Monday 17th April 2023

(1 year, 3 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Motion to Take Note
Moved by
Lord Moylan Portrait Lord Moylan
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That the Grand Committee takes note of the Report from the Built Environment Committee Public Transport in Towns and Cities (1st Report, HL Paper 89).

Lord Moylan Portrait Lord Moylan (Con)
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My Lords, in rising to move this Motion, I start by paying tribute to my predecessor as chairman of the committee, my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe, who in fact chaired it during almost the entire period when the evidence was being taken that resulted in this report. Any credit due to the chairing skills involved in producing the report must therefore accrue to her and not me. I also put on record the committee’s thanks to its specialist adviser, Dr Simon Blainey, and to its clerk at the time, Dee Goddard, and her team. Dee left the service of the House shortly afterwards in order to relocate with her family to Yorkshire. She and her whole team were wonderful in supporting us as we did our work. It is also very good to see so many current and former members of the committee present and participating in this debate.

I am not proposing in these introductory remarks to give a comprehensive account of everything the report says, partly because it would take too long and partly because it would leave very little for other members of the committee to say, but we were all agreed on the importance of public transport in our towns and cities.

The Government gave a pledge when elected to bring public transport in towns and cities up to the standards in London. We understand that that is difficult, because London has a large amount of inherited infrastructure, particularly rail and underground, and a large concentration of people, but we wanted in preparing this report to see how the Government were doing. The brief answer is, not terribly well, but a large amount of that can, I think, be explained by the effects of the pandemic and in particular by an understandable fall during it in demand for public transport services, which has to some extent been sustained, so that demand now is lower than it was before. It looks as though that might continue for some time—nobody knows—but it presents a conundrum and a difficulty for the Government.

Let me come straight away to my remarks on one of the two topics I would like to focus on, which is buses. Buses provide two-thirds of public transport trips throughout the country and are vital in all our towns and cities. We know that passenger numbers grow if bus operators offer what is referred to in the business as a turn-up-and-go service: that is, a service of sufficient frequency—of about 10-minute intervals—so that passengers do not have to consult a timetable before they leave home or decide to catch a bus, and are confident that if they turn up at any particular time, they will not have to wait too long. After all, a 10-minute interval means an average wait of five minutes for anyone who is regularly using a service. A turn-up-and-go service therefore attracts passengers. However, the effect of falling passenger demand has in fact been a reduction in services.

I want to congratulate the Government on maintaining the support for the bus network that they provided during the pandemic and have continued to provide at a certain level since. We predicted that if that support did not continue beyond the end of this March—which, at the time of writing the report, is when it was due to end—there would be a 20% fall in bus passenger services. The Government continued their funding and that 20% fall has not occurred, but even so, newspaper reports tell us that there has been a 10% fall, and that is probably, in a sense, the new normal.

As a country, we deserve to have a serious discussion about buses. Here, I refer with some admiration to Ken Livingstone when he was Mayor of London, because he illustrates an approach that worked. Until the point when he became mayor, bus services had been in a state of decline in London; demand had been falling and services were not reliable. He succeeded in ramping up provision so that most buses were operating on a turn-up-and-go service. Demand rocketed and has been sustained at that level, although not recently during the pandemic. However, it came with a serious cost because the subsidy—that is, the difference between the fare income and the cost of operating the service—grew substantially. In his time, it was well on the way to £0.5 billion a year and is now considerably in excess of that. In large part, that was to do with the fact that the fares were set lower than was necessary. So in my view there is a trade-off between providing the sort of service that attracts passengers and a willingness to set fares at a rate that makes the subsidy manageable financially, which is obviously a consideration for the Government.

There is also the very sensitive subject of concessions. In London, approximately 40% of passengers were not paying a fare. There are, of course, statutory concessions for bus passengers—the Freedom Pass in London and the national bus pass scheme—but they are targeted largely at elderly people. A large number of voluntary and discretionary concessions have been granted that could be removed without amending the statute. At some point it is worth having a serious debate about how we are going to respond to the fall in demand, and perhaps today is the time to kick it off. Is it by cutting services, which in my view leads to a spiral of decline, or by ramping up services but controlling the subsidy, as I am calling it, through a combination of fares and more limited concessions? These are hard topics to face, but they are serious ones if we are going to look forward and discuss public transport, and buses in particular, in towns and cities in the coming decade.

The second subject that I want to concentrate on—the restrictions being imposed on the use of private motor vehicles in towns and cities—led the committee down some paths of inquiry it had not particularly expected to follow. While passenger demand for public transport has fallen, demand from local authorities for new public transport infrastructure has been rising. To some extent, this has been encouraged by the Government making funding available. I will step out of my main stream of thought for a moment to say that one of the issues the committee raised was whether the funding system is fit for purpose: in other words, whether bidding for government money in a competitive environment produces the best outcomes. Is it the case—the committee thought it might be—that bidding processes reward local authorities that are large and good at bidding, rather than those with a fundamentally good case for new transport provision? That is a point on which the Minister may well want to comment.

Where does this demand for new investment and infrastructure come from? From talking to highways engineers and local councillors in various places that we visited, it appeared that a lot of it came from the fact that they had set targets for reducing the number of vehicle trips in towns and cities and wanted the money not only to build the public realm in a more pedestrian-friendly fashion but for the transport infrastructure that would substitute for people using their cars. A target of 20% or 30% is found almost universally. When we quizzed the Minister about this, she said that this was not a government or national target but entirely a local matter. However, we inquired into why all the localities tend to come to the same number.

Those of us with experience of local government know that a lot of policy development takes place on the basis of what academics in the field are saying and what the professional bodies that represent that particular branch of local authority officers are disseminating. We discovered that the academic world was pushing strongly for this 20% to 30% reduction, partly on the basis of meeting non-statutory interim targets for net zero and partly on the basis that, if all vehicles become electric and the pollution and air quality problems largely dissipate, we will not have enough electricity to run them. These people have a vision of towns and cities with much more public transport, much larger limitations on car use and limitations on car ownership, because the electricity simply will not be available to run them.

However, there has been no real discussion about this. The Minister’s point that this was not a national policy, which I obviously accept in good faith, was controverted for me when my attention was drawn, only a matter of days ago, to the newly published Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) Vision to 2030, which is by a national body that reports to the Department for Transport and thus to my noble friend. On page 11, one sees that part of its vision for 2030 is for:

“Half of all journeys in towns and cities to be made by walking or cycling”.

It makes it slightly more difficult for the Government to say that they do not have a national policy on this if one of their executive agencies so clearly does. It needs to be flushed out and discussed. Does it command the support that policymakers think it might? If it does, why are they so reluctant to discuss it in public? Some honesty and openness on this would be very helpful.

I will not go on much longer, except to say that other topics we discussed included post-project evaluation, which we think needs to be undertaken much more seriously and in a much more determined way. This was the subject in our reply from the Minister on which we detected the most stickiness and defensiveness from the department. It is really not very keen on post-project evaluation, but we will continue to press on that.

Finally, we had a number of recommendations that I can summarise as “How to make public transport more user-friendly”, thinking about it from the perspective of the passenger. Examples include ticketing and timetables, better information and more integration of services, which we think the Government need to take in hand. There is also the issue of our rather fractured local system, with local authorities being required to adopt an enhanced partnership or a franchising model with local bus providers, which can make the situation more difficult. With that, I shall bring my opening remarks to an end and beg to move.

Baroness Eaton Portrait Baroness Eaton (Con)
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My Lords, I confess to having joined the Built Environment Committee as this report on public transport was being finalised, so my input was, at best, minimal.

I am sure that most people in this Moses Room use public transport at some time. I certainly do while here in London; however, my experience as a resident of a semi-rural area in Yorkshire makes me a rather reluctant user of public transport. My train journey from King’s Cross to Leeds, taking approximately two hours and 15 minutes, is generally very convenient, but what most residents in London do not realise is that, for most people living outside London, getting to and from the start of a journey is the most inconvenient leg of that journey.

My inconvenient leg probably highlights a number of issues that this report raises. My nearest station is a good 40-minute walk away. I can reach a bus stop with reasonable ease, but the buses do not regularly follow a timetable and there is no real-time indicator available to let me know how long my wait will be. As I mentioned, the trains from King’s Cross to Leeds run efficiently but, on the return leg of my journey, I often reach Leeds at peak times. All local trains are standing room only, and it is almost a case of choosing whether there is room on the train for my luggage to travel or for me to travel. If I return to my local station late in the evening, I arrive at a very dark, deserted and unmanned station. It certainly does not feel safe or comfortable for a woman—or anyone, for that matter—travelling alone.

