LS8 UK : VTT rando Transport and Culture

On March 31 2006 82 English Local Authorities handed in to the Dept for Transport their final 2nd Local Transport Plans. On April 1 2006 the new LTPs took effect.

The railways are reviving a bit, but with firm timelines on road-pricing perceived as too risky, Labour continues to distance itself from its pre '97 pledges on roads and transport.

LS8 namechecks a few big road schemes, focuses on the new(ish) planning framework for roads and discusses the finance.

Policing on bikes looks set to expand further in summer 2007 at force, station and PCSO team level. Police interest in a new generation of electric bikes is also strong in some areas. How is the case for police on bikes proving so compelling?

July 2007: over 11 years since the first Reclaim the Streets party (and that’s our parasol in a bucket of sand stopping the records melting in Pershore Road, Birmingham).

The movement baffled the media, broadening to take in striking dockers, went global, then turned on capitalism itself. Its end as a victim of its own success was probably inevitable, but we ask a few questions anyway. With lots of flyers you won’t find anywhere else.

travel to airport

Binge-flying is with us for the time being, so at least get people on public transport to get to the airport. In Scotland you get half-price rail travel to and from Prestwick airport from any station in Scotland on day of flight, and possibly (depends which website you read) free rail travel to Prestwick for the first 6 months of any new air service. The fares are subsidised by Prestwick itself. If it’s a web booking, you just show your printout. It means Prestwick to Glasgow Central, bought off the conductor, is £2.95.

lake district to london

From January 2009, a Pendolino journey from Oxenholme in the Lake District to London Euston will take 2 hours 34 minutes. The French TGV speeds may be very impressive, but if Branson can squeeze that sort of journey time out of the existing UK network then it makes a dedicated high-speed network for the UK look pretty dubious beside small measures to further chip away at journey times. Maybe a concensus on rail is beginning to form around a viewpoint expressed by Tom Riordan of Yorkshire Forward talking about the Eddington Report published in December 2006: “We can already get to London from Leeds in two hours ten, and making better use of the existing system seems sensible.”

More from Sidelines including

Police on mountain bikes

Your chances of seeing a policeman on a Velo Tout Terrain are probably the best they’ve been for 30 years. What’s causing the revival?

a Specialized Rockhopper police bikeIn most UK cities, and especially in London, the police are using cycles again in some shape or form. They’re being used in standard beat / patrol work, but also more proactively as a response vehicle targetting drug trafficking, other street crime and major incidents. Bike patrols are policing Roundhay Park, Leeds, Birmingham retail and business district, Edinburgh city centre, Brighton seafront and Cardiff Bay. In London, the number of bikes in the Metropolitan Police increased from just over 400 in summer 2005 to 1500 in December 2006, while the City of London (Square Mile) bike squad has risen from 14 at its inception in 2003 to 20 officers and 2 specials [February 2007].

In West Yorkshire the police report, “Recently, [May 2006] a member of the public walked into Wood Street Police station [Wakefield] and handed over a cheque for £500 for the police to buy another bike for the area in which he lives.”
Some stations are still finding it difficult to get them in the budget; until they have been seen to work the beat officer may doubt their value. Once used, they are a unanimous success. Birmingham introduced 6 in April 2004. The team had great successes and soon supervision introduced a further 20 bikes. A superintendant in Chapeltown, Leeds, initially a doubter of the Cycle Unit introduced in 2004, said “I am now convinced by the effectiveness of these bikes”. The bike paramedics introduced in Aylesbury in 2006 have “proved better than I expected them to” according to the assistant operations manager for Mid Bucks ambulances [January 2007]. "

Tipton police on Santa Cruz Chameleon Pursuit Pro bikes
Tipton police on Santa Cruz Chameleons
(October 2005)

vtt

Their success isn’t surprising and the advantages are common sense: one issue police talk about is the “stealth factor”. South Gloucestershire found them useful “to police Halloween [2005] as we can surprise the groups of youths by popping up where they least expect us”. (In spooky masks maybe?) They’re obviously good at getting to incidents in places like playing fields or canal towpaths. In Liverpool bikes were bought initially to target crime on the SUSTRANS Loopline bike route which follows a disused rail route: a place where a suspect who ran off could not be followed by a car. Bikes were again deployed on the Loopline in summer 2006. Bikes are uniquely good for stopping offenders on bikes. The Metropolitan Police estimate that 30% of street robberies in their area, that is all of London except the City, are done by offenders on bikes. [February 2007.] In Sheffield, “After a spate of muggings and robberies in pedestrian underpasses, [bike] beats were adapted to include these areas. Virtually overnight this type of crime disappeared.” There is growing recognition that bikes are the best response vehicle for some types of incident: following mass-fighting in a Maidenhead suburb, a resident said: “What we need is police coming around on bicycles - they can zip and catch people.” [April 2007].

