Norman Baker MP writes… Helping people make smarter transport choices

Transport accounts for around a quarter of the UK’s emissions, but people want to travel and they want to travel further and more often. Good transport infrastructure is also essential to a well-functioning economy, so how do we square the circle?

The Lib Dem approach is to say that it isn’t about choosing between growth and carbon reduction: it’s about reducing carbon emissions from transport. That’s why the Lib Dems in Government are overseeing the of spending £2.4bn on transport improvements; the biggest rail expansion programme since Victorian times; electrification of over 800 miles of railway compared to the 9 miles electrified by Labour; and £31m investment in greener buses. It’s also why we’re encouraging local councils to play a greater role in planning sustainable transport projects in their local area.

The Local Sustainable Transport Fund (LSTF), which I launched in September 2010, makes £560m available over four years to boost sustainable transport measures, with a particular focus on packages that boost economic growth and reduce carbon emissions. Investment in local sustainable transport can deliver quick gains with both objectives, which is why, even in these difficult financial times, we are providing such a huge wadge of cash, demonstrating the value we place on measures to stimulate local areas and cut carbon.

Yesterday I announced that 30 new carbon-cutting local transport schemes have been given the go-ahead in the second round of allocations, to the tune of £113m. These schemes are led by 29 English local authorities – with many more as partners – and cover eight regions.

Among them are plans to reduce rush hour traffic congestion in Slough through boosting active travel and public transport which the council says will improve local air quality, deliver public health benefits and help local businesses; and the delivery of a new fast ferry service between Torbay and Brixham with a link up to new cycle routes, cutting journey times cut by half and encouraging and supporting people in choosing low carbon travel.

But one of my favourite schemes from this round of approvals was the £4.75m Durham County Council joint-project with eight local councils and national pedestrian charity, Living Streets, to increase the number of children walking to school in 854 primary and 182 secondary schools nationally. This will help parents to ditch the school run and leave the car at home, reducing congestion and helping children burn off some energy and get some fresh air into their lungs in the process.

Walking, cycling and public transport have a crucial role to play in supporting economic regeneration, reducing carbon emissions and creating a healthier society. I want to help people to make smarter travel choices – by improving the sustainable travel offer and supporting people at the right time, and in the right place, to make these choices. But we aren’t being prescriptive. My message to local councils is to do something different and where the ideas work, I’ll help make them happen.

Norman Baker MP is the Liberal Democrat Transport Minister.

* Norman Baker is the MP for Lewes, a Minister of State at the Home Office and formerly Minister in the Department of Transport

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  • I believe that an initiative to lower the price of public transport would be most welcome; the cost of trains, for example, is way out of kilter with our European colleagues. A single from Vila-Seca to Barcelona, which is roughly equivalent in terms of distance to the Brighton to London run costs €7; note, this is in a country in the grip of austerity. A single from Brighton to London costs more than double that, even off peak. If we’re serious about reducing carbon emissions, then the alternatives to private cars need to be made much more economically attractive.

  • In response to Christian’s comment, I’d welcome lower fares too, but I will say that I was looking at a rail map of Europe recently, planning a future trip, and as far as I could tell from the lines shown, Britain had a far more extensive rail network than anywhere else in Europe. I know this is counterintuitive and we all think that everything is so much better elsewhere, but maybe this is part of the reason we have expensive fares – we maintain a far larger network.

  • Stuart – I’d dispute that. I used to live in the Netherlands and Belgium, and their rail networks did seem to pick up quite small hamlets and villages. Furthermore, their rail networks were supplemented by extensive tram systems. Again, the costs were lower. It’s worth asking the question: what can be done to lower transport costs so as to stimulate environmentally friendly options, maybe not not necessarily in line with the Continent, but certainly cheaper than it is now.

  • Alex Macfie 25th May '12 - 1:07pm

    Statistically, Stuart is wrong. The UK has the fourthlargest track network in Europe, after Germany, France and Italy. But in terms of track density by area it is 10th in Europe (or 11th if Monaco is counted). It also has a relatively high population per track-km for Europe, although this may be because the UK is a relatively densely populated country.

    Also there is a failure in Stuart’s logic in the sense that if there is a more extensive network, then presumably there would also be more revenue-generating traffic (whether passenger or freight) on it, so as well as the overall cost being higher, the revenue should also be higher,

    Surely the main reason for the high cost of the UK’s network is the ridiculous amount of bureaucracy created by the Major government’s privatisation, and the resulting fragmentation.

    Since the EU is meant to be a single economic entity, I think it is worth thinking also about how to improve cross-border rail services — and not just high-speed long-distance ones. It is quite easy to travel by train between Lille and Tournai or Kortrijk (Courtrai), or between Strasbourg and Kehl, so why shouldn’t it be possible between Ashford and Calais?

  • @Simon – no it doesn’t and being glib about this doesn’t illuminate anything in particular. Up until 2011, Spain’s debt to GDP ratio was 68%. This will rise to over 78% largely because of the automatic stabilisers arising from welfare payments – Spanish unemployment is the highest in Europe – and from bailing out the likes of Bankia.

    I would like to draw people’s attention to the fact that spending money on transport may not make sense on the balance sheet of the train companies alone: they lose money in a lot of countries – however if you take into account the less wear and tear on the roads, the improved public health due to less pollution, the greater efficiency achieved in transporting people via rail, etc. – the sums come back into balance. The problem is too many people are focusing on far too narrow set of accounts.

  • How about Norman pressing the government to support the reopening of the Lewes – Uckfield line in his own constituency. Do we really have to leave it to the Scottish to lead the way with such reopenings? It is time the coalition were a little more imaginitive.

  • Keith Browning 25th May '12 - 3:15pm

    There are several preserved railway groups who have done much of the hard work and just need a couple of million quid to rejoin the main network. There are also dozens of small projects that would relink the main line to villages that have grown markedly in the past forty. These are all small change in the great scheme of things but the govenment seems reluctant to spend the money. Swanage, Cranleigh, Borden, and several lines in the West Country, plus a few more in East Anglia. There are several others in Sussex and Kent who are nearly there but are asking grannies and grandpas to donate a few pounds to finish the job.

    Scotland has shown all this is possible so why not south of the border?

    I suggest it might be something to do with the oil and road transport lobby and their friends in the Tory party who are still trying to build roads on old railway routes or find ways to block them being reopened. Only because local people are now being activated by rail groups are these so called ‘development’ schemes being successfully opposed.

    Come on Norman get your act together. This is a quick and easy fix that will take months and not years or decades.

  • He should try living in Plymouth and running a company that requires travelling out of Devon. Our smart choice is between an inadequate road network, and a Train service so shocking that most people drive at least as far as Exeter. We did have an airport but it was closed by the Council……

    Still thanks to HS2 the Birmingham to London route will be 20 minutes faster. So far all I see is the Governments transport policy supporting areas already supplied with levels of service far above those offered to the West Country.

  • Alex Macfie 27th May '12 - 9:43am

    Do we really have to leave it to the Scottish to lead the way with such reopenings?

    To be fair, the western section of the East West Rail Link (Oxford-Beford) has confirmed funding for reopening, and so does the Croxley Rail Link.

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