveling off, even after accounting for lower than anticipated economic growth. These trends are something which the Department for Transport has never forecast and which we are only beginning to understand. Whilst a growing population may well exert an upward pressure on demand, the basis for major infrastructure spending decisions appears to be changing.
There exists a range of views as to the importance of new transport infrastructure in stimulating economic growth. The evidence base is not as strong as you, or we, might wish it to be. Where real and substantial gains in connectivity and accessibility can be achieved (for example with city based investments such as CrossRail) the potential to unlock employment seems clear. As the 2006 Eddington Review pointed out however, the UK is already comparatively well connected, rendering the employment gains promised for many schemes difficult to realize.
Even were one to accept an economic imperative to invest in significantly expanding the strategic road network there is a well established evidence base that demonstrates that this will generate more traffic. Our cities are simply not equipped to take further growth in road traffic and the benefits of faster journey times on the strategic network risk being lost in greater congestion on local urban roads where the majority of journeys are undertaken. Across all of our networks we would urge a continuation or acceleration of smart demand management measures to ensure we get the best use of the infrastructures we already have – including our telecommunications infrastructures. The UK is a world leader in many aspects of this. Our service and knowledge-led economy should not be assumed to be as tightly coupled to road traffic for its success as it once might have been. There is substantial recent evidence, including the Local Sustainable Transport Fund and the Olympics, on the success of travel behaviour change programmes, underscoring demand management potential.
Integration across government is also important. On land use, changes to policy could well store up traffic problems for the future rather than encouraging economic growth. In reality, good transport and land use planning has prevented congestion and supported the economy, not held it back.
On funding, no progress has been made in the debate on how we should pay for improvements to the transport system. Understandably perhaps, your predecessors and the Treasury have ducked the issue of establishing a new congestion based system of pay as you go motoring. This could continue, but for how long? Tax revenues are forecast to fall as vehicle fuel efficiency improves to fulfill a major plank of your carbon reduction strategy. Increases in fuel duty to fill this hole have been a temporary fix, lack public support and fail to establish a stable platform for transport investment. There is a need to find a new way of charging for motoring as we move away from fossil-fuels.
We conclude, as we did in 2002 that policies on infrastructure, land-use, operations and prices must be consistent with each other if they are to offer a realistic chance of making things better instead of just accumulating long term problems. The past decade has shown how difficult integrated transport planning can be, but it remains the best hope to tackle the challenges you face. We urge you to work with us and the professional institutions in establishing a clear long-term national policy framework.
Full details of the letter and a press release will be posted on the Transport Planning Society website www.tps.org.uk