Cabinet split over transport policy

I am about to go down to Bristol to give a talk to a group of transport campaigners to give a picture of the national transport scene. And I have to say it is a depressing one.

 There is clearly a fierce battle going on inside the Cabinet about the future direction of large swathes of government policy, based around the question of economic development versus sustainability. On transport, it is clear that Geoff Hoon has little truck with the environmental agenda. He is a definite supporter of the third runway at Heathrow, the touchstone issue in this debate.

 A host of younger Cabinet members, such as the Millibands, more tuned into the Green agenda, are ranged against him. Gordon Brown’s instincts are to side with the arguments in favour of economic development and I suspect that means the third runway will get the go ahead in the New Year. In fact, I don’t think it will ever happen as the obstacles – including a general election – are too large but that is hardly the point. The sad conclusion is that New Labour is showing itself to be very old-fashioned, out of tune with the times.

 The other interesting imminent issue is the vote currently taking place in Manchester over funding transport improvements with a congestion charge.  Apparently, the vote is closer than expected but the likelihood is that the scheme will be defeated. That will force a major rethink of the government’s strategy of trying to pass on the political risks of road charging onto local authorities. The big question is what will happen to the unspent Transport Innovation Fund money should Manchester vote no. Hoon may already be rubbing his hands in glee at the prospect of being able to fund yet more by-passes and motorway widening.

  • Dominic

    I would welcome the PT improvements that would flow from the T.I.F. bid in Manchester. However, the government is clearly passing the buck to the local authorities. At the same time the government may be secretly happy if a ‘NO’ vote is the result. As you say Mr Hoon will then be able to spend the money on road building and motorway widening. The big losers will be the public transport users in Greater Manchester.

  • Ben Hughes

    It has been rejected and now I wonder how on earth things are going to get better in Manchester. It looks like the city is screwed really bad now.

    I remember saying to a friend at University living near Stockport: “If Manchester says ‘no’, Manchester is ******.” But I can see why the congestion charge was rejected. The particular method of the concentric rings would have caused severe hardship for many people and they would not be able to keep their jobs because of having to make the expensive crossing multiple times a day. The REAL problem is that the Government aren’t pulling their own weight for Manchester.

    Why would it have cost £3 billion? I’m not completely sure how much the planned Metrolink extensions would have cost, but I think it’s around £500 million. Then where would the rest of the money have gone? With about £150 million earmarked for improvements to heavy rail, this leaves £2.5 BILLION for bus improvements (which would not nearly be this expensive). I guess the rest of the money would have been spent on expensive motorway widenings.

    £3 billion should have been enough to give most areas of Manchester extra Metrolink routes. It is just a huge sum of money. And if the tramways had been built with HoldFast Carpet Track rather than diverting utilities, it would have been even cheaper!

  • Bob Battersby

    Manchester has a Fourth World Transport system. But the egos of Westminster were never going to give anything to the English Regions (the lowest status areas in their political pecking order Gordon and his Cabal has imposed). Manchester is a long way from Harrods, you know. We have Pacers instead of shiny new EMUs, nasty bottlenecks on the rail network such as Salford Crescent, Ardwick, Piccadilly to Deansgate Junction etc. The buses go like snails: A seven mile journey can take over an hour at peak times.
    I always felt the Terms and Conditions of the Congestion Charge were very bad. The only two things the Government do well is to:
    1. Protect the status quo and the interest of those who make money from a high carbon economy.
    2. Pass the buck: Impose responsibility on others and to take no positive, proactive action themselves. This could get in the way of their career and future earnings from their corporate paymasters.
    It is no surprise people are disillusioned. In my view Central Government is corrupt and a total waste of time. Manchester might as well be Mogadishu in Westminster.