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Ten year transport plan - Must Byers replan the route to deliver on time?

COVER STORY: Government transport supremos Stephen Byers and John Spellar have staked their reputation on delivering transport policy. Their biggest challenge is to start delivering a 10 year plan for transport that experts say is no longer valid. Damian

As New Labour embarks on a second term in office, it faces serious doubts about the credibility of the £180bn, 10 year transport plan unveiled by deputy prime minister John Prescott a year ago this week.

Two more tragedies on Britain's railways and storms that battered the nation's roads have cast major doubt on targets enshrined in the plan. The government has said nothing on how these events have affected the programme other than that it still 'expects to meet the targets'. But the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) this week led industry calls for the government to redraw the plan in the face of growing doubts about its credibility.

'We need more leadership in the rail sector, action on streamlining the planning process, getting private money into rail and more detail about delivery of projects, ' says Andrew Tessyman of employers' confederation the CBI. Last week it produced a review of the plan setting out what needs to be done to get it back on track.

The CBI document, Transport 2010 - on track or off target? , demands more detail about how the strategy will be delivered. In particular it sets out the problems facing delivery of road, rail, and local and London transport policy (see boxes).

'Transport 2010 is best described as an overarching 'strategy' rather than a detailed plan for delivery, ' it says. 'It lacks detail on the prioritisation of investment, the mechanics of physically handling such a heavy workload, and the measures needed to minimise the inevitable disruption while this work is in progress.'

Tessyman says: 'We still don't know how the plan all fits together. There is a commitment for so many schemes but we don't know what many of them are or when they are going to happen. Without this level of detail it is difficult for the transport industry to invest in the staffing levels needed to deliver the plan. We know there is a lot of concern about this.'

The Department of Transport Local Government and the Regions (DTLR) is not expected to review the plan until summer 2002. A private review for the Treasury will then feed into the next Comprehensive Spending Review but the plan needs revisiting now, says Tessyman. 'There are always going to be unanticipated events that disrupt a plan such as this, ' he says. 'We have no problems with the government making changes to it as long as it is honest.'

Local transport targets 2000-2010

Spending: £50bn public and £9bn private. Twenty five light rail schemes, 100 park and ride schemes, 70 local road bypasses, 10% increase in bus use and road deterioration halted by 2004.

Government transport cash for councils has soared since publication of the 1998 Transport White Paper. But doubts remain about delivery of the 10 year plan targets. Government sanctioned increases in local government borrowing limits are being undermined by a reluctance to allow councils to funnel in their own cash, says Transport 2000 assistant director Lynn Sloman.

There is not enough revenue for councils to employ staff for cycling or traffic calming schemes and these are getting delayed. With capital funding for projects under £5M soon to go into a single budget for the first time, there is nothing to stop money being diverted into health or education.

Capital transport budgets could get cut by as much as 40%, she says.

On the local road network there is tangible evidence of more maintenance work going on, says past president of the County Surveyors Society Edward Chorlton. But engineers claim there is still not enough money to halt the overall deterioration in road surfaces by 2004, especially after all the damage caused by last winter's floods and heavy rain.

Nevertheless, local road maintenance funding has doubled over the last six months.

London transport

London transport targets:

Spending: £15bn public and £10bn private.

London needs more funding than that identified in the 10 year plan if targets are to be met. The Greater London Authority's current transport spending commitments run parallel to the aspirations of the 10 year plan, but there is a £1.5bn gap between public and private finance needed to meet the targets (News last week).

'The government is not taking into account the substantial increased cost of maintaining London's transport system, ' says London First's Irving Yass.

The £25bn does not include enhancements such as Crossrail or Thameslink 2000 but it is unclear whether these are covered in the rail side of the plan, adds Yass.

Cash from consortia ready to deliver £6.8bn of private investment in London Underground over 10 years has been held up by the continuing wrangle over the structure of the Public Private Partnership for the Tube.

Trunk roads targets 2000-2010

Spending: £18.5bn public and £2.5bn private. Completion of 30 trunk road bypasses and 80 schemes to tackle bottlenecks.

Small scale improvement spending budgeted at £130M.

The Highways Agency has let contracts for all 13 schemes from its Targeted Programme of Improvements planned for this year. The Agency is praised by the CBI for 'good progress' on the 100 congestion busting 'early action schemes' and for letting the contract for a national traffic control centre.

But the CBI wants the government to make good its hint that to save more time on big infrastructure projects it will transplant the planning decision from a public inquiry to parliamentary vote.

The bad news is that the target to achieve a 5% cut in congestion against a predicted 27% rise in traffic growth has already been called into question. Professor Phil Goodwin, director of University College London's transport studies department, says in a recent paper for the Council for the Protection of Rural England that the congestion busting qualities of building 100 bypasses over 10 year are dubious and would save motorists no more than a few seconds.

The CBI says early decisions are needed on road schemes from the government's multimodal studies, to prevent the planning process delaying construction start dates. Last week's decision on the Hastings bypass was the first to be made since the studies and comes three years after they were commissioned and launched.

Rail targets 2000-2010

Spending: £34bn private and £26bn public. Target: 50% growth in passengers and 80% growth in rail freight.

Rail policy has been dogged by delays. The Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) is expected to put off publishing the final part of its long term strategy for the rail network until November. Meanwhile, the government stands accused of stalling on the replacement of train operating franchises as only three out of 25 rail franchises have reached preferred bidder status.

Transport lobby group London First says the two issues are linked, as infrastructure improvement proposals are part of competing train franchise renewal bids. It has become something of a vicious circle, says transport policy head Irving Yass.

'The game plan of the government is to cap its liability on rail funding but the Treasury can't see where it's going to end at the moment and is holding back on appointing franchisees, ' says Yass.

'But it's difficult for the SRA to complete its rail strategy until the Treasury signs up to the bill'.

The CBI also wants the government and SRA to decide on the structure of private rail investment, now well behind roads in attracting private money, says the employers' body. 'With some large scale projects the public sector may have to take a greater role in underwriting the capital, ' says its document Transport 2010 - off track or on target?

The government must also accept that its projection of £34bn private funding for rail enhancements is now unrealistic and that it must contribute more than the £26bn set out in the plan, believes the CBI. This is especially true now it has become clear that Railtrack cannot fund major enhancements itself.

Plan time line

July 2000: Government announces £180bn 10 year plan October: Hatfield rail tragedy raises question marks over cost of rail maintenance and willingness of private sector to invest £34bn in rail.

December: Government announces £8.4bn capital transport funds for councils in Local Transport Plan settlements.

January 2001: Councils report up to £50M damage to the local road network caused by record rainfall. Professor Phil Goodwin questions plan's congestion cutting targets in paper for CPRE.

May: Highways Agency lets two year construction contract for a Traffic Control Centre for the trunk road network. Strategic Rail Authority formed but delays publishing its strategy for the rail network. Railtrack's shares plummet, bringing into doubt its ability to raise finance.

June: Government announces plans to improve the planning process with legislation to replace public inquiries with parliamentary vote.

July: London Underground's PPP is further held up by a judicial review brought by Transport for London. Stephen Byers announces two year extensions to existing franchises which could scupper plans for new infrastructure under the 10 year plan to be financed through new 20 year franchises.

October: Commission for Integrated Transport to report its review of the plan to the government.

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