Officers on bikes were among the first sent to the scene of the London Aldgate bombing on July 7 2005
They are also quick. In central Birmingham police report that “There are numerous instances where bikes respond better than cars”; in the City of London, where there are more bikes on patrol than cars, response times have halved with the use of bikes, and cycle police are sent to every grade 1 call from 7am to 11pm [February 2007]. Bike squads are being used to search an area such as a housing estate quickly following a crime. Falkirk police report success in dealing with teenagers on mini-motos (spring 2006). They’re easy for the public to flag down and talk to. They’ve been used as a barrier to establish a safe area on the road following an accident. Also reported is the way they break down barriers with kids who want to know about the bikes. And they can only be good for the overall status and profile of cyclists generally, a group still regarded as deviants by many other road users. If police use bikes, it shows it’s a sensible, fast way to get around. They’re cheap (and sometimes donated or sponsored): Glasgow City Council in 2000 reported that “15 officers can be deployed for the same cost as supplying and equipping one car”. (Many forces, though not all, send officers on training so that may need to be factored into the cost. In Scotland, for example, officers from Central, Fife, Lothian & Borders, Dumfries and Galloway, Tayside and Strathclyde have been sent on Cycling Scotland training in the 2 years to summer 2006 ). And they keep the police fit. In the second half of 2002 the York Community Cycle Unit ran a six month pilot project involving one Sergeant and three PCs; there was no absenteeism through sickness.

At Portsmouth Town and Southampton football matches since season 2003 - 2004 police on bikes have been deployed for crowd control. In season 2006 - 2007 4 officers are being deployed at smaller games and up to 12 at big games (in pairs). They can watch rival fans further from the ground than police on foot so are an early warning system, and can act quickly to outflank a crowd or block a road if problems are developing. Each pair also has a camcorder for filming incidents. This concept may be extended to send real-time footage back to a control room to help make decisions. Other parts of the country are showing interest; at Liverpool and Everton home games plain-clothes police on bikes are deployed. Bike police were deployed at the 2006 Badminton Horse Trials and York Races 2006. Bike teams worked at the Glastonbury festival in 2004 and 2005.

mountain bikes

The drawbacks: not being able to transport people arrested, and when attending a large incident the bike isn’t as quick as a car to secure. In the first case a car can be called. In the second case, cycling in 2s at least reduces the chances of a bike being stolen at a large incident, and some orders for bikes request a brake-mount fitted front-wheel lock which needs a key only to open it. A final drawback is that you can imagine them being less popular in really hilly cities like Bradford or Halifax or places in the Welsh Valleys.

If the Smith and Wesson gun - bike crossover seems strange, remember BSA, best known for bikes, motorised and otherwise, stands for Birmingham Small Arms. BSA was originally, and is still, a gun manufacturer.
What about the bikes themselves? Reliability and strength are more important than performance. Often they’ll cover large distances every day, and kevlar anti-puncture tyre liners are useful. They are likely to be thrown down on concrete quite frequently. Front suspension for ease of mounting and dropping from kerbs in housing estates seems to be a given. The main supplier to West Yorkshire police is looking at powder-coated frames, a painting technique first used in 1967, which provides an incredibly tough finish (June 2006). There’s a wide range of bikes in use at the moment, reflecting the haphazard way they were being introduced in ones and twos, although things are now getting more focussed. Nottingham use a mixture of Raleigh, Diamondback and Dawes to patrol the Meadows, a large inner city estate full of ginnels and alleys. Central Birmingham’s 26 Kona Hoss’s (2004 model) presumably have plenty of street cred. City of London, West Midlands and South Yorkshire police have all been supplied with (very high-spec) Chameleon Pursuit Pro bikes by Santa Cruz bikes. In fact Santa Cruz are the force approved bike in South Yorkshire and City of London (February 2007). Santa Cruz are also in Kent, the Met, West Mercia and Hampshire forces. Elsewhere Specialized are popular; after that it’s a mixture of Giants, Treks, Saracens, Claude Butlers and many others. Where there’s a more coordinated approach to buying bikes, sometimes the Smith and Wesson “Tactical” and “Custom” and lower spec “Perimeter” models are being chosen. The American weapons manufacturer only started making bikes in 1997, but their police bikes became popular in the US and are starting to do quite well here. Contracts exist for Smith and Wessons with the Metropolitan, Sussex, West Mercia, West Midlands, Kent and Hampshire police. (January 2007). They arrive white from the US and get marked up by suppliers over here, although unmarked undercover bikes are also used. The Perimeter tends to be chosen for beat work and the Tactical and Custom for more pro-active work which is likely to need more off-road cycling.

