Transport Minister Grant Shapps has announced his candidacy for the position of Prime Minister and with two others yesterday the field is getting quite crowded.
But Shapps has a very poor record as Transport Minister. Among his negative contributions has been the promotion of Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) to tackle the Covid epidemic – a totally misconceived policy and implemented without local consultations; support for HS2 – an enormous white elephant; a rewrite of the Highway Code which makes some people more equal than others on the road; a £2 billion investment in cycling and walking to promote “active travel” and “behaviour change” and he keeps bailing out Transport for London (TfL) allowing Sadiq Khan to continue to run an uneconomic service instead of reforming it. His response to the national rail strikes has also been to line up for a fight with the unions while committing £1 billion to “modernisation” of the railways; basically throwing more money at an uneconomic and outdated transport technology.
Meanwhile the road transport network gets ever more congested and drivers pay ever more in taxes and road charges such as in CAZ and ULEZ schemes.
I certainly would not support Shapps for Prime Minister. But what of the other candidates? A number wish to cut taxes. A laudable policy but to be able to do that without increasing public borrowing means a reduction in public expenditure. None seem to be promising that (for example Shapps wants to spend considerably more on defence).
We would all like a cut in the price of diesel/petrol which might help to stimulate the economy as high prices impact the delivery of goods and services. But most of the increase of late has come from the market price of oil not from taxes (Fuel Duty rates have actually been reduced recently).
Rishi Sunak seems to be one of the few candidates who is wisely not promising hand-outs to the electorate if he gets the job.
But no doubt we will learn more about the other candidates over the next few weeks. As in previous Conservative Party elections, it may be a case of who avoids the most gaffs and who is least disliked by MPs that wins the day. Boris Johnson only got the job because he seemed likely to break the deadlock over Brexit but there should surely be no rush to appoint a replacement.
The good news is that Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham is proposing to drop plans for a Clean Air Zone (CAZ) scheme that would charge motorists similar to the Birmingham and London schemes. But it depends on agreement with the Government. The charging scheme had already been “paused” until 2026 but now looks like it will be scrapped. Signs already put up for the scheme will need to be removed. See https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-manchester-61439444 for more details.
The bad news is that the Daily Telegraph have reported that the Government is to finance Mini-Holland cycling schemes to encourage people to ditch their cars in Britain’s major cities under government plans.
Nineteen local authorities, including Manchester, Hull and Nottinghamshire, are to get government funds for mini-Hollands with segregated bike lanes, traffic calming and residential streets blocked to cars.
Comment: I cannot understand why people think that Holland is a good example to follow. There may be more cycling in some Dutch cities such as Amsterdam but nationally there are more casualties to cyclists than in the UK and traffic congestion is also worse. There is no evidence that introducing such schemes increases cycling (or “active travel”) in the UK. Cycling remains a fair-weather transport mode only followed by young males in flat locations. If people calling for mini-Hollands actually bothered to visit Holland they would see a very different picture. The only good aspect is that Holland has encouraged more off-road cycle paths that separate vehicle traffic from cyclists.
Instead of spending £200 million on encouraging cycling the Government should spend it on improving the road network to improve road safety and cut traffic congestion.
Another good article in the Telegraph was entitled “Why Boris and the elite are determined to wean us off the car”. It said “Exasperated motorists are feeling pushed out of the picture with rising fuel costs, congestion charges, low traffic zones and speeding fines, and motorists, especially those who travel into cities, feel they are being hit from every direction. Dead ahead there are closed off roads in low traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs); to the left there are automated cameras monitoring their every move; to the right low emission zones and 20mph limits. And all around are parking charges and fuel costs that put a hefty dent in your wallet”; “There has now developed in Government an anti-car attitude as opposed to car management, a hostility to the motor vehicle rather than how we can manage this, says former transport minister John Spellar. He puts this down to a London-centric approach to transport that focuses on the problems cars cause in congested cities and ignores different conditions in other areas. As Spellar points out, working Britons outside the capital – particularly manual and shift workers – often rely on their vehicles to get to work, unlike city commuters who can travel by train”. See https://www.telegraph.co.uk/cars/features/boris-elite-determined-wean-us-car/ for the full article.
While Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, plans to expand his ULEZ scheme, in Manchester there has been a very effective campaign against their proposed CAZ scheme. Mayor Andy Burnham is now back-tracking on the proposals.
Daily charges for the most polluting vehicles that don’t meet emission standards – HGVs, buses, non-Greater Manchester licensed taxis and Private Hire Vehicles (PHVs) – had been due to begin on 30 May 2022 but will now not go ahead. The withdrawn legal direction would have led to charges for non-compliant vans, Greater Manchester-licensed taxis and private hire vehicles (PHVs) from June 2023. Private cars, motorcycles and mopeds were exempt. Concerns about financial hardship for local people and the availability of compliant vehicles led the Mayor of Greater Manchester and Greater Manchester local authority leaders to ask government to lift its legal direction. Greater Manchester’s 10 local authorities have until 1 July 2022 to work with government to develop a new plan that will clean up the air while protecting livelihoods.
The campaign against the Manchester CAZ has 90,000 supporters under the banner Rethink GM. Go here for more information: www.rethinkgm.co.uk and to register support. On the home page click “Forums” then “Register” with just your name and email. The web site also provides a link to an active Facebook page.
Meanwhile the London Borough of Bromley have shown that it is not necessary to impose expensive ULEZ or CAZ schemes to clean up the air (most of that borough is outside the London ULEZ scheme). A press release from Bromley reports that updated data from the London Atmospheric Emissions Inventory shows that between 2016 and 2019 there was a 23% decline in NO2 across the borough, a 19% decline in PM2.5 and a 28% decline in PM10 particulates.
Bromley claims to now be the “cleanest and greenest borough in London”.
Comment: Bromley has of course ignored demands for LTNs and road closures and is keen to keep traffic moving. But they have pursued positive initiatives such as electric bus trials. Unlike many Labour controlled boroughs in London they have taken a more empirical and less dogmatic approach to the air quality issue.
Readers are reminded that the London ULEZ did little to contribute to improvements in air quality so why is the Mayor wanting to expand it? See https://freedomfordrivers.blog/2021/11/17/ulez-had-minimal-impact-on-air-pollution/ . It will cost a great deal to install hundreds of new cameras to expand the zone and high operating costs, apart from the impact on residents who will need to buy new vehicles or pay £12.50 per day. Although the Mayor says he has abandoned the idea of a boundary charge for people driving into London from outside, the extra cameras will make it very easy to introduce such a scheme!