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What did the Budget do for sustainable transport?

Stephen Joseph's picture
Photo: bus passengers

Well the Budget has happened, and we’ve had time to go through the large amount of paperwork that always comes out from the Treasury after the Budget speech. How did our budget proposals fare?

The answer is that we did have some successes. The Chancellor did announce a Clean Air Fund, and in fact the consultation document on it picks up many of our other proposals – better and cheaper bus services, more funding for cycling and walking and other measures such as car clubs and bike hire at stations. This is clearly significant, since for the first time for a while the Government is consulting on giving money to sustainable local transport.

The Budget also included more money for improving transport in cities, and this is clearly going to increase funding for cycling and walking and for better local public transport, so there too we had a success. 

Some of our proposals, though not in the Budget, may happen in the future – for example, our proposed Network Development Fund for new and reopened lines and stations may form part of rail investment proposals still to come. As it was, the Budget did include funding for some specific rail schemes – the Oxford-Cambridge railway line got firm funding for its first stage. Linked to this, there was some initial funding for reopening the line to Cowley and a new station at Cambridge South, as well as a study on future rail development in Cambridgeshire, which will definitely include reopening the line to Wisbech. The Tyne & Wear Metro is also getting new trains, which we’ve been supporting.

The electric bikes funding may also happen as part of the wider funding for electric vehicles – the transport minister in charge of cycling has signalled his support for this. 

Some of the other Budget measures will also help sustainable transport. Buried in the announcements about housing, there’s a new and welcome emphasis on building new housing in cities and around public transport (as recommended in our report, Getting There), with new financing powers to do this and new planning guidance on minimum densities around stations. This is a big change – recent housing policy has been based on private developers building urban extensions, often with no public transport or local facilities, and adding to traffic, pollution and dependence on the car, so this will help make public transport more viable and also potentially provide developer funding for it.

We did also get some progress on some of the other more detailed suggestions we’d made. The Government launched a consultation yesterday on reforming the levy on heavy lorries, which could result in a proper distance-based charging scheme and make rail freight more competitive. There were extra charges on diesel cars. And there were also extra taxes on premium air tickets and business jets.   

All of this is welcome, but it has to be said that several of our proposals didn’t get anywhere. On rail fares, all we got was an extension to the young person’s railcard from 26 to 30. This is welcome, but doesn’t do anything about the fares rises due in the New Year or the failure to provide season tickets for part-time workers. Nor did we get any real extra money for buses, meaning that these are going to continue to be cut back and become more expensive. As rail and bus get dearer, car use will get cheaper, as the Chancellor again refused to increase taxation on fuel, and boasted about the £46bn this freeze had cost. For rural areas especially, the Budget had little cheer. There wasn’t even extra funding for road repairs, despite this being top of the wish lists for motorists. Instead we had lots of talk, and support, on driverless car technology, without any acknowledgement of the issues that this brings. 

So thanks for all your support – we did make a difference, and we’ll continue campaigning for the ones that got away. 

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