All my comments so far may seem very flippant; however, they are meant to illustrate just how important good transport systems are in our towns and cities. We all know of the need for a thriving economy and to encourage more people into employment or to return to employment. Ease of public transport is an essential element in this endeavour. Many of our major cities are increasingly unfriendly to cars—if anyone has tried to drive in the centre of Leeds lately, they will know exactly what I mean. These hugely important travel-to-work areas no longer make much provision for car use, so public transport has to be a satisfactory alternative. As Colin Clark said in the Town Planning Review as long ago as 1958, transport can be the

“maker and breaker of cities”.

Decarbonising the economy to reach net zero by 2050, adapting to the impact of a changing climate and achieving the 2030 sustainable development goals are, we are told, all crucial to the UK’s future economic and social prosperity. The public transport which helps to address these issues is a vital contributor to our future well-being.

Having spent 30 years representing five rural villages—some on remote moorland—on Bradford Metropolitan Council, I have concerns about appropriate public transport accessibility for such areas. I helped to instigate a “wheels to work” scheme for young people unable to reach FE colleges, apprenticeships and work because of the lack of appropriate public transport. The recommendation for local transport authorities to adopt either an enhanced partnership or a plan to establish a franchising scheme should contribute to alleviating this kind of problem. Also, the demand-responsive transport—DRT—trials taking place may show that this could also be of benefit in remote areas that are difficult to access. The BusMan Transport Consultancy has said:

“DRT has the potential to enable a public transport service to be provided in a sustainable way in small and medium-sized towns at times of lower demand”.

According to Transport Focus, a more open-data environment is needed to meet customer expectations. There is a role here for local authorities in managing data. Local and regional authorities can act as neutral protectors of sensitive data provided by operators. This will enable public authorities to ensure that appropriate data is available to planners of public transport services.

By 2050, one in four people will be over 65 and an ageing population will have an impact on the design and accessibility of public transport. Public transport will be key to the well-being of the elderly; without a reliable and suitable service, many elderly people could suffer from loneliness and isolation. Improving the safety of stations, bus stops and transport interchanges by ensuring that they are clean and well lit should be a priority for local and national government. Fear of unsafe places can deter the elderly and all vulnerable people from using public transport.

Local transport authorities have been expected to produce local transport plans every five years. In 2008, that requirement was removed, and 61% of authorities have not updated their plans since 2011. Those plans are clearly out of date and in many cases of no value. If new developments are to encourage public transport use, effective integration of land use and transport planning will be key. To help integrate transport and planning, the Government should link the production of local transport plans and local plans. Can my noble friend tell us whether that would be possible and whether there are plans for it to happen?

The report says:

“Public transport investment and objectives should focus on the factors which are most important to users: convenience, reliability, fares, punctuality, safety and frequency.”

If all the recommendations in the report were met, we would certainly have a world-class transport system.

Lord Berkeley Portrait Lord Berkeley (Lab)
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My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness and speak in this debate. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, for starting it off and the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, for finishing the report as chair. We also need to thank all those who gave evidence, written and oral. They were very interesting, long and useful pieces of evidence, which helped us come up with an extremely useful report—although I suppose that I would say that, would I not?

Let us be clear that public transport enables people to move around easily, quickly, safely and cheaply. It covers a whole age range—old and young, those going to school and college, as well as those with jobs and families. It affects everybody. How do we achieve that? The report speaks about the need for integration of modes and road space, which covers cars, deliveries, rail—suburban rail, anyway—buses and other means, such as scooters and things, which I shall come back to. But they need integrating in a way that includes allocation of space, costs and safety. I shall not say much about buses, because the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, spoke about them, and I spoke about them in a debate just before the recess.

On space on streets, I spent a day in Paris last week cycling on a green hire bike and I was amazed by the changes in that capital city over the past few years. Many noble Lords have probably been there in times past and know that trying to drive through Paris was a bit of a challenge, frankly. You never knew where you were going, who was going to hit you, who you were going to run over and everything else. It has changed completely. They have banned most scooters, which some people think is a good thing. There were too many before. But what I found so interesting was that van and car drivers gave way to pedestrians and cyclists without any hassle at all, and they all obeyed the traffic lights—which, again, does not always happen. The Parisian authorities have managed to educate mainly their drivers but scooter and cycle riders too, as well as pedestrians, to behave and work together.

I hope we could do this in future. I am sure that when she responds, the Minister will tell us that the legislation on electric scooters is imminent—even if she does not, I hope it is. As part of the legislation, I am convinced that there needs to be education here, not just in London but in many other cities, for cyclists, pedestrians and scooter drivers so that they all work together. It does not make much difference to the end result—you are still going to get there on time—but you will not have the hassle that we get at the moment.

There are examples in other cities as well, but the other issue is the cost of public transport, which the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, also mentioned. We have seen evidence of what is happening in Germany, with very low-fare season tickets, and just last week, another batch of season tickets covering regional trains and buses was announced. Austria and Switzerland have done the same. Apart from the benefits of simplicity and flexibility, there is the benefit of cost.

We have to understand that getting around the city—or villages, for that matter—is an essential part of life. Having buses cancelled outside London is really serious for people. We must recognise that many of us, as politicians, rightly set out our experience of travel, but many people cannot do what we do because they cannot afford it. They cannot afford a car or to get there by other means. Apart from the issues of poverty and shopping, there is getting a job. We need some regulation in the bus sector to support the continuation of the whole system, as noble Lords have mentioned, rather like we have on the railways. As the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, said, many more people use buses than use railways, but we do not get the same policy input into them that we should.

Sadly, a vociferous minority of politicians and business leaders like to use their own motor transport to get around, and they would rather have extra road space for them, with the effects on charges, safety and pollution, than succumb more to what happened during the Covid restrictions, which I thought was a really good change to the use of road space.

I hope we can get back to a situation, that probably existed in some of our lifetimes, whereby many people cycled long distances to work because it was the only way to do it and it was cheap. Now, you would probably get run over before you got back after your first day at work.

I am very pleased to have been part of this report. We have said some good and useful things but it is only a start. In future, I would like discussion about scooters, bikes and walking—active travel, as we call it—and the changes that will happen to freight distribution in cities and elsewhere. We need to look at what happens in the countryside, because if people cannot get around, there are no buses and they are imprisoned in their own home, that is just as bad as anything else.

I think the committee—it is not for me to decide, but I shall make my arguments—has a long way to go, but we have started. This will be a very interesting debate and I look forward to the Minister’s response.

Lord Shipley Portrait Lord Shipley (LD)
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My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, and the committee on their excellent report. The noble Lord’s emphasis on the importance of the bus and the level of fares charged, and the difficulties caused by the bidding process for investment, all struck me as extremely important.

Noble Lords will be aware that I was not a member of the committee, but I have a keen interest in public transport issues and serve as vice-chair of the city regions transport APPG. As I said, this report is excellent. It identifies a range of very important issues that need resolution, such as block grants, the need for the infrastructure levy to support affordable housing, the importance of franchising, the importance of young people under the age of 40 to ridership and fare income, the need for better understanding of user priorities, and—as the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, mentioned—the turn-up-and-go principle, which is absolutely critical to the success of public transport services. There is also a need for co-ordinated timetabling between different modes of travel.

It is good that the Government agree with many of the recommendations, and I hope the necessary action will be forthcoming, but complex issues are sometimes dealt with rather superficially in their response. For example, in paragraph 114, on integrating transport planning with strategic planning, the Government are asked to link the production of local transport plans with local plans. The committee is absolutely right to recommend this. I went to my files and found the strategic transport plan produced four years ago by Transport for the North, but which is still current. The paragraph headed “Spatial planning” states that Transport for the North

“wants to build a collaborative and constructive relationship”

with the 72 planning authorities across the north to

“ensure that the right sustainable developments, spaces and places are unlocked and delivered across the North…to support Local Planning Authorities as they develop their local plans and strategies.”

The report goes on to say:

“The principle of joined-up planning for new homes and infrastructure has long been acknowledged at a national level and is mentioned as a key element of the Government’s Industrial Strategy”.

That was four years ago but the basic principles still apply, and it is absolutely fundamental. It is not enough for the Government simply to note the recommendation, as opposed to actively trying to do something about it.

