Last week Friends of the Earth published a new report written by Jonathon Porritt looking at how the coalition has done with its pledge to be the “Greenest Government Ever”. We thought it would be a good idea to break it up into sections that correspond to areas we are campaigning on, so here are the parts relating to transport.
The Liberal Democrats promised to reform aviation tax in their manifesto, which was carried through to the Coalition Agreement. Instead of a per passenger duty, airlines would pay per plane duty. This would discourage the current practice of flying part-empty planes. However, there has been little progress on this idea showing the Government’s lack of ambition to lobby on key environmental issues. George Osbourne delivered a weak in the March Budget. He abandoned plans for tax reform and scrapped the planned rise in Air Passenger Duty. The loss in tax revenue is estimated at £150 million, whilst passengers stand to gain by an average of £12 for a European short-haul flight. Add inflation to this, and effectively air travel costs will fall in real terms. This a far from being green and also does little to help the economy or the most disadvantaged in society, making air travel still disproportionately used by middle to high-earners and businesses, who will stand to gain the most. Furthermore, there is no distinction between the payments made by the least and most polluting aircraft.
Sustainable Local Travel
DfT’s Business Plan promises to ‘encourage sustainable local travel and economic growth by making public transport…more attractive and effective, promoting lower carbon transport and tackling local road congestion.’ It also includes plans for a Green Bus Fund for bus operators and local authorities to buy new hybrid and electric vehicles. Again, there has been little action to on this issue to promote sustainable local travel and most grants have been cut. The Bus Operators’ Subsidy Grant was cut by 20% in the Spending Review. Fuel duty for buses will go up by 8p per litre in 2012, added to which there will be changes to how councils calculate bus pass payments. Local authorities have had their funding for public transport cut by 28%. This will most likely lead to route cuts and a reduction in services. As for the Green Bus Fund, although this is a good start, ONS statistics for 2009/10 shows that there are currently 46,900 buses in public service in the UK. The 170 buses purchased, as part of the Green Bus Fund, is a tiny proportion of this total.
High Speed 2 (HS2)
The Coalition Agreement pledged to continue with Labour’s plans for High Speed 2. The Coalition has recently published its consultation on proposed routes. It is claimed there will be no added overall transport emissions as a result of HS2. As construction for HS2 will not begin until 2017, it is a little difficult to judge the progress on this project, with greater research still to be done. Accurate measurements of CO2 impacts and a more detailed consultation need to be completed.
Ultra Low Emission Vehicles
The Carbon Plan states that Ultra Low Emission Vehicles (ULEVs) are a priority for transport related carbon emissions, to significantly reduce greenhouse gases. The Coalition has promised a national recharging network for electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles. In the Budget, Osborne committed DfT to developing a national strategy to promote installation of electric vehicle infrastructure by June. The Government is also working with the EU to establish EU common standards for vehicle charging. There has been encouraging progress on these plans. The Government is sponsoring a Plug-in Car Grant for consumers, and has put £80 million into innovation in the sector. This is on top of an already established grant scheme to promote the purchase of electric cars by offering consumers up to 25% off the cost of the car, capped at £5,000. The Coalition has committed £43 million until March 2012 for recharging infrastructure, with a review of funding in January 2012. Grants of £30 million will support eight towns and cities to roll out charging infrastructure so that there are 8,500 charging points by March 2013.
Railways for the Future
DfT’s also includes plans for Railways of the Future to encourage sustainability of railways, improve capacity and improve service. Part of this includes further electrification schemes. The government has made positive progress with this with plans to complete extensions to the Great Western and NorthWest Mainlines by 2016.
Fair Rail Fares
The Coalition Government promised a commitment to introduce fair rail fares. However, little has been done, in fact the opposite has happened. The Campaign for Better Transport estimates that rail fares are set to rise four times faster than average pay next year which would discourage rail use, rather than encourage.
Local Sustainable Transport Fund
The DfT’s plan committed to establishing a local sustainable transport fund. This has made great progress. The fund of £560 million available for local authorities to bid for projects that encourage sustainable travel options in their local areas (including improved public transport, active travel or car sharing schemes, cycling and walking). This is now up and running and should be applauded.
Overall, as Jonathon Porritt says “Friends of the Earth and all other NGOs have clearly got their work cut out helping Ministers raise their sights – and holding them more effectively to account if things don’t improve.” This is something that we have learned over the years with the coalition in Birmingham, where good words on climate change do not often translate into good policies or good action by elected members or officers, especially where planning and transport are concerned.