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Yesterday, in London, I gave a talk about the image of cycling at a conference called ‘Delivering the Vision: Cycling and the Sustainable Door to Door Journey.’ This was chaired by Lord Berkeley, secretary of the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group. Later that day, in ‘the other place’, Lord Berkeley mentioned he had been to a cycling conference and said it was preposterous that driving was given a cash-benefit-to-the-treasury so much higher than cycling:
“If I sat in a car with a chauffeur, I might be worth £100 a minute, but if I am pedalling my bicycle, I am probably worth £2 a minute because I am not considered important. I am clearly not going anywhere and I am certainly not of any use to anybody else. That is slightly insulting, not just to me but to every other cyclist.”
Cycling, he said, may not bring in direct revenue via Vehicle Excise Duty but it kept people healthy and there were savings from less pollution and less congestion, too.
During the rest of the evening debate in the House of Lords, there were some fascinating insights into how some parts of the establishment views road transport, how a road like the A1 north of Newcastle is “dangerous” and should be dualled. This is a position often taken up by The Journal, Newcastle’s daily paper. Quite how a strip of tarmac is dangerous, I don’t know. There’s very little talk about the drivers on that road being dangerous, it’s somehow the carriageway at fault. Anyway, on to extracts from the debate. The full transcript is on Hansard.
The debate was kicked off by the LibDem spokesman on transport, Lord Bradshaw. He was aiming his question at Lord Adonis, the new Minister of State at the Department for Transport, in position only since 6th October and taking part in his first transport debate since being shuffled into position.
Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, to, I think, his first transport debate in your Lordships’ House and I hope that the great successes that he enjoyed in education will now be deployed in this field.
The new approach to transport appraisal and the proposed refresh are based on an uncertain process, which is barely understood by professionals, let alone the public at large. It is almost academic arrogance that allows taxpayers’ money to be spent through a process that few in public life, let alone the general public, understand.
On Monday, in a Statement to Parliament, the Prime Minister said:
“Faced with historically high and volatile oil prices, it is more essential than ever before that we act to end our dependency on oil”.—[Official Report, Commons, 20/10/08; col. 23.]
My first question to the Minister is: why do we not give a high priority to transport measures which reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases? Can any scheme which includes any net increases in carbon emissions pass any test?
Is it possible to evaluate in monetary terms issues such as landscape, noise, habitat, severance or road accidents, particularly using convoluted processes, such as revealed preference techniques which involve people answering hypothetical questions about the values that they ascribe to such qualities?
Of course, there are perversities in the present appraisal system, such as counting the savings in fuel used in any scheme as a disbenefit because the Treasury loses tax revenues and VAT as a result of fuel economy. Those perversities need to be eliminated as they discriminate against public transport improvements or even such things as car sharing. Can the Minister promise a change in that ridiculous state of affairs? Does he realise that if a road scheme causes extra fuel to be burnt because of higher speeds, for each extra litre burnt, the scheme is credited with 55p? It gets money when more fuel is burnt.
How robust is time used in the appraisal as a measure of value? I suggest that small time savings are of no value unless they are predictable. Getting home three minutes earlier or reaching the office three minutes earlier is of much less importance than achieving a reliable journey. Even more questionable is the aggregation of small time savings to form a large number which can be advanced as a justification for spending money. If 100,000 motorists a day save 30 seconds—which they can neither predict nor rely on—is it reasonable to give that a high-money value..?
Next, there is the question of suppressed demand. For example, you add a fourth lane to a motorway at great expense on the basis of masses of small time savings and find that the space you have created fills up within two or three years and then the financial justification which has been used for the scheme no longer exists. That is made even more acute in a situation where the market—the road space—has no pricing signals which could be used to regulate demand.
[A scheme] in which I was involved was the Oxford rapid transit express. We had a peripheral park and ride and a very fast guided bus-way into the centre of Oxford. Many drivers would use the park and ride for altruistic reasons, but immediately a driver parks he suffers an interchange penalty on the new approach to traffic appraisal and when he becomes a bus passenger, that same person loses value considerably. If someone drives by car from the park and ride to the centre of Oxford, he is regarded as a thrusting businessman and is given a high value of time, but if he gets on a bus he is regarded as an old lady doing some knitting and gets a very low time value. The situation is so perverse and so wrong. The last stupidity is that because the car driver is not driving into the centre of the city, the Treasury loses tax revenue and VED and, therefore, that is a disbenefit to the scheme as well.
Lord Berkeley: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, for initiating this debate. It is a very important subject. As he said, it affects virtually every type of transport, or it should do.
The first of the issues that worry me is how climate change is treated. The Stern report clearly set out the need for urgent action to reduce the carbon limits. Unlike other aspects of the current procedure, it is hard to see how carbon reduction can be offset by other costs and benefits because the global atmosphere is not going to cool as a response to faster journey times. The cost of carbon used in the appraisals must also reflect the necessity for an absolute reduction, whatever the traded price might be.
The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, also mentioned passenger freight and the value of people. As a fairly frequent cyclist, I am irritated by this. If I sat in a car with a chauffeur, I might be worth £100 a minute, but if I am pedalling my bicycle, I am probably worth £2 a minute because I am not considered important. I am clearly not going anywhere and I am certainly not of any use to anybody else. That is slightly insulting, not just to me but to every other cyclist. The same applies to walking. You can work and you can think when you are walking or bicycling. Some people occasionally use a mobile, which is still not illegal when cycling, although it is rather stupid sometimes. There is a serious problem there.