The problem is that post-war planning policies—so over 60 years old—have encouraged out of town development, often aided by grant regimes to recover old industrial or brownfield land. It was understandable and was right at the time; however, journeys have become dependent on the availability of a car. Once purchased, it is often cheaper for a household to use that car than to take public transport. As the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, pointed out a moment ago, it can also often be faster. Shopping malls, retail parks and business parks, some very substantial, have led directly to increased car use. Journeys have become more complicated for individuals, particularly those going to work, who measure cost and time in reaching a decision as to what form of transport to use. Things were much simpler when most jobs were in city and town centres, but that is less the case now. We need to reverse the trend, hence the importance of integrating local transport planning with local plans. So, paragraph 114, which recommends joining them together, is central to the Government achieving some of the objectives the report has set.

The report tells us that 68% of commuter journeys were by car in 2019. This is not a surprise, given the nature of the journeys a lot of people have to make. The report also tells us that the Government would like to reduce car journeys by 30%. This will not happen unless money is forthcoming to invest in better public transport services, and more journeys go to town and city centres. That takes me to London.

The levelling-up White Paper promised London-style public transport, saying its ambition was for areas outside London to have services

“significantly closer to the standards of London”.

This will involve money, and it will require much greater local control through regulation. The committee report says that London has a £73 per capita subsidy for bus services, whereas the rest of England has only £27. I do not know whether these figures include the cost of concessionary travel, which accounts for one-third of all passenger journeys—the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, pointed out that it is 40% in London—but in practice, concessionary travel is a very important subsidy to keep buses on the roads across the country providing a service.

Whatever the facts are, more fare income needs to be generated and, as a start, it is key that transport planning is not disconnected from new housing development. As the report says,

“transport can be an afterthought”,

when it needs to be a central part of the planning process.

Finally, paragraph 138 states:

“An uncoordinated approach to public transport policymaking in Whitehall has left local areas with often irreconcilable targets”.

It would be so much better if local transport planning was devolved, with a block grant system, rather than being micromanaged out of Whitehall. That is the way to co-ordinated timetabling and putting users first. The noble Lord, Lord Moylan, referred to “hard topics” for debate, and I hope that the Government will engage with that.

Lord Best Portrait Lord Best (CB)
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My Lords, as a member of the Built Environment Committee, I pay tribute to our clerks; to our previous chair, the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, for her leadership; and to the current chair, the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, for his stimulating overview of our report today. Like so many Select Committee outputs from your Lordships’ House, this report presents a cross-party, balanced, evidence-based case for sensible changes to current government policy.

I draw attention to the last of our committee’s five key recommendations. The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, also drew attention to it. We recommended that the Government should formally link local transport plans with local authorities’ local plans covering new development across their areas. The committee found that transport planning and local planning were seldom sufficiently integrated, and, for example, homes were frequently being built without access to public transport.

In contrast to many other countries, our planning system does not have an objective of ensuring that additional housing is produced where the density of population will make public transport systems more viable. By opting for out-of-town new estates of low-rise houses—even if they are closely packed together—typical new developments in the UK create poorly served settlements which depend on private cars for journeys to work, school, shops and facilities. The Centre for Cities cited the comparison between Leeds and Marseille, which

“have a similar population, but 87 per cent of people can reach the centre of Marseille in 30 minutes by public transport, compared with 38 per cent in Leeds”—

well under half the amount in Marseille.

A 2018 report by Transport for New Homes reviewed 20 urban extensions and found that few were being built with links to public transport. As the Oxford University Commission on Creating Healthy Cities, which I was pleased to chair, noted in 2022:

“Local Planning Authorities have a key role in resisting applications for new developments on suburban greenfield sites that depend upon every house-hold owning at least one car”.

In the Built Environment Committee’s earlier report on meeting housing demand, we noted the opportunities to undertake major residential developments on land around railway stations, creating connections to city centres. It is obviously vastly better for the environment, and for meeting targets for net-zero carbon emissions, to plan for new housing estates to be linked by decent, regular bus services to the neighbouring towns and cities that provide facilities, shops and employment. Reliance on private cars takes us in the wrong direction for meeting climate change imperatives.

The West of England Combined Authority published a strategy last month stating that car use in the region needs to reduce by 40%—a huge drop—if net zero climate targets are to be met by 2030. Congested roads with their pollution from traffic are not only bad for the planet and for health and well-being but a waste of time and energy for commuters, contributing to poor productivity.

Car-dependent new housing estates also prohibit the creation of intergenerational communities. Older people who cannot or do not want to drive cannot live alongside younger households because there is no easy access to amenities—the GP’s surgery, pubs, parks, et cetera. The master planning of each development can make a difference too. For example, Derwenthorpe, on the east side of York, comprises 550 new homes, which are knitted into the fabric of the city through both active travel—an excellent Sustrans cycle lane—and public transport. The developer, the Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust, has worked with the local bus company to bring a regular service through the new estate to the city centre and to encourage the habit of using public transport and taking the bus. A free bus pass for one year has been offered to new residents and around one in 10 has made full use of this facility.

My favourite takeaway from this excellent committee report, therefore, is its conclusion that councils’ local plans—“local development plans” in the terms of the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill—need to be formulated side by side with local transport plans. The Government responded to this recommendation by telling us that the Department for Transport is consulting on guidance setting out how transport authorities should engage proactively and positively with local planning authorities. Will the Minister update us on progress with this guidance?

New homes will be in the wrong places if public transport accessibility is overlooked and transport plans will miss opportunities for viable services if new housing developments are ignored. Bringing the two together will make for the healthy, environmentally friendly, age-friendly, productive and inclusive communities we all need. I commend the report.

Lord Carrington of Fulham Portrait Lord Carrington of Fulham (Con)
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My Lords, I am very grateful for the opportunity to speak on this excellent report. I am very pleased to follow my friend, the noble Lord, Lord Best, because he said all the things I would like to have said about the clerks, the support that we got in producing this report and the excellent work that our previous chairman, my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe, did. I also commend my noble friend Lord Moylan for an excellent introduction of the report. He covered many of the topics that we highlighted and emphasised what the Government need to take out of our report.

I want to concentrate on one aspect which my noble friend Lord Moylan touched on, which is buses. Buses are a critical part of transport, particularly in rural areas feeding into towns. Trains and trams are very important, but they cannot get passengers without buses to feed people on to them. As my noble friend said in the phrase “turn up and go”, for buses to work they have to be reliable and predictable. Buses also have to be safe and affordable. It probably goes without saying that there are two ways of funding buses: one is subsidy and the other is fares. It is a movable feast depending on passengers’ use of buses. In other words, the load on the buses will determine how much subsidy is required.

Looking at reliability is critical for buses. The purpose of encouraging buses is to get people not to use their motor car. If you are going to get people not to use their motor car, they must have certainty that a bus will turn up when they get to the bus stop and certainty that it will get them to the end of their journey at a predictable time. This is a very serious problem with buses and for a lot of transport generally that uses roads. One thing that our report showed up was a big issue about space allocation on roads. For instance, we took some evidence from the Oxford Bus Company, which said that, because of the aggressive introduction of cycle lanes, buses are forced to go into the general traffic, with passenger cars and commercial vehicles, with great consequential delays to the bus service. It is important that we have a debate and that the Government look seriously at the allocation of road space for things such as cycle lanes, which may be virtuous in themselves but cause knock-on effects deleterious to the wider good for public transport. If cycle lanes are put in the wrong place and take up too much road space, they can cause very serious problems.

The other aspect I wanted to touch on is safety, which is a very difficult problem. One reason that people do not use buses, particularly late at night, is a fear that the buses will not be a welcoming environment and may well be positively hostile. It is not a question of whether the statistics of the number of attacks on buses is small, as indeed it is; it is a question of whether people fear that they may be subject to an attack. It can be about the perception of the difficulties of riding in a bus safely. That is particularly a problem for female passengers travelling on buses late at night. It encourages car and taxi use and prevents people using buses and, indeed, trains. We need to find a solution to that.

One solution, obviously, would be to reintroduce conductors to buses, which would be massively expensive. Another solution is to stop putting the drivers into protected cabins at the front of buses, where they are protected from being robbed or attacked but are then unable to protect the other passengers on the bus. It is a very difficult problem but it must be overcome—and overcome in a way that gets the confidence of potential bus users.

