'Greenest Government ever' relegates sustainable transport

Active travel projects won’t be funded until October 2011. Grants for electric cars start in January 2011.

Like other Government departments, and all in the name of transparency, the Department for Transport has released a Business Plan for 2011-2015. Cycling and walking organisations will not like what’s in the plan.

It’s big on fat grants for electric cars and rolling out a recharging infrastructure, but contains no mentions of creating any bicycle or pedestrian infrastructure. Starting in January, multi-car families will be able to get £5000 grants to buy yet more cars, but projects wanting cash from the four year £560m Local Sustainable Transport Fund will have to wait until October.

Cycling projects will have to battle it out with bus and pedestrian projects to gain a share of this fund. Transport minister Norman Baker has already pledged that some cash will go early to Bikeability but has yet to say how much. Cycling England estimates it would cost £50m a year to run Bikeability but the National Standard cycle training scheme for children and adults won’t get anywhere near that, fear cycle campaigners.

The DfT’s Business Plan is a 28-page PDF.

There’s an introduction from Transport Secretary Philip Hammond:

“Our vision is for a transport system that is an engine for economic growth but one that is also greener and safer and improves quality of life in our communities. By improving the links that help to move goods and people around, and by targeting investment in new projects that promote green growth, we can help to build the balanced, dynamic and low-carbon economy that is essential for our future prosperity.”

While the Government is backing High Speed Rail (the bulk of which will be paid for by future Governments, not this one), it’s also spending billions on widening the M25 and adding more lanes to other motorways.

“We will make big changes at the local level too, because we know how crucial good transport is to people’s quality of life,” says Hammond in the introduction to the Business Plan.

“So we will free local authorities from central government control, letting them decide their own local transport priorities and solutions.”

The result of this policy has been the turning off of speed cameras across the UK. While some have been turned back on because of excessive speeding, there’s now a general feeling in Local Authorities that any road calming measures are now seen by the DfT as a “war on the motorist”.

Hammond is pinning a lot of hopes on electric cars, even there are motor industry estimates that less than 9000 will have been sold by 2013. He thinks e-cars will curb congestion, even though they are the same size as cars with petrol-engines.

“We also want our roads to become safer, less congested and less polluted,” says Hammond.

“So we will support the introduction of the latest technologies, encouraging the use of electric and other ultra-low emission vehicles, to make transport cleaner and greener.”

Point number four of the DfT’s Structural Reform Priorities is to ‘Tackle carbon and congestion on our roads’. This will be achieved, believes the DfT Business Plan, by supporting “the early market for electric and other ultra-low emission vehicles, promote the more effective use of strategic roads by addressing the causes of congestion, and continue to improve road safety.”

The DfT also wants to ‘encourage sustainable local travel’ and will do this by encouraging “sustainable local travel and economic growth by making public transport (including light rail) and cycling and walking more attractive and effective, promoting lower carbon transport and tackling local road congestion.”

While motorways get billions, and electric cars get £5000 subsidies, Cycling England was abolished, a move described in the Business Plan as “the Department will no longer…fund and support arm’s length transport bodies where their activities are no longer required or can be better provided by other means.”

But these other means could take a while to set up. Bidding for the new Local Sustainable Transport Fund starts and ends in December but details on the entails” released on initial tranche of projects to be supported by the Local Sustainable Transport Fund” won’t be until October 2011. So, that’s almost a full year with no central pot for cycling or walking.

However, the DfT said it will “begin awarding Plug-in Car grants (25% of the price of an ultra-low emission vehicle, up to £5,000) to buyers of qualifying cars” by January 2011.

Further evidence of the DfT’s new windscreen perspective on the world are the ‘input indicators’, measures which we’re meant to be able to take the Government to task on. Rail and bus projects are “subsidised.” Roads are “maintained.”

There’s a “rail subsidy per passenger mile” and a “bus subsidy per passenger journey” but for motorists there’s a “cost of maintaining the Highways Agency’s motorway and A road network per lane mile.” There’s no ‘input indicator’ for local roads.

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