Baroness Maddock (Liberal Democrat): Under successive Governments, money to enable the [A1] to be dualled has not been forthcoming, so large stretches of the A1 between Newcastle and Edinburgh are dangerous single carriageway.
In 2005, the classification of the road was downgraded from of strategic national importance to of regional importance. That meant that the costs of any upgrade would have to come from the regional budget. That budget is not really large enough to cover such a large project and other regional needs.
The downgrading of the classification of this road is astonishing when it is compared with other similar links. For example, the route between Cardiff and Bristol is classed as strategically nationally important. It goes between Wales and England, and I am talking about north-east England and Edinburgh.
In the north-east of England, we have two poor roads: the A1, which I have described, and the A679, the single carriageway that goes through many small Northumberland villages and takes many of the freight vehicles because, quite frankly, the A1 is so bad and they make a choice about which will be the slowest road. We in Northumberland are in no doubt that, for the economic development of the north-east of England, it is imperative that we have infrastructure of a high standard linking the city regions of Leeds, the Tees valley, Tyne and Wear and Edinburgh.
There is huge support from businesses and everyone in the north-east for the A1 to be considered a route of strategic national importance throughout its length. Significant investment is needed to bring it up to a good standard. I urge the Minister to look urgently into this matter. It would be even better if he drove up this section of the A1 on a Friday at teatime so that he could see for himself just how poor this important main route is. Foreign tourists cannot believe that this is a main road.
Lord Walton of Detchant (Crossbench): Thirteen years ago in your Lordships’ House, I tabled a Question about the A1 in north Northumberland, pointing out the very high incidence of accidents that in many cases cause death or disability to those involved. I strongly urged the Government to look at the dualling of the whole road between Newcastle and Edinburgh, and the late Lord Jenkins of Hillhead gave me powerful support by saying that it was disgraceful that the principal trunk road joining London and Edinburgh, the two major capitals of the United Kingdom, was still not dualled in north Northumberland and the south of Scotland.
I have raised this issue on many occasions in the past few years. As the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, has said, two major schemes came very close to fruition. One was a scheme to tackle the dangerous Mousen bends, the part of the A1 that winds narrowly through part of north Northumberland for about four miles and which locals call the little north lane. It is a dangerous hazard and, as the noble Baroness said, there was an appalling crash recently that closed the road for many hours. A local man was killed, other members of his family in the car were seriously injured and the driver of the foreign lorry involved has been charged with causing death by dangerous driving.
In 2005, for reasons that were very obscure and based on inaccurate statistics that suggested that the traffic did not justify this dualling—the evidence was in no way convincing, certainly not to the locals who see the lines of lorries and heavy vehicles that often hold up the traffic and which people often try desperately to pass at great risk, as well as the farm tractors, because it is a very busy area for farming, which sometimes result in a three or four-mile queue of traffic behind them before people can get past—the trunk road between London and Edinburgh road was downgraded from a route of national importance. As the noble Baroness said, we have now been told that the dangerous Mousen bends will not be dualled until 2019. This is disgraceful.
Lord Adonis: On the specific issue of the classification of the A1 north of Newcastle as a regional road rather than as a part of the national network, the reason for this is that the traffic flows are significantly lower than the threshold for national classification. That is why it is for the region to decide whether or not to include A1 north of Newcastle schemes in its recommendations to the Government in any future review of spending. The criteria for a national route include an annual average daily traffic flow of 60,000 vehicles.
Baroness Maddock: My Lords, as the Minister said, we should use a little common sense about the figures. I pointed out that two roads go north and because the A1 is so bad some of the traffic goes on the other road. If the A1 was dualled, I am sure more traffic would use it. The reason the traffic is not there is because it is so bad that drivers find other ways to go. That is part of the problem. We need to use a little common sense on this issue.
Lord Adonis: My Lords, I said earlier that common sense was an important factor for Ministers and local decision-makers in reaching their decisions and I said that I would come back on it. I am simply giving the figures I have here because it is only right that those reading the debate afterwards should see why it is that the road is at the moment classified as a regional not a national road. This is in no small part due to the traffic flows which, I am informed, on the A1 north of Seaton Burn to Clifton is 34,100 vehicles a day. Traffic flows generally reduce as it goes further north to the extent that the flow from the northern end of the Berwick bypass to the border with Scotland is 10,500 vehicles a day. As I said, the criteria for a national route include an annual average daily traffic flow of 60,000 vehicles. So the figure is not only a short way from the current requirements for it to be part of the national network; it is a long way from them.
Moving to the issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, and other noble Lords in the debate, my department’s New Approach to Appraisal Refresh published last November was a consultation document. In response to the consultation, in July we made some specific improvements—for example, taking up the points made by my noble friend Lord Berkeley, we released guidance on how to appraise cycling and walking schemes using the best information we have on the impact of such projects. This includes a new assessment tool of the health benefits of increased physical activity as people cycle or walk. On this aspect, we worked with the World Health Organisation to devise the tool in question.
Encouraging transport planners to come forward with proposals which deliver precisely the benefits my noble friend referred to in terms of enhanced health and reductions in obesity will help meet both the challenges of transport and reduce the damaging effects on individuals of less active lifestyles.