I think our report is very good and we have highlighted a lot of problems. One thing we have identified is that, if we are to sort out the public transport problems in towns and cities, it will be extremely complex and no single solution will be appropriate for the whole country. I support my noble friend Lady Eaton and the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, in saying that these decisions must be taken on a local basis, and we must trust local authorities to co-ordinate transport and make sure that it is appropriate to their local needs.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester Portrait Lord Faulkner of Worcester (Lab)
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My Lords, I declare my railway interests that are relevant to this debate: I chair the Great Western Railway stakeholder advisory board and the North Cotswold Line Task Force, and I am president of the Cotswold Line Promotion Group. I am a new member of the Built Environment Committee, so did not take part in the inquiry whose report was published in November. I congratulate the committee on its excellent report and its new chair, the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, on introducing this debate so eloquently.

I support the report’s conclusions and recommendations, particularly those relating to bus services, which are of such importance to those in rural areas with no or limited access to private cars. I also support the call made in paragraph 132 for a clear statement from the Government on their policy on journeys made by car. There are many contradictions in national policy relating to car usage, and I endorse the evidence quoted in paragraph 128 from the Local Government Association stating that:

“Government ambitions about increasing public transport use make little sense when HM Treasury freezes fuel duty every year and cuts funding to public transport”,

and that from the Martin Higginson Transport Research & Consultancy, which states:

“A significant barrier is the unwillingness of governments, both central and local, to commit to policies that constrain car use”.

The briefing supplied to noble Lords for this debate by the Institution of Civil Engineers states:

“In the UK, transport is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions—27 per cent of the UK’s total in 2019—deriving primarily from petrol and diesel use in road transport. Passengers and freight need to switch to lower-carbon transport modes at an acceptable cost to the taxpayer, meaning the UK’s public transport networks will need to provide more journeys and carry more passengers in the future”.

I will concentrate on the North Cotswold Line Task Force. It is a well-established partnership of five shire counties, under differing political control and outside any mayoral combined authority. It brings together planning of housing growth and transport and has real track records in innovation and investment in railway services and infrastructure. Worcestershire, which leads the task force, opened Worcestershire Parkway station in 2020, weeks before the lockdown, having made the case for the station, sorted out its funding and delivered it on a third-party basis, working with the rail industry but managing the whole project itself. Its location as an interchange between the Birmingham to Bristol and Herefordshire/Worcestershire to Oxford-Cambridge arc and London lines has proven very popular. It has attracted the interest of both the Midlands Engine and Midlands Connect in the North Cotswold Line corridor. Within three years of opening, despite the lockdown, around 800 passengers are using it every day. The original forecast said that it would take 10 years to reach those numbers.

The experience of Parkway suggests that we would be unwise to plan for a permanently depleted market for travel. Leisure travel on the line is now at higher levels than before Covid. It is a vivid example of bringing together transport and housing planning. Some 10,000 new homes are to be built around the station in the next 20 years—a new garden town of around 25,000 people. Developers recognise how railway connectivity and modern, accessible stations are really attractive to our growing and increasingly environmentally aware population.

However, many of the “brick walls” that the committee’s report highlights still exist, despite achievements such as this. The task force’s local authorities have put their hands in their own pockets to develop the case for more frequent services on the Worcestershire-Oxford-London line to support the delivery of 50,000 homes for more than 120,000 people across the route. To sustain a higher level of service, as the Minister knows, will require the restoration of two short lengths of double track. Ministerial engagement has been positive, we have strong cross-party support from MPs along the line and we receive helpful advice from GWR and Network Rail.

The committee’s highlighting of costly competitive bidding is also a problem understood by task force authorities, which have committed significantly to levelling up fund and new stations fund applications. I strongly support the committee’s proposition for alternative blocks of funding, avoiding the inevitable wastefulness of public bodies competing for public funding.

What we need is a DfT/Network Rail partnership—or Great British Railways when it is formally in place—that wants to work with motivated local authorities which will get on with good projects themselves if DfT and Network Rail engage closely and offer positive support to well-constructed cases.

Successful schemes have happened elsewhere with direct DfT support, such as the splendid Okehampton line in Devon. For the task force local authorities, much better rail transport is essential to the sustainability of the sheer scale of housing growth they need to deliver. They have brought their local plans and transport thinking together and, as I said, they have financed and delivered major rail enhancements themselves.

In November 2021, the then Rail Minister, Chris Heaton-Harris, supported the task force progressing to the second industry stage—the outline business case—for its higher frequency service, with the task force local authorities fully funding and bearing risk on the scheme. In March 2022, DfT officials said that its team could not engage further with the task force until the updated rail network enhancements pipeline was announced. The original pipeline was first set out in October 2019 but has not been updated since; as I understand it, there is no planned date for the update, published in the new year.

We need to move forward now, and as it is some time since we have had a chance to discuss the project with Ministers, my request to the noble Baroness this afternoon is to agree to a meeting with members of the task force board and our Members of Parliament.

Earl of Lytton Portrait The Earl of Lytton (CB)
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My Lords, it has been my great privilege to serve on the Built Environment Committee during the period when this subject was considered. I add my appreciation of and thanks to our former and present chairman and our erstwhile clerk, Dee Goddard, and for the briefing that was issued just in the past few days. For those of us who find their grey matter displaced by the jumble of things added subsequent to a report such as this, it is very helpful to have that prompt. Much of the content to which I would have referred has been covered by others, and I am satisfied that the relevant material is more than adequately contained within the report, which I believe speaks for itself.

The report identifies a series of worthy and sometimes inspirational initiatives, with what I think would be generally accepted as Transport for London’s example being the gold standard, but we have been subjected to what might be called exceptional circumstances. There are not only the normal constraints—perhaps now the additional constraints—on public spending but the disruption to and changes in consumer usage caused by the Covid pandemic, with lasting effects on matters such as commuting, whether people attend their place of work full-time or part-time and what that means for land use and the applicable facilities. I do not forget that this is also accelerated by squeezed household budgets and the impact of daily commuting as a net-of-tax cost on people’s income. Nor do I overlook the fact that commuting travel time is often neither enjoyable leisure nor gainful work.

We also showed that the command structure is to a degree fragmented and is not monitoring outcomes adequately. Different departments operate in different sectors. Decisions may be made at departmental level, but with the onus for delivery and taking risk devolved to local government—never mind that it has fewer resources—and, in turn, to commercial transport providers. There are gaps in accountability between control of resources, responsibility for action and the concurrent duty to take action. Each segment has its own priorities, whether they be political, public finance, planning, operational risk and so on. The absence of integration between land use and planning, mentioned by so many other noble Lords, is extremely concerning, given the obvious synergies.

I mention just one thing on bus transport in particular. Bus is one of those things that provides the opportunity to vary it to an almost infinite degree: it is not set on rails, it is by and large not attached to cables, and it is capable of adapting, both by the nature of the vehicle and the frequency and position of stops, in ways that most other forms of public transport cannot meet. It should therefore be the initial, and possibly the interim, mode of choice in changing circumstances, particularly changing environments, and especially when we are talking about changes in development patterns within urban areas.

Funding is not always evenly applied or secure over time. Sometimes, it looks as if there is a poor understanding of likely outcomes. There is a need for long-term, consistent, durable and continuous progress towards broadly common goals and an understanding of what good practice in transport looks like. If policies are too narrowly focused or shorter term than the time horizons of the project development and rollout, the result is dented commitment, lack of trust, user disaffection and, ultimately, lack of investment necessary to carry it all forward. I am satisfied that a more holistic approach—if noble Lords will excuse that overused term—is necessary.

Scheme participation procedures that are overcomplex or require expensive bidding processes are rightly regarded with suspicion and deter participants on cost alone. Funding streams that are proposed but which may be turned off at critical stages are also unattractive. Scheme architecture combined with responsibility for the policy, funding, delivery and outcomes—including that very necessary post-project evaluation—are key to this, along with slicker ways of ticketing and improvement of the customer experience. These cannot be left to chance and should not be the subject of a bewildering array of different local schemes, as if every city in the land were some sort of foreign jurisdiction, or indulged in a bidding war for too few resources. For users, relearning car parking ticket technology or public transport ticketing for each municipality is a nightmare and should not be an acceptable outcome in this modern world.

I will leave it there, but it should be said that this is, as the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, said, work in progress. It has been a privilege to be involved in this matter, but I would just say that a less defensive and slightly more inclusive approach to discussions would be helpful, especially in the knowledge that there may not be one perfect solution to the matters that we have to deal with.

