Road to Damascus for DfT?

This article was published in 2008, in Newsletter 76.

Just before Christmas I attended, as a representative of the Campaign, a Department for Transport conference at the GO-EAST offices in Cambridge.

It was called: Towards a Sustainable Transport System

A number of these meetings are being held around the regions as a precursor to a more formal public consultation prior to a green paper on Sustainable Transport in the spring. Also included were discussions of possible changes to NATA1 (New Approach To Appraisal). This meeting was attended by a variety of organisations ranging from Friends of the Earth and Sustrans to the Highways Agency and the Freight Transport Association, as well as representatives of Local Authorities (some 40+ people in all).

I gather one such meeting was dominated by the ‘We Must Build More Roads’ lobby, but in the East it seems that the realisation of the probable effects of climate change and the need for more radical action were better understood.

It seems likely that parts of DfT will be reorganised, and that things such as the proposed Climate Change Bill will force the Department to have ‘targets’ (meaningful?) for reduced energy use in the transport field.

There was a discussion of both the Stern Review2 (on the economics of climate change) and the Eddington Transport Study.3

The New Approach To Appraisal (NATA) was introduced as a replacement for COBA (Cost Benefit Appraisal) some years ago and included a number of ‘environmental factors’. Discussions on revisions to NATA highlighted the fact that ‘low value’ schemes generally provide a far better return on investment than larger schemes such as the A14. The fact that ‘health’ benefits can now be included in financial appraisal of cycling and walking schemes means that these achieve even better returns. A ‘carbon price’ is likely to be included in appraisals, and although many feel that the current proposed value is unrealistically low there is a commitment to raise this over time which should significantly add to the cost of many ‘carbon-hungry’ schemes when evaluated over 20 years.

Some time this spring there will be more formal consultations on some of the issues raised and this will give an opportunity for the Campaign to submit comments in writing.

One thing of interest which may help to change policy in DfT is the price of oil. Apparently last year a cost of $50 per barrel of oil was used in most scheme assessments. It is now at around $100 and most people now think that is a more realistic rate. At those prices, schemes which move freight from road to rail with energy costs reduced by 80%, those that shift people to electric railways with regenerative braking, and those which encourage cycling and walking will give far, far better return on ‘investment’ than those that encourage further expansion of motor vehicle use.

1You can find all about NATA (refresh) at:
www.dft.gov.uk/consultations/open/consulnatarefresh/

2The Stern Study is at:
www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/independent_reviews/stern_review_ economics_climate_change/stern_review_report.cfm

3The Eddington Report (executive summary) is at:
www.dft.gov.uk/162259/187604/206711/executivesummary

Jim Chisholm