“I found that to get police officers to actually use them they have to look right.” Wrexham Inspector, 2007.
In Wrexham, Powercruiser electric bikes have been used since January 2007. They provide an equal amount of power to that being exerted by the rider on the pedal and are virtually silent. They look very much like an ordinary mountain bike. The battery does weigh 4kg though; furthermore a Brixham (Devon) PC who trialled the Powercruiser in March 2007 found the battery “only lasts about an hour on our hilly terrain before a 2 hour re-charge is required”.

The kit that goes with the bikes is the clothes (shorts, waterproofs, flourescent tops, gloves, shoes etc), bags and racks, blue lights, sirens, marked helmets, locks and other optional extras. Kent police’s Mountain Bike Patrol Policy provides a good example.

It’s perhaps not surprising that London, the only British city to be putting serious money into developing its cycling infrastructure, is leading the way. But where London leads, the rest of Britain often follows, so if you haven’t seen a policeman on a mountain bike yet, keep looking.

Sidelines

Tuesday, June 26th

travel to airport

Binge-flying is with us for the time being, so at least get people on public transport to get to the airport. In Scotland you get half-price rail travel to and from Prestwick airport from any station in Scotland on day of flight, and possibly (depends which website you read) free rail travel to Prestwick for the first 6 months of any new air service. The fares are subsidised by Prestwick itself. If it’s a web booking, you just show your printout. It means Prestwick to Glasgow Central, bought off the conductor, is £2.95.
26.06.07 @ 06:32 PM CST [link]

Monday, June 11th

lake district to london

From January 2009, a Pendolino journey from Oxenholme in the Lake District to London Euston will take 2 hours 34 minutes. The French TGV speeds may be very impressive, but if Branson can squeeze that sort of journey time out of the existing UK network then it makes a dedicated high-speed network for the UK look pretty dubious beside small measures to further chip away at journey times. Maybe a concensus on rail is beginning to form around a viewpoint expressed by Tom Riordan of Yorkshire Forward talking about the Eddington Report published in December 2006: “We can already get to London from Leeds in two hours ten, and making better use of the existing system seems sensible.”
11.06.07 @ 07:23 PM CST [link]

Saturday, April 14th

charity shops

Britain does badly, at least compared to most of northern Europe, when it comes to many areas of recycling: Germany’s beer bottle recycling, for instance, is a great feat of central planning and legislation. But thanks to charity shops, Britain probably leads the developed world in recycling certain items: clothes, books and videos spring to mind. Charity shops have also played a big part in keeping high-streets ticking over as they struggle to compete with out-of-town retail parks. It’s strange that they’re largely forgotten and overlooked by politicians and economists.
14.04.07 @ 08:02 PM CST [link]

Thursday, March 29th

more on branson

Richard Branson’s low-key pledge to invest all profits from rail and air interests into renewable energy initiatives for the next 10 years looks generous: it’s hard to think of another British company offering anything altruistic on that potential scale. On the railways, it would be interesting to know whether there is scope for electrifying more of the network; Virgin’s Voyagers need 3 diesel engines to match the speed and power of their electric Pendolinos but obviously a lot of their network is on unelectrified lines.
29.03.07 @ 10:22 PM CST [link]

