Back in 2000, the government published its Ten Year Transport Plan promising £121 billion of investment and “the long-term framework required for developing and delivering big projects”. Transport minister Gus Macdonald said there would be new investment on a scale that would achieve real change to 2010 and beyond.
Oddly, no-one seems to talk about the Ten Year Plan any more. Instead we have been subjected to another bout of doubt and inactivity waiting for The Next Big Thing in Transport – the Eddington report.
Sir Rod Eddington does make some important points in the report. For instance, he recognises that economic growth drives transport demand. And he says: “A comprehensive and high-performing transport system is an important enabler of sustained economic prosperity: a five per cent reduction in travel time for all business and freight travel on the roads could generate around £2.5 billion of cost savings.”
I know that these things are obvious, but there have been plenty of politicians who have tried to deny them in the past.
Eddington points out that “this creates both opportunities and challenges – including the impact on the environment. Government and the private sector will need to show considerable foresight to deliver a transport system capable of supporting the continued success of the UK economy.”
He argues that, because the UK is already well connected, the key economic challenge is to improve the performance of the existing network. The government should prioritise action on those parts of the system where networks are critical in supporting economic growth. The strategic priorities for long-term transport policy should be congested urban areas and their catchments; the key inter-urban corridors; and the key international gateways.
He is also a fan of road user charging. Transport economists love road user charging, which is why it always comes up in these reports. The trouble is that, for the voters, it has all the appeal of a poke in the eye. Introducing it will be a long, slow and painful process – assuming there is a politician willing to risk his career to do so.
In the meantime, congestion on the key freight transport routes will increase unless action is taken. Eddington has spoken. The task now is to get on and do something about it.
Malory Davies FCILT, Editor