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Plans to decarbonise transport should link to spatial planning

Words: Laura Edgar
Cycling / Shutterstock_181277675

Although welcome, plans to decarbonise transport need to link to spatial planning and transport policies should provide a ‘clear route map’ to net-zero 2050.

So says a report published by the Transport Planning Society and written by the University of Hertfordshire.

State of the Nations: Transport Planning for a Sustainable Future explains that plans to decarbonise transport should also link to transport spending priorities.

It notes that the UK, Welsh and Scottish governments are developing transport decarbonisation plans. Such policies provide a guide on how to achieve net-zero by 2050 and how to meet the five-year carbon budgets set under the Climate Change Act.

This, the report outlines, will involve strategies that “avoid, shift [and] improve”: they should reduce travel through better planning, shift travel from low-occupancy vehicles to transport that is shared, active and sustainable, and electrify vehicles.

According to State of the Nations, the pandemic has created an opportunity for the transport planning profession and transport policymakers to “pause and consider” what changes could be made to create an efficient, integrated and sustainable transport system.

It notes that transport trends have been changing over the past 20 years – not just during lockdown – when walking and cycling increased. Overall, car use has decreased, while the increased use of vans and trains, and new modes of transport such as electric scooters, could change the environmental impact of travel.

The report considers travel trends and behaviours, current government policy, regional transport planning, spending and investment in order to make recommendations for the government and the sector. These include:

  • Although Scotland and Wales have national transport strategies, England and the UK as a whole do not and there isn't a framework of overarching policies and targets for transport in England or in the UK which can guide transport planners, planners and local and regional government. The government should draw up a national transport strategy to consolidate current guidance and link it explicitly to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).
  • Devolution of transport powers and funding to local and city-region transport authorities is welcome and has been shown to work. The government should continue with this approach and extend it elsewhere, reducing the fragmentation and complexity of transport decision-making and its links to other aspects. In all three countries, local transport authorities and sub-national transport bodies should have the powers, duties and funding to tackle transport challenges, especially reducing carbon emissions.
  • New planning and devolution/local government plans in each country should promote integrated transport and spatial planning so as to reduce the need to travel and help tackle climate change and social exclusion.
  • The Department for Transport, the Welsh Government and other authorities in England and Wales should follow practice in Scotland in treating the Transport Planning Professional qualification (TPP), and from now on its associated transport planning qualifications, as essential for staff working on transport projects.
  • Transport projects that increase carbon emissions must be withdrawn and funding for low and zero-carbon transport projects and networks increased. In addition, transport spending is done in silos – the government should use sub-national transport bodies to overcome these silos and plan transport on a multi-modal basis.
  • Local authorities should have a long-term funding regime for transport, bringing together different funding streams and with less competition and bidding, so that they can plan ahead and spend effectively.
  • The government should reduce the cost of using public transport and allow local authorities to do so in their areas.

Stephen Bennett, chair of the Transport Planning Society, said: “Transport planning is about improving people’s lives and creating better places by developing an efficient, integrated and healthy transport system. Our State of the Nations report takes stock of where we are with transport planning in Great Britain, identifying our strengths and areas for improvement.

“The new research by experts at the University of Hertfordshire makes clear that to create a sustainable system and healthier places for people, we need to release ourselves from car dependency. That means government seriously shifting resources to sustainable transport, ensuring this is integrated with the planning system and reducing the cost of using public transport. We need to make sustainable modes of transport the easiest and safest choices, resulting in cleaner air, healthier lifestyles and potential savings.

“I hope my fellow planners and policymakers will read the report with interest and reflect on what we can all do better.”

Dr Scott Copsey, director of the Smart Mobility Unit at the University of Hertfordshire, added: “This report was written at a time of profound and rapid change in travel patterns, policy and spending, with the impact of Covid-19 and lockdown being felt across the country. However, the major challenges the sector faces, particularly on decarbonising transport, remain the same.

“To reduce transport emissions in Britain, the way we travel must significantly change. There needs to be a reduction in car and other vehicle travel, as well as a move towards electric vehicles. We look forward to continuing working with governments and local authorities to help meet these important emissions challenges.”

State of the Nations can be found here on the Transport Society website (pdf).

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