Tuesday, January 30th

igneous

Halford and Market St are the latest streets in Leicester to be made over with granite paving slabs and granite seats. Apparently Britain, which quarried the granite for the terraces of Parliament and managed to build the world’s 2nd largest granite building, no longer has granite suppliers able to supply enough for the Leicester work, so they are using Chinese granite.
30.01.07 @ 05:58 PM CST [link]

Friday, January 26th

big schemes

The North East Scotland Regional Transport Strategy in its current form supports 3 major road-traffic generators: the AWPR, Balmedie dualling and the new runway; the schemes intended to “balance” these pale into insignificance: a new wooden platform at Laurencekirk, more frequent crossrail services (a good idea but still only half-hourly for the foreseeable future), vague plans for cyclists etc. Lots of people will benefit from the new runway, but how about a significant pledge: all cash spent on the airport will be matched by a similar amount spent on getting people TO the airport without their cars. There is more pie in the sky talk about a fixed link to the airport that just won’t happen, but there’s already a fixed link to the airport: Dyce station. It just happens to be on the wrong side of the airport. Would it be impossible to dig a tunnel under the runways and put one a moving walkway in it?
26.01.07 @ 07:32 PM CST [link]

Sunday, January 14th

bring on Branson

Some good things have happened since Branson started running trains in the west of Britain. The Voyagers are good, the Pendolinos are even better. The acceleration out of stations can’t fail to impress. It’s very quiet on board. The curved toilet area is so good that hiding in it is probably a viable option on short journies. The booking website genuinely tries to get you the cheapest fare it can, some of which are very cheap. All in all it’s encouraging to see a bid from Branson (shared with Stagecoach) for the East Coast franchise.
14.01.07 @ 12:41 PM CST [link]

Reclaim the Streets

The first Reclaim the Streets party was on Camden High Street in May 1995. The speed at which the movement mushroomed was remarkable but created big problems.

If you were on the M41 on Saturday 13 July 1996, you’ll appreciate one of the issues that RTS events after that date faced: a roads / traffic protest couldn’t be done any better. Impossible to match for creativity and audacity. How many sound systems were out that day? At least 5 or 6 spread over half a mile of motorway, from the really big truck ones to things the size of milk floats. Mixed in with 30ft tall pantomime dames (hidden under their dresses, we found out later, the motorway was being drilled up), beautiful women walking around naked, tons of sand for children to play with, acoustic bands, massive banners on the nearby high-rises and sofas in the fast lane. From 12 noon at Liverpool St til nightfall, when we left the stragglers to it, it was the best party we ever went to and an awesome display of concern for the city environment.

We went to our first Reclaim the Streets party in Leicester the month before, and for the next 3 summers we averaged 1 in 4 or so. Bath, Birmingham, Bristol, Oxford, Sheffield, Nottingham, Wolverhampton, Manchester, Leicester again, London a few more times. It was a bit like going to the football: we jumped on the National Express and went somewhere different every Saturday.

There were always 2 Reclaim the Streets: London and everybody else. It’s one of the things the media couldn’t grasp. At events in the provinces the purity of the original parties remained. All it took was a few friends to decide a venue, someone knew someone with a sound system, fly-post it and put it through Schnews on the web, hide some tat nearby the night before in readiness, perhaps someone was willing to go up a tripod, and see what happened.

The provincial parties kept a single issue transport focus. You could see that in the signs and banners that people brought along. You met people who were angry about speeding traffic on their roads, who wanted their children to be able to play out in the back street, cyclists wanting to be considered in planning decisions, people worried about asthma and pollution, people fed up with 4WDs blocking the pavement. There were plenty of families and children. Maybe it was all the last gasp of a generation that could remember a time when streets were about more than cars.

London RTS were different. We weren’t involved, but clearly the planners were capable of strategic decisions and had a sense of where they were going. As early as 1996 on the M41, a huge banner expressed solidarity with striking tube workers. Later that summer they aligned themselves with striking dockers at an event in Liverpool.

The Never Mind the Ballots event a couple of weeks before the 1997 election was overtly about more than roads and traffic, beginning with a March for Social Justice with the striking Liverpool dockers and other groups. This event, like several others that summer, ended in police charges and bottles flying around. Some of the events were attracting people who knew there was a good chance of a mini riot towards the end.

