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.