Lord Haselhurst Portrait Lord Haselhurst (Con)
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My Lords, I compliment all my colleagues who have contributed, particularly those who sat on the committee during the preparation of this report.

The most important recommendation that we put forward—reference has been made to it already—is in paragraph 116:

“the Government should formally link the production of Local Transport Plans with Local Plans”.

Yes indeed, I have to say. I have come to believe over the passage of 60 years that the commission report prepared under the chairmanship of Sir John Redcliffe-Maud was right. We are beginning to see the advantages of city regions. If the balance throughout our country is to be right, we need to have powerful authorities, whether we achieve them by saying that we are levelling up or by the twin of that, handing down. They will be in the best position in planning and construction. They will have the resources to ensure that they are advised to the highest level. They can raise standards and ensure the importance of place, space and design.

These large authorities will have transport issues. We all understand why the use of cars is to be discouraged, in terms of health, climate change and, to some extent, congestion, but we should always remember that the alternative has to be good, otherwise we are taking away an instrument of freedom of choice from those many hundreds of thousands of people who say, “Let’s just get into the car and go out somewhere for a nice day”. If you take that away, you have to find some alternative way in which to ensure that they can take advantage of the facilities in their orbit.

Trains, trams and buses can all play a part in finding the right mix for getting people from outside cities and towns into them for marketing or pleasure purposes. The experiment that impressed me most—and colleagues will know that I spoke about it a great deal—was what we were shown about very light transport. It is being developed by Coventry City Council with the help of Warwick University. It means that the cost of laying track for those vehicles is slashed to something like £10,000 per kilometre rather than £50,000. It could be a game-changer.

What I would like to see is the Government of the day talking to the regions about their ideas. I would like to think that there would be independent people there, be they top civil servants or people who have been in the building industry for a long time and have an objective perspective on these matters, so that the plan, including transport, can be perfected over a period of time. There would be a contract, if you like, between the Government of the day and the authorities concerned, so ideas may be borrowed from one place’s plan for another. One begins to see how these things can be done to overcome the worries that we have had about certain matters.

There are other ingredients to put into the pot, as it were, if we are to get this right for the future. We have had, since the report was concluded, the ideas on autonomous cars and how we will deal with that. There will be air taxis and vertiports, perhaps mostly for the transfer by drones of minor freight—and the growth, it seems without correction, of the use of e-scooters. I really begin to worry when I see reports appear in the papers of a league table of the number of injuries and deaths caused by the clash between them and pedestrians. I do not want to spoil anybody’s pleasure, but we have to watch this particular development, otherwise we will face considerable risk.

Let us see hope in public transport being developed and taking people from where they are living in a new development and from their new homes to where they work. All those things can be dealt with by public transport, if there is intelligent planning. Let us call on those who have the skills in planning, construction and financing major developments and try to ensure that we will have a better future. We have been grumbling in the committee about what has happened in the past and worrying about some of those difficulties that have been aired again today. That is the pattern that I see—that we really need the big players throughout the country to level up to the Government and to their neighbours and so on, so that we have the best and safest transport systems in the modern world.

Lord Grocott Portrait Lord Grocott (Lab)
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My Lords, I happily add my thanks to our two chairs; to our secretariat, who have been splendid over the period of the production of this report; and to my colleagues on the committee, who came from varied backgrounds. What a pleasure it is to follow the noble Lord, Lord Haselhurst. I never thought that I would hear the 60 year-old report of Lord Redcliffe-Maud referred to but, like the noble Lord, Lord Haselhurst, I can remember it. It was a splendid report.

The possible scope of this report was enormous. It could have ranged—it has to a degree—from e-scooters to HS2. I will just concentrate on two things. One is London versus the rest, if I can put it in those terms, and the other is the variety of provision in cities of similar size and with similar challenges, in many respects.

On London versus the rest, the Government kindly referred us to the significance of this comparison in their response to our report. They said that, in their levelling-up White Paper,

“the Government set itself the mission of, by 2030, bringing standards of local public transport connectivity across the country closer to those of London”.

I give them full marks for ambition, but we need to test how they cope as they go along. Of course, we all recognise that London has unique characteristics in the provision of public transport, the size and reach of the area and so on, but still, these figures need to be put on the record.

The expenditure-per-head figures for 2019-20 are as follows—they are pre-pandemic, so perhaps not distorted by some of the pandemic factors. For London, it was £882 per head. The next largest region was the south-east, with more than £500 per head. The lowest was the east Midlands, at £300 per head. The average for all regions outside London was £489, which means that London is spending nearly double the amount of any other region in the country. Work that one out, Sherlock. It is not difficult to deduce from that that services in London are better than elsewhere.

What a civic or regional leader would give to have their expenditure availability for public transport doubled—it would have something of an impact, however competent or otherwise the leaders or the regions may be. I simply must ask the Government: how is their ambition progressing towards the deadline of 2030? Is it their intention to reduce the disparity on spending per capita? Do they regard spending per capita as a significant measure of how well the various regions are doing, or are likely to be able to do? Are they progressing towards any comparability at all with London?

The other issue, of the variety of services that apply in cities outside London, strikes me—I hope I am not the only one—as quite a significant factor. We know that all cities are different, that there are big contrasts and so on, but you would expect that large, urban areas in a fairly small geographic country such as ours would have some obvious similarities in the way that they tackle the common problems of urban transport. To give just one example of the contrasts that exist: Nottingham, Manchester, Birmingham, Sheffield and a number of others have light rail systems, yet Leeds, Liverpool and Southampton are among the largest urban centres in Europe without a light rail system. There might be good reasons for that, but I am not aware of them, and I am not quite sure who would be able to tell me.

In our report, we looked at three particular types of urban transport. We looked at light rail. We looked at very light rail and, like the noble Lord, Lord Haselhurst, I am very keen to see how the Coventry experiment develops. It is scheduled to start in 2025, I think, and if it works as a very light rail system—with the advantages of light rail but without the huge costs of establishing the system and then maintaining it—it may be a model that is of value to everyone else. The third system that we looked at was a bus transit system, which has some of the advantages of light rail but cannot quite match it in terms of reliability, predictability and so on.

We made recommendations in our report which flow from this fact that I have tried to establish about the big variation across the country. One recommendation was that we should try to eliminate some of the disadvantages that exist in the funding system at present; the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, dealt with that, so I will not repeat what has been said. We make the case in our report for a block grant system, which would make life easier for people making the applications and make life more predictable for the local authorities or regional governments that exist. It is something that the Government should consider.

Perhaps most important in this particular area is that discussion and evaluation of the schemes that exist is absolutely fundamental. We are not talking about huge sums of money here, just the common sense of recognising that there are different systems in roughly comparable areas but no proper evaluation of how they are all working. With this, I am in fact suggesting something to the Minister that does not cost large amounts of money—though I fear that my suggestion that the regions should do as well as London would cost large amounts of money. This is why I would particularly like to hear her response on that point.

Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I welcome this report and agree with the general premise that public transport plays a vital role in urban environments, enabling people to access education, leisure, family and/or work. It is as important for economic productivity as community dynamism.

The report’s recognition that many British towns outside London have inadequate, unreliable and expensive transport infrastructure is of concern, as was acknowledged by the noble Lord, Lord Moylan. The consequences can be dire when public transport is not adequate to aid essential travel. Sometimes, alternative support is required. For example, there is a story from Blackburn, which was raised by Jake Berry MP in the other place, where parents of 170 SEN pupils have been left in limbo after a specialist subsidised bus service used by Walton-le-Dale High School was axed due to a huge unaffordable hike in prices. The school is out of area but, as Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council does not have suitable school places for the pupils, the children are stranded. Normal public transport is neither suitable nor available, but the council tells them to just get the bus.

One parent of a son with Asperger’s in year 7 told LancsLive that:

“Even my son’s paediatrician said that he would not be safe on public transport”.

Rick Moore, a local politician leading the campaign with the parents, recently organised for them to address the council. Tillie, a year 11 pupil, eloquently explained that the walk to the closest bus stop is on an unlit country lane and that the pavement is only continuous on one side and has a section of footpath so narrow that pedestrians are forced on to the road—so much for safeguarding the young. Sadly, the council remains indifferent. I raise this to indicate the problems when public transport is inadequate and also to note that it is not always a solution to the mobility challenges of living in towns that often have poorly served rural areas close by.