Likewise the taking on of a wider social agenda. It was an entirely reasonable decision: after all, where could things go after the M41? A lot of momentum had built up by that stage and it was wise to use it. But the ideology got trickier from there in. It’s easy to see there are too many cars driving too fast. The evidence is there every time you open your front door. But striking dockers? You have to understand the issues a bit to feel strongly about that one. The waters had been muddied; some might say the original ideals had been compromised, even if the London events could be breathtakingly big, great fun and probably kept inspiring people to organise the smaller ones.

The 1998 Reclaim the Summit: Send in the Clowns event in Birmingham, to coincide with the G8 in that city, was huge, a London event outside the capital. We were living in Birmingham at the time, and the menacing clown posters and superb information leaflets came from outside.

In fact at this point, even we begin to wonder how it was all being organised. Who was paying? How did it all manage to go so international so suddenly? There were 24 parties in 16 countries that day to mark Clinton and the rest in Birmingham. The US-centric view of the world bangs on endlessly about Seattle, but mass-protest at political summits restarted that weekend in Birmingham. A few weeks later there were 2 simultaneous and good-natured London parties north and south of the river, a success described by a London long-termer as “against all odds” in view of the strains in the movement as pressure was applied from within for a big change of direction.

LS8 Sidelines
“Because having a life without a car is better than having a car without having a life”. Bristol flyer

“In it [the street], we begin to see how our home is connected to that home, this house to that house, this street to that street, this city to all those other cities, my experience to yours”. flyer for Reclaim the Summit

“We are not leaving until every car is a flowerpot” Brighton flyer

The turning point was really the Carnival against Capitalism the following year. A London organiser told us how the massive success from 1996 onwards had attracted new people to the meetings, bringing a hostile class-based agenda to bear on those who had nurtured the movement. Apparently there was a general exodus of women from the meetings around that time. By organising the event in the City of London and encouraging the disruption of business, the outcome greater or lesser was surely anticipated. There were rivers of broken glass coming down the escalators at the Futures Exchange and plenty of other demolition, a comprehensive smashing of a MacDonald’s, the food making equipment and cash tills all out in the street, and damaged banks and car-dealerships. We became aware that the families that had marked the parties in the early years seemed to have been replaced by masked Spanish men, throwing bottles badly from the back of the crowd. A gift to the media trying to simplify events. A gift to the police who were probably itching for the sort of legislation we find ourselves with today. All in all, if the Carnival was your thing, then fine, but it had nothing to do with Reclaim the Streets as many knew it. The City was severely disrupted, the establishment felt threatened, and suddenly Reclaim the Streets were on the front pages for the first time.


The Telegraph had pages of coverage, thrashing around in the dark to come up with “Protest hatched on the Internet” and a leader containing the risible “The bicycles of Reclaim the Streets and Critical Mass which are used to obstruct ordinary traffic are [capitalism’s] products”. And if that was the Telegraph, we can only imagine the concoctions of the Sun and Mail. But the same Telegraph leader showed the depth of fear generated: “Yesterday’s attack on the City and those who work there also threatened the structure of a civil society”.

Up to that point, the police and state had on the whole been surprisingly tolerant of the street parties. In any other country you simply wouldn’t have got away with it. But after this event, the police not surprisingly got tough and maybe were ordered to. Probably the Home Office would be saying this mustn’t happen again.

Numbers seemed down a bit at the following year’s big RTS London event, Guerilla Gardening. The leaflets explaining the optimism behind the event were the best yet, and some great building of stuff like compost toilets happened in Parliament Square. But police tactics had changed dramatically; the crowd was just penned into an increasingly small space for hours on end while police filmed everybody and grabbed the odd person. Nobody is allowed out of the pen and it becomes increasingly uncomfortable and above all boring. The media, hyped up in advance this time, were once again given a gift: statues of war heroes along Whitehall and the Cenotaph were graffitied.

The provincial parties had died out now. Numbers were down again at the 2001 big London event, Mayday Monopoly. A booklet, detailing the role of each square on the Monopoly board in the capitalist system, was stunning, but our memory of the day was being penned in Oxford Circus for 7 hours with the crowd at the main afternoon event. Subsequent events have reflected widely felt concerns about issues like arms dealing, but have been smaller still, reflecting the success of police spoiling tactics.

