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Rail and road planning must be joined up – MPs

Passenger and freight traffic must be better coordinated across the UK’s road and rail infrastructure to deliver future prosperity, the Transport Committee has stated. 

Launching two reports – one examining the proposed planning policy framework for nationally significant road and rail infrastructure projects and the other examining the strategic road network in England – the MPs added that effective regulation and long-term funding plans are essential for investment in the country’s transport network. 

Louise Ellman MP, chair of the Transport Committee, said: “The DfT must plan for new road and rail investment by looking at future passenger and freight demand by route or region, not by looking at road or rail in isolation from each other, as is done at the moment. 

“There must also be a more transparent system for road planning as part of a wider national transport strategy. As part of this, the DfT’s National Transport Model (NTM) should be subjected to proper scrutiny. The Department has already conceded that it does not work well for forecasting London traffic and needs to be reviewed.” 

In their report examining the National Policy Statement on National Networks, the Transport Committee recommended that the DfT needs to specify more types of transport scheme – such as enhancements to promote regional economic development; better east-west connectivity on the railways; better road and rail connections to ports and airports and to parts of the country currently not well served by existing infrastructure. 

It should also provide clearer guidance about when the benefits arising from any scheme would justify such impacts; address criticisms of the DfT’s road and rail demand forecasts more explicitly; and include an estimate of the impact on UK carbon emissions of meeting projected demand for growth in road traffic by building more road infrastructure. 

In the Strategic Road Network report, it was stated that if DfT traffic forecasts are correct (SRN traffic will increase by 46% by 2040), the government will need to increase investment in the road network substantially during the next decade. 

Therefore, the Transport Committee has suggested that the DfT must develop a transparent system of road planning as part of a wider national transport strategy. The DfT's NTM should be subject to wider scrutiny. And the DfT should commission integrated passenger and freight plans for strategic transport routes, rather looking at one mode of transport in isolation. 

Additionally, the MPs were not convinced by the case for establishing the Highways Agency as a government-owned company (GoCo). They said: “We strongly support the five-year funding plans being introduced for the agency, but do not believe that a change in the agency's status is required for their delivery. If the Highways Agency becomes a GoCo, it will need a strong system of scrutiny. The current proposals for this are inadequate. The new scrutiny body will need the power of a full regulatory authority.” 

In response to the reports, a Department for Transport spokeswoman said the government was tripling the amount of investment in roads to over £3bn a year and will spend £28bn up to 2021. 

“Our reforms to the Highways Agency will make sure this money is spent efficiently by introducing long-term funding and independent scrutiny,” she added. “Alongside our National Policy Statement which supports a balanced package of developments across the road and rail networks – including investment in sustainable transport – our plans will ensure road users get a network that is fit for the 21st century.” 

However, Ellman stated that if the Committee’s recommendations are overlooked then the UK won’t develop the kind of transport infrastructure that it needs over the longer term. 

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