- Published on Friday, 11 February 2011 09:20
- Written by Norman Baker
This Coalition Government is fully focused on building a modern transport system: one that connects our communities, supports our economy and respects our environment. If our transport networks are to achieve all these ends then they have to be to be sustainable.
The transport sustainability challenge we face is three dimensional. It is economic, social, and environmental.
To ensure the economic sustainability of transport it is essential that we tackle the inherited fiscal crisis and pay down the debt. The latest milestone on the road to a Britain that lives within its means is the recently published Spending Review. The Department for Transport’s settlement is based on cutting waste and taking hard decisions about spending priorities.
This approach has enabled us to secure the resources needed to invest in our transport infrastructure. By doing so we are also investing in economic growth. And the evidence of our intent is clear – from key local roads unlocking economic potential, such as the Taunton Northern Inner Distributor Road, to the building of the new Mersey Gateway Bridge; and from our commitment to Crossrail in London, to our support for completing the Tyne and Wear Metro upgrades.
The second dimension of transport sustainability is social. If access to transport is limited, if it’s too expensive or the level of services provided is poor, then barriers can arise that prevent the least-advantaged and the most vulnerable in our society from taking part in key social activities and accessing essential public services.
I believe that, if we are to ensure the social sustainability of transport, then we have to break down these barriers by designing solutions which help to make our transport networks affordable and accessible, as well as effective and efficient. That’s why, in the Spending Review, we confirmed the retention of Concessionary bus fares, a decision which will enable people to carry on enjoying the greater freedom and independence that this scheme gives them.
When it is economically and socially sustainable, then transport can generate wealth and spread prosperity, reinforce community cohesion and open up life-changing opportunities. However, it also has an impact on the environment we all share, especially in terms of CO2 emissions, air quality and quality of life. In other words, transport must also be environmentally sustainable.
If we want to make real and lasting progress towards environmental sustainability then we need to recognise that a cleaner, greener future can never be built through coercion. Nor will it come about by government dictating which particular mode of transport people should use. Our goal must be to persuade, encourage and incentivise. To do that, we should use all of the policy levers at our disposal to make low carbon travel a genuine, viable and attractive choice for businesses and ordinary citizens.
So, for example, we will stimulate the market and encourage the purchase of electric and ultra-low carbon cars with our Plugged In Car grant; and we are investing £15 million in a Green Bus Fund. Then there’s our proposal for a truly national high speed rail network. Not only would such a network transform the social and economic geography of Britain, it also has the potential to benefit the environment by encouraging a modal shift from long road journeys and short haul flights.
There’s a key plank of Coalition policy that I believe will help us meet all three dimensions of the sustainable transport challenge, and that’s localism. Crucial to this localism agenda is our recently announced Local Sustainable Transport Fund. This new Fund will empower local authorities, encourage partnership working and simplify funding. By doing so it will help to cut congestion and reduce emissions; enhance safety and improve services; and encourage the use of healthier and more sustainable forms of transport such as walking and cycling.
A strong economy, a fair society and an environment that’s respected and protected: this is the prize offered by a truly sustainable transport system. With the effective framework of policies and programmes that the Coalition is constructing, it’s a prize that I know we can win.