Our deep gratitude to everyone who has helped make the parties happen, especially the ones who took big risks up tripods or driving sound systems.

The new roads programme

Summer 2007. Local authorities can press on with the road schemes contained in their new Local Transport Plans; cash available for new national trunk roads is up on a year ago. Steps towards managing demand for road-space are tentative and apologetic at best.

2006 was another year of major investment in both motorway / trunk and local road building, with work starting or plans being progressed for schemes originating from the announcement of the sums of money available for roadbuilding in the 10 years to 2010. The Highways Agency’s budget for major schemes for 2006 - 2007 is £1.046 billion, up from £599 million in 2005 - 2006. Roadbuilding announcements in March 2005 and September 2005 will keep this figure high for the next few years.

To recap briefly, on coming to power Labour suspended most of the road schemes proposed by the Conservatives, and their White Paper on integrated transport seemed to confirm a move towards alternative solutions to congestion. It faced, however, a backlash from motoring lobby groups like the AA and the freight industry, and business interests like the CBI and Regional Development Authorities who lobbied more effectively than in the 90s. Afraid also of losing favour, as always, with some of the press, who quickly depicted Labour as anti-motorist and mounted an effective support campaign for the fuel protests, they retreated, not even fighting a rearguard action, and in July 2000 announced major road building plans at all levels. It seems that the 1989 programme of the Conservatives may be implemented, at least in part.

The M6 Junctions 11a to 19 widening is put at £2.9 billion assuming a completion date of 2017.
Back to 2007, and how much do all these roads cost? A written response by Stephen Ladyman in October 2006 was that new motorways cost on average £29.9 million per mile, dual carriageways on average £16.2 million and single carriageway £10.6 million. The latest estimate for the planned (and from the M25 to south Luton, in progress) 240 mile M1 widening project is £5.1 billion, which works out at £21 million per mile [March 2007]. Announcements in March 2005 about Yorkshire mean work may be underway on widening almost half of the M1 in 2009. The M25 was recently widened to 5 and 6 lanes either way between the M3 and M4 (work completed November 2005), with plans for widening a further 66 miles (most of the remaining 3 lane sections) by 2016 at a cost recently upped from £1.6 billion to £2.2billion [July 2006]. The A1 is being upgraded in many places such as from Ripon to Scotch Corner which alone will cost a third of a billion pounds. A series of schemes to turn the entire A66 into a dual carriageway fit for heavy HGV use is ongoing with the latest sections to start work those from Carkin Moor to Scotch Corner and Greta Bridge to Stephen Bank [August 2006]. The cost will be at least £128 million. The A14 Ellington to Fen Ditton improvement, the biggest non-motorway scheme in the Highways Agency’s programme, which could start work in 2010, is estimated at between £617 and £714 million [March 2007]. This is a big increase on the latest ministerial approved budget of £490 million: in fact costs are often upwardly adjusted as a project gets further into the approval process, and then there are still cost overruns, as reported in Parliament in July 2006. Schemes for widening and dualling feeder roads around motorways like the A453 from Nottingham to the M1 also feature at a national level, and are likely to become more pressing as motorway capacity increases. Transport 2000 make a case that the conditions are being created by stealth for the development of the Outer London Orbital last promoted in 1989.

Though the M6 Expressway was dropped on July 20 2006 in favour of widening, the pressure on motorway capacity is likely to generate other parallel motorway proposals. A new £250 million toll motorway south of the existing M4 between between Cardiff and Newport is climbing up the agenda and work could begin in 2010.

The schemes discussed so far all fall into the Government’s / Highways Agency’s Targeted Programme of Improvements (TPI). The TPI comprises current or planned motorway and national trunk road schemes costing over £5 million. In March 2007 the TPI represented £12 billion of schemes according to a Nichols Group report into management of major road projects. The TPI has developed alongside the 33 government commissioned Multi-Modal and Roads-Based studies which from 1997 looked at and reported back on transport issues along particular strategic corridors. In some cases the corridor was large, for example the south coast from Ramsgate to Southampton, in others quite short, for example the stretch from the M1 to the centre of Nottingham. It’s argued the composition of their steering groups created a headstart for roads-based solutions; most of the multimodal studies recommended major road building in their final reports published from late 2001. Further research has made some of these recommendations look highly questionable: in late 2005, for example, the Department for Transport contradicted the London - South Midlands Study by announcing that widening of the M11 near Stansted would not be needed until 2021 at the earliest.

