Turn green words into green deeds
Despite government talk, transport emissions are rising because carbon-generating schemes are being given the go-ahead
Two key transport announcements were made yesterday. The UK government launched a Carbon Reduction Strategy for transport which set out a vision with little action on the ground. Far less noted was the launch of a National Transport Plan for Wales, cancelling an extension of the M4 planned for south-east Wales. A saving of a cool £1bn, with plans to invest instead in improvements to the existing road, together with sustainable travel initiatives.
The decision to cancel the M4 in south-east Wales can be seen as a watershed. As the first cancellation of a motorway extension in recent times, a low-carbon transport strategy is being led not from Whitehall but from Cardiff.
Clearly, the UK government recognises the need to promote low-carbon transport, and its proposals to integrate transport modes, promote walking and cycling and reduce the need to travel are welcome. But here’s the rub: transport emissions are increasing because, on the ground, schemes that generate carbon are being given the go-ahead. This is true at a national level through approval of Heathrow’s third runway, as well as at regional and local levels.
The government’s own assessment found that helping people to find alternatives to car use is one of the most effective and cost-efficient ways of reducing emissions from transport. Sustrans’ TravelSmart programme provides tailored travel advice direct to households and has reduced car use by more than 10% in the towns and cities where it has operated. Further city pilots and work with local authorities are welcome, but government has missed an opportunity to invest in a national Smarter Choices programme as a way of promoting change through better information. If the government invested the £250m earmarked for electric cars in Sustrans’ TravelSmart, it could reach about 10m households across the country and achieve reductions in car trips of about 10%, together with significant increases in levels of walking, cycling and public transport use.
The decision from the Welsh assembly has set the bar very high for the first litmus test of the low-carbon transport strategy. Today the UK government will announce decisions on English regional funding for transport. With the majority of English regions having prioritised road schemes it rests with the government to put its low-carbon transport strategy into action and ensure that we are indeed travelling towards a low-carbon future.