I turn to another issue. One problem constantly raised in the report is the steady stream of often contradictory demands on councils from central government, which confuse transport priorities. If we look at active travel plans—a euphemistic name given to non-car mobility for which local authorities receive substantial funding—these schemes, such as cycling lanes and walkable neighbourhoods, have nothing to do with public transport. Worse, however, is that prioritising them can be a hinderance in terms of allocation of road space, as we have heard, and can often have the unintended consequence of increasing congestion.

As James Freeman from BRT UK told the committee:

“At the moment, to favour the cyclist—because that is where the money and focus are—public buses have found themselves back in the queue, and the bus service becomes unreliable and slow as a result”.

As the report rightly notes, bus services are attractive to users only if they have some priority over the rest of the traffic and are therefore able to compete with undertaking the journey by car. Of course, anyone choosing to travel by car is likely to elicit admonishment, as driving seems to be thoroughly disapproved of in transport policy circles. I found it dispiriting that the report fuels this by positing improving public transport as a way of reducing car use. This is unnecessarily binary, divisive and unhelpful for citizens. The Government’s response to the transport decarbonisation plan states that measures are needed to

“shift to public and active transport”,

and the inquiry reports experts saying that

“a reduction in trips by private car of the order of 30% is needed to help meet net zero targets.”

I am worried that the language in this debate is misleading, even disingenuous. This is posed by the DfT as helping to “improve travel choices”, and local authorities have been given powers to implement measures to “support improved choices”. TfL says that the Government have an important role in making public transport, walking and cycling the mode of choice, but the public are not being given a choice here. Too often, policies seem coercive and anti-choice.

One reason why I am opposed to the report’s recommendation that the Government should set explicit targets for a reduction in car journeys is that it is bad enough as it is. Some local authorities have adopted local targets, at the cost of citizens’ freedom to choose to drive. Indeed, many drivers now feel like they are the villains in an anti-car crusade in urban areas, and often there is little regard for democratic scrutiny. Look at the exorbitant emission zone charges, which are widely unpopular. Noble Lords will have noted the large Together rally in London on Saturday, against ULEZ. Then there are the infernal low-traffic neighbourhoods, where roads are blocked off with no discussion and no mandate. Hackney Council is planning to close 75% of its road space to cars. Bath’s first LTN, in Southlands, has proven highly controversial but the council has just announced 48 more LTNs, and despite lively opposition from Bath’s grass-roots “save our city” campaign there will also be a £10 million emissions zone, dubbed a ring of steel by locals. All over the country, families can no longer drive to their weekly shop, taxi routes are lengthened and more costly for the disabled and the elderly getting to GPs, and care workers and plumbers alike are unable to navigate speedy routes to their next appointment. It is not so much active travel, as anti-travel.

On the committee’s visit to Birmingham, we were told that meeting the region’s 2041 decarbonisation target would require a 35% reduction in car travel over the next 10 years, a 50% reduction in all trips and an 800% increase in wheeling journeys on vehicles such as bikes and scooters; that will be great for the elderly. In that context, there would be a need for a 100% increase in public transport—as though improving public transport is just a means to an anti-car end. Worse, drivers end up getting the blame for problems with public transport. Transport for West Midlands complains that a “preference towards” driving is perhaps

“the ‘biggest barrier to improving public transport’”.

Surveys in the region show why people drive: 87% say that their lifestyle requires that they own a car or a van, and 94% say they enjoy the independence which car ownership gives them. That word, “independence”, is key. What is fascinating is that ever since the anti-car policy wonks grabbed the political steering wheel back in the late 1990s, and despite the exponential growth in the car-reduction industry ever since, the number of cars on the road rose substantially between the 1990s and 2020. As the director of the future cities project says:

“What this predominantly shows … is that personal mobility remains important to the public, despite all the policies that are so hostile to driving”,

and that it is a form of liberation especially espoused by women.

I urge the Minister not to succumb to pressure to make anti-car measures more explicit, but rather to concentrate on the worthy and vigorously pursued goal of improving public transport on its own terms.

Baroness Taylor of Stevenage Portrait Baroness Taylor of Stevenage (Lab)
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My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, his predecessor, the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, and the members of the Built Environment Committee for their thorough, detailed and evidence-based review of the current context of public transport in our towns and cities. This review comes at a critical time for public transport, as we consider considerable changes to travel patterns as we emerge from the Covid pandemic. I also thank the Institution of Civil Engineers, mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, for its helpful briefing, and our Library, which, as ever, provided a succinct and relevant briefing.

I grew up in a planned new town with 45 kilometres of cycleway infrastructure, which I know many towns would give their eye teeth for, and the then council-owned SuperBus service, which disappeared with privatisation. I consider it a very fortunate, good model of transport. In considering this subject, we must always be extremely careful not to underestimate the vital importance of all aspects of public transport. A notable statistic that stood out for me was the National Audit Office’s conclusion that bus services alone affect the performance of two-thirds of government departments. I would go so far as to say that public transport is a key pillar of levelling up, sitting alongside jobs and skills, housing, health, education, community safety and climate change.

The noble Lord, Lord Moylan, referred to the contribution that good bus services have made in London to social mobility and the economy. As he said, nearly two-thirds of all journeys on public transport are by bus. Yet, as the Campaign for Better Transport points out, bus miles have declined by 27% since the pandemic, with over 5,000 routes lost. The Select Committee sets out clearly in its report that when the pandemic support funding ends—I appreciate that the cliff edge has been moved to June; that was greatly appreciated—we could see even further reductions of 20% in bus services. As the poorest 20% of households make three times as many trips by bus as the richest 20%, this could have a further devastating impact on levelling up. If you take a job or college place based on being able to access it by bus, and then that bus service is cut, your access to that opportunity is severed. These points were referred to by the noble Lords, Lord Berkeley and Lord Carrington, and the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, gave another worrying example of their impact.

There can be no doubt that the hollowing out of local government funding over successive years since 2010 has inflicted deep and lasting damage on the provision of effective and efficient public transport for our communities. With un-ringfenced budgets, the pressures on adult care and children’s services are overwhelming local authority budgets, resulting in cuts to areas such as transport subsidies. As has been debated this afternoon, funding for transport is at best contradictory and, at worst, chaotic and wasteful.

My noble friend Lord Grocott referred to issues around “London versus the rest”. I also wanted to mention the importance of differentiating between towns and cities in relation to public transport, not to mention interconnectivity with rural areas. Towns can feel like the Cinderella of public transport systems; they miss out on competitive funding pots because their local authorities do not have the resources to put bids together and, in two-tier areas, they have to compete with surrounding districts for funding. The prospect of London-style public transport—even Manchester-style public transport would be quite good—can seem like a distant dream in our towns, where services are infrequent, unreliable and expensive, or in rural areas, where they are non-existent. Even creative solutions such as demand-responsive transport can flounder because of over-demand and congestion.

It is clear from the report that changing public transport needs post pandemic need radically new thinking and approaches. Our services are geared to nine-to-five weekday commuting, when the whole pattern of working and leisure travel has changed. In truth, this was starting to happen before Covid, but it has accelerated considerably. The Institution of Civil Engineers points out the importance of data gathering and analysis post Covid; these points are examined in detail in the report. I am interested to hear the Minister’s response on how this is being undertaken by the DfT and whether she yet has any sense of how long it will be before a settled, post-pandemic picture of public transport use emerges.

It is impossible to do justice to such a comprehensive report in a few minutes, so I will focus on passenger experience, funding and devolution. With the complex systems and structures around public transport provision in the UK, it is all too easy for the passenger experience to get lost. Although bus service improvement plans are a step in the right direction, what reassurance is there of robust bus user consultation processes? The same applies to train and other public transport modes. Too often, it seems to be left to passengers to form their own pressure groups to drive the changes that they want to see.

In my local community people tell me that, although they would like very frequent services, they would much rather have a sharp focus on reliability and travel information that they can rely on and—as the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, referred to—affordable and stable fares, transport systems that connect with each other and with walking and cycling routes, and to feel safe. I have some experience of this, having just finished the production of a bus interchange that links in with cycling. The railway station has covered waiting accommodation, Changing Places-type toilets and other facilities linking with mobility scooters to get people around once they get to the bus station. Can the Minister comment on how close we are to an integrated transport strategy? Could that help enable the data sharing needed to provide good passenger travel information?