At least 55 major roadbuilding schemes (£5 million plus) have been approved but are not yet underway in the regions. [July 2006].
The government’s target as laid down in the 10 year plan in 2000 was 100 bypasses and 130 major local road schemes by 2010. While those targets are not going to be met, many are under construction (Haydon Bridge, Ridgmont, Stoke Hammond and Linslade, Cradley Heath (part funded by Tesco), Temple Sowerby, Oakham, Dobwalls and Reighton to name just 1 from each of the regions.) [December 2006]. More air travel, meanwhile, is leading to a flurry of road schemes affecting access to airports such as Luton (new dual carriageway), Exeter (Clyst Honiton Bypass), Bournemouth (new access road across floodplains), Aberdeen (link to airport as part of new 43km city bypass) and Doncaster (proposal for new link road from M18).

Councils and business interests are promoting new road river crossings too. In March 2006 (then Secretary of State for Transport) Alastair Darling confirmed government funding for a new dual carriageway bridge between Runcorn and Widnes expected to cost over £300 million. A public inquiry is likely to follow. (Possible design below.) On July 21 2005, the government gave the go-ahead for a 2nd Tyne road tunnel costing about £180 million. Even the official pro-tunnel website admits the chosen immersed tube scheme will cause “Significant landscape and severance impacts”. It will be a toll tunnel: as with a toll road, the private operators will have an interest in increasing traffic levels. Work is scheduled to begin in 2007. A £500 million 6 lane dual carriageway Thames bridge in south east London completed its long public inquiry in April 2006. A new road crossing for the Forth is gradually being talked into existence; plans to manage demand for the existing one appear to be going nowhere after proving unpopular as a byelection issue in Fife in February 2006. Work began in May 2006 on a £75 million scheme to widen the M25 Holmesedale tunnel.

What’s changed since the early / mid 90s? For a start, since 1998 thousands of miles of “non-core” roads, including some motorways, have been detrunked: responsibility for their development passes from central government in the guise of the Highways Agency to the local transport authority: that is, normally, the city or county council. In theory, this should provide better opportunities for integration of transport at a local and regional level.

Detrunking has made it quite important to understand the new regional and local planning systems contained in the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act which was passed on May 13 2004. The systems are fairly complex.

There are now 9 Regional Spatial Strategies (RSSs) drawn up by Regional Planning Boards (RPBs) at (unelected) regional assembly level. A Regional Transport Strategy forms part of an RSS. RSSs reflect national and local government’s vision for each region over a period of 15 to 20 years: which broad areas should be Business Growth Zones, which housing and so on. Their legal status makes them hard to challenge once they’ve been adopted: regional government websites detail when this will be and should include the current RSS although in the complexity of a government website they are not always easy to find. “Broad public consultation” is required in their drawing up, although individual RPBs decide what this means. The RSS is submitted to a Secretary of State, who can make changes. A public examination may be held following these changes, although who the RPB contacts and invites to this is their own decision.

The RSS acts as a context for a number of documents known collectively as the Local Development Framework. Although highly complex, these actually speed up the planning process by offering fewer opportunities for challenge. The RSS of necessity feeds into the Local Transport Plan (LTP): if the RSS says a bigger airport is needed, the LTP has to consider how it would be accessed. Local authorities have since 1998 been required to produce 5 year Local Transport Plans for submission to the Department of Transport. These detail how the authority will deliver national and regional government’s transport objectives and by their quality are, among other things, a bidding document for government funds. Having received feedback from the Department for Transport in December 2005 for their Provisional plans, authorities had to hand in their final plans by March 31 2006. It’s difficult to generalise, although there is no doubt that the LTP2s keep many significant local road schemes on the agenda: the Shrewsbury North West Relief Road (now part of Shrewsbury’s TIF proposal; a business case for the proposal is being submitted to the Department For Transport in July 2007), the £95 million Norwich Northern Distributor Road, also part of TIF proposals (June 2007), the Weymouth Relief Road (with the county council moving towards Purchase Orders (June 2007) and the Hastings - Bexhill road for example.

