Thursday, October 7, 2010

Dissecting Hammond's Conference Speech

Philip Hammond's transport speech to the Tory Party Conference was a mixed bag. I'm going to concentrate on the 'sustainable transport' bits.

"But most journeys are short. And in local transport, some of the best investments that can be made are in smaller-scale projects addressing, at local level, congestion, air quality, environmental issues, road safety and public wellbeing in our urban areas."

OK, but how do you square road safety with switching off speed cameras? And why didn't you mention 'cycling' ?  This does not sound like a departure from Labour's policies which failed to address any of these issues.

"So how do we deliver these investments?
Well, what I have inherited at the Department for Transport is a system which is truly a monument to Gordon Brown's tenure at the Treasury. Something the Soviets would have been proud of.
A top-down system with The man in Whitehall deciding whats right for Bradford, for Bristol or for Birmingham.
The form-filling, the box-ticking, and the monitoring.
The we know best approach that underlies it all.
And I can tell you this today: we will sweep it all away.
We will scrap the multiple streams of transport resource funding for local government and replace them with just two a formula grant which will go to all authorities to allow them to set their own priorities.....
...... and a Local Sustainable Transport Fund which will consolidate the remaining money in a single pot for which local authorities can bid to support their plans for their areas."

Oh good. Well, perhaps. The DfT are hopelessly car-centric and haven't got a clue about sustainable transport, based on the outcomes of the past 10 years, and based on Jonathan Porritt's experience of them. However, local government's record is not exactly stellar either. But it has to be a good thing to have a separate fund for sustainable transport and have one authority in charge of it, as I've previously noted in this blog.

"And I do mean their plans for their areas.
And I want to go further still. Once the Local Enterprise Partnerships are formed, I want to see how far my Departments local capital funding can be devolved.
Improving local accountability.
Reducing bureaucracy.
Cutting costs.
This is a truly localist agenda. And, yes, sometimes it will mean local authorities making decisions that Whitehall may not agree with."

OK, but there is a difference between 'localism' and 'nimbyism'. In more enlightened areas, where councils understand sustainable transport, it could work. But you cannot have measurable progress toward sustainable transport without tough decisions being necessary - and that means making it more difficult and more expensive to drive in urban areas, while making other transport modes more attractive.. We know from experience that local resident interest groups tend to oppose cycling projects, in particular anything that reallocates roadspace from motor vehicles to cycles. Local councillors simply cave in, based on the assumption that there are no votes in cycling. Also, local councillors are often misguided, grey-haired, car-centric bigots like this one (credit to Freewheeler). So without a strong mandate from the centre, it is very difficult to see how cycling will progress through the impassable marshlands of local politics. Without any disincentives or alternatives to car use, it is very difficult to see car use declining, and hence difficult to see any solution to issues of congestion, road safety, environmental issues or public wellbeing. Buses? They're not an alternative to cars, because the worse the congestion gets, the worse the bus service becomes.

In summary, this is a speech that does not demostrate either the intent or the ability to deliver anything in terms of sustainable transport. And it doesn't mention 'cycling' once.

1 comment:

  1. And why didn't you mention 'cycling' ?

    Presumably because walking and cycling anywhere are inconceivable to Hammond. Because he is the kind of man that thinks a ten minute walk is intolerable.

    [Hammond] does not seem keen on walking to work, pointing out that his Horseferry Road ministerial office, half a mile from the Commons, is “a good 10 minutes' hoof” to Westminster Tube station.

    He can't even countenance walking for ten minutes.

    Why is it any surprise when sensible solutions to urban transport don't appear on his radar?