I was particularly pleased to see the issue of safety being taken very seriously by the Select Committee, a point highlighted by the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton. Changing work and leisure patterns mean that public transport is often needed in the evenings, and the combination of unreliable services, stations, stops and interchanges that do not feel safe and the fact that many local authorities have decided for budget reasons to turn off street lights at night all mitigate against women and other vulnerable users feeling safe to use public transport.

The ambition to bring local transport systems

“significantly closer to the standards of London”

is laudable if somewhat incomprehensible to those who live in rural areas that may have scarce or non-existent public transport. Nevertheless, let us be optimistic. If improvements are to be made, it will require a herculean effort of disentangling the complexities of funding and the disparities mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Grocott.

The Select Committee is right to set out the key challenges. They include evaluation of the investment in capital schemes, on which the committee had some very interesting evidence from Professor Preston, who discussed the issues of social cost benefits of transport schemes relating to public health, environment, access to jobs and skills, and quoted a KPMG study showing a 3:1 social benefit over cost. There is the further cliff edge for support for bus services funding, now extended to June 2023, but can the Minister elaborate further on what will happen after that? Then there is the competitive bidding process for funding, which disadvantages those areas most in need of stable, sustainable public transport.

There is also the failure to deliver less than half of the £3 billion that local authorities were expecting for bus service improvement plans. I have seen the table setting out the combined total, but that does not help the local authorities that wanted to be ambitious with their improvement plans or those that got no funding at all. Encouraging local authorities to bid for levelling-up funds for public transport just exchanges one competitive funding pot with another. Can the Minister comment on how the DfT will respond to the Select Committee’s recommendation that it should switch from funding pots—or bidding bingo, as I prefer to call it—to provision in block grants, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, and others? I note that we are told that we may see a paper on this later this year, but it is pretty urgent that we get on with that.

On the point about concessionary fares, which was raised by noble Lords this afternoon, I am afraid that I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Moylan. The fantastic contribution that concessionary fares make to well-being for those who benefit is remarkable. I hope that the Minister will confirm that it is not the intention of the Government to use this method to fill the funding gap.

Lastly, on devolution—for which I am a passionate advocate, as many noble Lords will know—the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill going through your Lordships’ House has the opportunity and the potential to ensure that the Select Committee’s key recommendation on effective integration of land use and transport planning can be realised. In fact, we will be discussing some of these issues tomorrow in Committee. As Manchester has been able to go further with this than other local authorities, it was interesting to read Andy Burnham’s evidence to the Select Committee. In advocating franchising, he pointed out that his case was strengthened

“because large subsidies are being paid at the moment to various operators in the deregulated model”,

which, in his view,

“delivers very limited returns for the public”.

He also asked whether public operators would be allowed to take part in the franchising schemes as well. I am interested in the Minister’s view on that.

I look forward to the Minister’s responses to all the points made this afternoon. It is absolutely right that we should link transport planning with local plans. There are some difficulties with that, particularly in two-tier areas, but we work together and co-operate well on issues like that. We may need to articulate that in debates on the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill. I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, and the noble Lords, Lord Haselhurst and Lord Shipley, the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, and the noble Lords, Lord Best and Lord Faulkner, for their very strong advocacy of that system.

We cannot all live in Paris, which we heard about earlier, although some of us might not be averse to that—I certainly would not, but it is important that we have accessible, reliable and safe transport networks, which are essential to help us to achieve our long-term strategic objectives. Decarbonising the economy is not the least of those, but there are also the sustainable development goals. If the recommendations of this report are implemented, they will take us some way towards that, and I look forward to hearing the responses from the Minister.

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Transport (Baroness Vere of Norbiton) (Con)
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My Lords, I am well aware that I shall get about halfway through my speech and we shall then all be called to vote, but I shall carry on none the less.

I am enormously grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate today. There were so many insightful contributions, some quite spirited, and not all noble Lords were in agreement on some of the key matters of the day, which I shall come back to. Of course, my noble friend Lord Moylan opened the debate extremely well, as he always does, and I am very grateful to my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe for her role in chairing the committee. I remember my day in front of the committee very well indeed; it is always a pleasure to be grilled by people who share my ambitions—and, indeed, the enthusiasm for all things transport.

I start by noting and emphasising the clear alignment between many of the committee’s recommendations and the Government’s own ambitions for public transport in our towns and cities. To demonstrate, for example, in the recent Spring Budget, the Government announced a further round of city region sustainable transport settlements, which is the worst named scheme ever—or CRSTS. We have pledged another £8.8 billion over five years from 2027, which builds on the £5.7 billion provided in the first round of settlements. Noble Lords may think that that is a very large figure and that I am just banging it out, but why is it important?

The settlement is so important for cities outside London, to give them certainty so that they can plan for the future. That is precisely what we have done by indicating the amount of funding that will be available from 2027. If we are to meet our goal of ensuring that places outside London have public transport that is significantly closer to that which is in London, we need to make these very substantial and long-term commitments to spending in those areas. The committee called for block grants, and I shall come back to that later—because, of course, one size definitely does not fit all and never does with transport.

On buses, noble Lords will have noticed—and this was of great interest to my noble friend Lord Moylan—that we have, in recent weeks, taken a number of short, medium and long-term measures. We have extended the bus recovery grant and the £2 fare cap scheme until June 2023. I do not have any further information on that, and I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, is very keen to understand where we go next. Clearly, we are looking at this. The noble Baroness also asked when we will know when patronage has settled. I suspect that we never will. My experience in my four years in the DfT, particularly in the past three years, is that it is never homogeneous.

I am going to take a little break, and we shall go and vote. I shall continue talking in due course.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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My Lords, I will try to recover where I was, but I cannot wholly remember, so I will go back to the bit on buses because it is a topic of great importance. I had mentioned the bus recovery grant and the £2 fare cap, both of which have been extended. On lower patronage and knowing where it will settle, I point out that it will depend on the location and sometimes even be down to the route. The other thing to recall is that some of the elements of the national bus strategy and the bus service improvement plans are about growing patronage from wherever we are now. Therefore, I very much expect things not to be static and for changes to come for quite some time yet.

The DfT also announced further funding for the ZEBRA programme in Yorkshire, Norfolk, Leicester, Portsmouth and Hampshire, and the establishment of the new virtual bus centre of excellence to boost skills and good practice in the sector. That is key for local transport authorities, because they have a problem when it comes to capability and capacity. That is a topic that I will come back to in due course.

These measures show that the Government are committed both to maintaining a good standard of bus services—as the Built Environment Committee suggested that we do—and to building on these standards through the delivery of the national bus strategy. For those most ambitious local transport authorities that will lead, through the bus service improvement plans, to increasing patronage.

Noble Lords identify that frequency is really important. That is what we are trying to get to with the BSIPs, particularly in bigger cities, putting the user first and increasing frequencies to provide the sort of services needed. Then, in more rural areas, there are interventions such as demand-responsive transport—and indeed reliable services. A number of noble Lords pointed out that reliability is what the user really needs.

The DfT has also published its transport data strategy, which is hugely important. We have to encourage people to use the data provided by the DfT via the operators, so that they can collate that into apps, and the users then get a better experience because they know when buses will arrive and how frequent they are. My noble friend Lady Eaton highlighted how important it is to have that information to hand. Those of us who live in London take it utterly for granted, and we must make sure that it is rolled out as far as possible.

This is not an exhaustive list of how the Government are aligned with the Built Environment Committee. Our announcements include £1 billion-worth of funding in the third round of the levelling-up fund as well as additional funding for highways maintenance, and indeed many more. The Government are not sitting still. We absolutely recognise the points made in the report; as I note, we did not agree with all of them, but we agreed with the vast majority.

The next subject I want to peruse is devolution, local leadership, capability, capacity and all the things that go with that. I have found the debate today a little confusing and hard to rationalise in parts. I hear some noble Lords wanting an integrated national strategy for the whole of transport, but that sounds very communist to me, and I am not entirely sure how one would achieve it. Other noble Lords are very much focusing on local needs for local people and local accountability, then others say things like, “It’s dreadful that central government demands so many things from local authorities”, when I am not entirely sure that the Government do. I am not sure we have the levers to do that, particularly in transport, because transport is, and has been for quite a long time, highly devolved to local transport authorities. Issues such as local transport planning rest with local authorities; they simply cannot be done from Whitehall, nor should they. This is very much by design. We rely on local and regional organisations to work together to identify and utilise opportunities for network improvements. The noble Baroness, Lady Vere, sitting at her desk in Horseferry Road, cannot do that: it is just impossible. We have to create the right framework and provide the right guidance and funding to local authorities, and then they need to run with it. That is what is so important.

The levelling-up White Paper committed to extending, deepening and simplifying local devolution in England

“so that by 2030, every part of England that wants one will have a devolution deal”

because we have seen the enormous success of devolution deals to date in the world of transport. Noble Lords will have heard me refer to the CRSTS. That is billions and billions of pounds that we give to those areas with devolution deals. It is long-term funding—it allows them to plan, and they have the capacity and capability to do so. This is the goal; this is where we want to be, but we cannot be there at this moment.

I look at the years when I have been in the department. Sometimes when you get bids for funding, frankly, they are not very good, and I cannot in good conscience turn around and allocate taxpayers’ funding to bids that are not very good. They simply would not fly. That is why we need both processes. Highly skilled larger areas with devolution deals can get their long-term settlements but, until we have greater local responsibility and accountability via devolution deals, we will have to have a bidding process. I am okay with that balance. However, there will also be smaller local transport authorities which, if you gave them a block grant, would not have a hope of ever being able to build anything significant. It is unfair to keep those people out in the cold, because the benefits of transport often go to users who are not in your area at all. That is the whole point of transport: it gets you from A to B.

Allied to that, we come to the topic of planning integration and connectivity, which is really important. Transport integration is the holy grail, we need to make sure we get it done as well as possible. That is why having devolution deals for transport is very beneficial: because authorities can plan on a holistic basis over a significant area.

What do we want to do with the buses? There are the bus service improvement plans, but it is really important that they are used to update their local transport plans. I think it was my noble friend Lady Eaton who noted that 61% have not been updated since 2011. If I was the leader of a local council, I would feel a little worried about that, to put it mildly—but this is what local accountability and responsibility is all about. We must provide guidance to local transport authorities, and that is exactly what we will do. We will consult on guidance on the local transport plans fairly soon, we hope, but it is only guidance. Local transport authorities then have the responsibility, as the representatives in their local area, to build them into local transport plans. That is absolutely key.

Of course those local transport plans should align with an area’s broader local development plans—that is important—but it is a complex picture and the timelines may be misaligned sometimes. To set out some sort of Whitehall-dictated “thou shalt do this on this date between this plan and this plan” is not going to work. We have to give the responsibility and the accountability to local areas to decide for themselves what works and what does not. Quite frankly, if it does not work and they do not get the best for their local community, voters can vote them out at the next local election.

I am well aware that there will be further discussion around local transport plans and local plans and how they are going to work together via the infrastructure delivery strategy in the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill currently passing through your Lordships’ House. I would welcome further discussion—I find it very interesting—but I do not see it as a solution that, at the moment, looks likely to achieve the best outcomes for local people.

Moving on to the other rather vexed and difficult question, I think it is worth reflecting on car usage. I will repeat what I said when I gave evidence to the committee, which is that the Government do not have targets on car usage; we have targets on other things to make public transport, cycling and walking the first choice for travel, but we are not making anyone do that. We believe that it would be the best option for many urban areas, as was published in Gear Change. We have had a very open and honest conversation about what we want to see, particularly in our more built-up areas, in terms of cycling and walking. Furthermore, we made changes to the Highway Code to make sure that those who could cause the most harm bear the greatest responsibility. We want to improve our streets, particularly in urban areas where there can be tensions. I do not want those tensions to exist, but I cannot mandate them not to. We have to create the environment for that.

Road space allocation also causes quite a lot of difference of opinion. I say once again that no one size fits all for road space allocation. The Government can revise guidance for local transport plans and refresh the Manual for Streets, which is what we are doing. With those two documents, we have to leave it to local transport authorities, listening to their local communities, to decide what they want to do. We are not going to make them put in any cycle lanes or bus lanes. It is up to them. We think they should, and if they do not then other things might happen in terms of funding streams. At the moment, they simply would not get any funding for bus lanes—but if they do not want any, why should they? This is important. Road space allocation goes back to local responsibility and accountability, although I accept that there are tensions and it is difficult. Every single street in every single place in this country will need a different approach, and that is why local people doing it is so important.

I am conscious that I am desperately running out of time, but I want to comment on something very close to my heart and those of many noble Lords. My noble friends Lord Carrington and Lady Eaton highlighted transport safety. That is key to attracting people back. Bus service improvement plans should include how local transport authorities and operators will ensure not only that services are safe but that they feel safe. We are also taking forward 13 recommendations by the independent Transport Champions for Tackling Violence against Women and Girls on street safety, doing research on safety and the accessibility of bus stations and stops. I have many more things that I will endeavour to put in a letter. I really do welcome the work of the committee and hope that it continues to delve into these matters around transport. They are not easy, but ensuring accountability and responsibility locally is the best way forward.

Lord Moylan Portrait Lord Moylan (Con)
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My Lords, I see that, as rumours of the exciting quality of this debate have spread through the Palace of Westminster, the Moses Room has filled up with an audience keen to listen. None the less, I shall endeavour to be brief in summing up. I thank everybody who has taken part in the debate. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, for reminding me that in my opening remarks I should have thanked the people who gave evidence to our committee in the course of our inquiry. I am pleased to do that.

I will briefly run through some of the key points made. My noble friend Lady Eaton put great importance on what is referred to as “the first and last mile” in transport: the getting to the hub that allows you to take part in the transport system, which we could have said more about.

The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, referred to Paris and the possibility of getting road users to be more courteous to each other. We know how to do that; we have just abandoned it in this country. We know how to do it because we learned lessons and started to apply them from the Netherlands in relation to shared space, but then we opted for a scheme of not sharing space but segregating it. If you start to segregate and allocate, top down, a limited resource, which is what road space is, inevitably you get people quarrelling about how much they have had allocated to them and about how others are interfering with their rights to their space, and so forth.

In this context, my noble friend Lord Carrington of Fulham and the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, both referred to the importance of bus reliability and the fact that cycle lanes can impinge on that. Equally, you could say that bus lanes could impinge on the space that might be allocated to people using bicycles. But none of this is taken into account by the Government because, of course, it is all meant to be a matter of local choice.

A large number of participants in the debate—the noble Lords, Lord Shipley and Lord Best, and my noble friend Lord Haselhurst—talked about the importance of joining up the planning and transport policies. I do not see why this is such a difficulty for the Minister. She has told us how much money—a very large amount—the Government intend to allocate to local transport schemes over the next few years. Is it too much to say—other government departments do not find it too much to say—“If you are going to have this money, you need an up-to-date local transport plan”? It might be one that shows the department that it is coherent with local planning policies too, in particular for new development.

I have the highest admiration for the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, but my one quibble with his contribution is that he quoted a consultancy company that was critical of national and local governments for their reluctance to impose policies limiting private car use. I do not know where this consultancy has been, but it has obviously not been anywhere near a low-traffic neighbourhood that has been sprung on us recently, one of the many road-closure schemes that have been going on or indeed things such as the ULEZ. These policies are absolutely everywhere at the moment. However, the noble Lord valuably illustrated from his own knowledge and experience—coming back to my earlier point—how development and transport working together, a classic case of joining up policies, can produce the right results if it is done in a coherent way.

I shall not go much further. My noble friend Lord Haselhurst mentioned very light rail, and the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, rightly pointed out disparities in funding between different regions. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, for endorsing most if not all of the things said in the debate by those who participated in putting forward the report.

The Minister has put a great deal of preparation into this. She is highly committed to transport and public transport, and we are all grateful to her for listening to us today and for responding on behalf of the Government. I am relieved to be able to tell her that I do not think anybody in the debate actually suggested that she run all the local transport systems in the country from her desk in Whitehall, but even so, none of that—with her very correct emphasis on local choice by locally elected authorities—would stop her insisting that transport plans are up to date as a condition of funding. It would not stop her considering whether her active travel plans—which she says in that minatory tone are entirely a matter for local choice but obviously they will not get any money they do not adopt them and that other consequences might flow from them—are actually impinging on the reliability of buses, which she thinks is very important.

I think that we could do more and that the report remains still to be properly digested by the Government. We did not have time to discuss post-project evaluation, but many of the recommendations made in the report still have not been fully taken on board by the Government, though I think they would be very helpful. With that, I thank everybody and I commend the report to the committee.

Motion agreed.