The RFA prioritisation feedback in July 2006 confirmed no central government funding for Sheffield’s proposed tram extensions, but some emergency funding for Blackpool tram!
Also coming out of 2004 legislation was the requirement on the 8 regions outside London to bring together major local transport schemes (costing at least £5million) with certain TPI schemes on “Other National Routes” (PDF 1.46MB) (often referred to as routes of regional importance) in a prioritisation process. This was based on a projected sum of money set out in July 2005 known as the Regional Transport Allocation (PDF 674KB) which was intended to give an idea of regional budgets until 2015/16. These prioritisations were handed in to central Government for the first time in January 2006. The Department for Transport gave feedback on the regions’ prioritisations in early July 2006, with Douglas Alexander mainly endorsing the priorities set out: both public transport schemes such as a Manchester tram extension and some new road schemes (such as the East Kent Access Phase 2 (£64 million)). In the wake of the prioritisation process [November 2006], the Department for Transport is reviewing the national / regional importance route split because of a perceived difficulty getting road schemes on the edges of regions into a high priority position as their benefits may apply more to a neighbouring region.

In May 2007 the government revealed in a White Paper proposals to speed up the planning process for major infrastructure developments such as roads by replacing public inquiries for such schemes with a decision by a panel of experts. This would include planners, lawyers, environmentalists and community experts, with the public being involved through “open-floor debates”.

It’s clear that the roads lobbies have become more sophisticated since the 90s. Route Management Strategies, commissioned by the Highways Agency, are careful to put impact on wildlife and the environment at the top of their intended Route Outcomes. Multi-modal studies are happy to talk about buses, rail, trams, cycling and walking. Councils soften the blow of a new bypass by talking about it being part of a range of transport measures designed to provide solutions. For every road bridge proposal, there will be a plan for a cycle lane, for every road scheme, a new mammal tunnel or some newt fencing.

Will certain schemes focus protest, as last time round? If so, maybe the revived schemes through the South Downs around Hastings approved in late 2004, part of a route rejected in 2001? Stonehenge? The A417 up Crickley Hill, Gloucestershire, a study having recommended widening from 3 to 5 lanes with some sort of roundabout flyover at the top and dualling of nearby stretches? Scotland, which staged the biggest protest camp for a while against the Dalkeith Northern Bypass evicted over a few weeks in January 2006, has the M74 extension, a stilted motorway extension into Glasgow city centre, going against the findings of a public inquiry, and the Aberdeen bypass coming up. But it seems hard for protest camps to reach anything like the sizes of the mid 90s: Jobseekers Allowance has ensured that far fewer people are now politically active, not seeking employment. Engaging with the complexities of the planning processes seems to offer the best chance of affecting things this time.

“We must tackle a generation of under-investment in roads…” :CBI, May 2007.

Cost of M1 widening work in progress or in preparation in March 2007: £5.1 billion. Cost of proposal to remove national rail bottleneck at Reading station and improve journey times for 30 million passengers a year: £80 million. [July 2006.]

Newbury Weekly News, 4 November 2004:
“The first comprehensive traffic study of Newbury since the bypass was opened in 1998 has revealed that the roads are clogged again … Traffic on what is now the A339 fell by 26% after the bypass opened. That has now crept back up by 25 per cent - almost to pre-bypass levels.”

M6 Expressway verdict

Stephen Ladyman announced on 20 July 2006 that there would be no M6 Expressway. Instead the M6 will be widened to 4 lanes from Junctions 11a to 19. Significant demand management was mooted at the same time. The cost, assuming a completion date of 2017, is currently estimated at £2.9 billion. The Highways Agency has published an outline of the modelling that went into the decision. The scheme was expected to enter the TPI (see below) in spring 2007, with a probable public inquiry in early 2008, but as of June 2007 further decisions may have been held up pending a report on the impact of a widened M6 on traffic growth, climate change and the local road network.

TPI Public Inquiries

The Targeted Progamme of Improvements (TPI) comprises Highways Agency (motorway and trunk road) projects costing over £5 million.

Inquiry completed: decision published in: