Will Greening be Greener

It was always likely that Philip Hammond, clearly seen as a Tory rising star, would get the first big job going but nevertheless, he must have been surprised himself that he managed to get out of Transport so quickly. He was seen as a safe pair of hands, but I think he was beginning to lose the plot with several recent decisions and, competent though he might have been, he had no long term interest in the area.

For example, the decision to continue with the structurally flawed Intercity Express Programme and, worse, to ensure it was a PFI project flies in the face of common sense and, indeed, evidence from the Foster review. The crazy idea that higher speed on motorways can be justified by the ‘business case’ was playing to the right wing gallery, as was the decision slipped through to allow longer lorries on our roads. He must, too, have been delighted to get out just as opposition to HS2 was warming up.

The appointment of Justine Greening, who is by all accounts very bright and strong minded, as well as highly competent, is therefore interesting and exciting. She has a steep learning curve given the complexities of the brief and her lack of ministerial experience. Hammond has left her a full intray, ranging from the IEP and HS2 to a variety of road schemes and an agenda on road safety that seems destined to send the casualty figures in the wrong direction for the first time in a decade.

There is no shortage of  questions facing her. Probably most fundamentally there is the issue of whether she will continue with Hammond’s policy of ignoring environmental considerations which meant the Department’s decisions were based solely on economic factors.  Unlike petrolhead Hammond who was too scared of London traffic and of crumpling his suit, Greening has been seen riding a bicycle and has a solid voting record on measures intended to slow down climate change. It will be fascinating to see if, too, she has less interest in allowing the boys to drive their toys faster as Hammond suggested. More fundamentally will she talk in a more environmentally friendly way, and, more important, will he policies actually reflect that?

Lots of questions, few answers so far. I will write about this more fully in the next Rail magazine, and in a big article in the next issue of Public Finance magazine. Meanwhile, it will be very interesting to have your thoughts on her agenda and what she should be doing and her likely impact.

  • To be fair to Hammond, he did go around saying that the railways are a vital part of the national infrastructure, in which taxpayer-funded investment is essential. That may seem obvious to many of us, but it is far from a given in the wilder reaches of the Tory party. He has been a pragmatist at Transport rather than a Thatcherite.

  • Dave H

    Greening’s background and her previous post in the Treasury may presage an awareness of the clear financial gains from being Green rather than fluffy liberal wish lists. 

    Significantly she was with GSK in Brentford, where they have cut the need for around 500 car park spaces, and calculated a saving of £9,900 for every employee who no longer requires a car parking space to get to work.  These are hard economic facts – which have come home to some companies on greenfield business parks as the local farmland price per acre has climbed dramatically when they seek to spread out to accommodate the unlimited free (sic) parking needs for their workforce.  When land prices are high, and land is scarce it soon becomes a focus that the return on car parking is derisory or even negative when compared to commercially beneficial use.  All pointers to pencil sharpenng and properly accounting for the costs of private motoring, and commercial road use.

    It would also appear that she would have been at Southampton when John Waugh was developing the U-Pass and related travel plan thinking.  First year students in halls were banned from having a car on campus, and the sale of a major block of student bus passes successfully underwrote the UNI-Link registered services on the bus network.  The campus also had a network of secured cycle parking compounds accessible through the staff and student registration cards – an early pioneer for ITSO development. 

    Her former colleagues in the Treasury could well appreciate a revisiting of car scrappage with a twist that it promotes a change from private car ownership (where many cars sit idle for 80-90% of the time) to car use as part of a complete portfolio of transport consumption.  For a typical UK household the estimates suggest that a 20% increase in disposable income results from not owning a car, with the Car Plus members survey, indicating substantially increased use of rail, bus and cycling as options for getting around. So Mr Osborne would you like the unlocking of such spending power? 

    Tax-wise this 20% pay rise is a great deal for the UK tax payer, (the ‘pay rise’ is through savings they make on income already taxed) and even the facilitation by employers will be a ‘de minimis’ detail (employee use of a corporate car club/car hire card  or cycle hire card – typical taxable value £10-£20 – for private as well as business trips, with the personal use paid directly by the user, and easily reconciled by the coding of computer generated billing).  

    The picture of her arriving at a cycle treasure hunt in the constituency in 2005 (link http://www.wandsworthcyclists.org.uk/gallery/treasurehunt_2005june_2.shtml) has been a key image circulating (some commercial users should remember to credit and perhaps pay the photographer – Simon Merrett – or WCC cycle group, for using this).  I wonder if the Brompton she is riding is her bike – if so they will need to make space for another ministerial bike at DfT.  Who knows – with Baker & Villiers backing, she might even get Mike Penning out on 2 wheels for a group photo!

  • Dave H

    PS on Car parking – suggest something on this might actually go in Rail magazine.  We’ve seen £40m spent to enhance car park capacity at 17 Virgin WCML locations paid for ultimately by Network Rail (ie the public purse) as these were taken onto the asset register.  Some are filling up well, but at Preston the prices have been cut by 40% as the doubling of capacity is not yet being filled, with a similar picture at Wigan, and the leased overflow car park at Crewe is not particularly popular.  The argument does hold that some of this capacity is for the expected growth in rail patronage, but the current growth has a matching decline in car use, with many citing 2007 as the year of ‘peak car’, and in many cities the less than filled (Glasgow – offering discounted rates and car valet services) and part closed (Leicester) multi-storey car parks point to the decline in car use, or a capacity limit of getting all the cars in or out in a sensible time in the morning or evening peak. 

    Some have even given up, at Coleshill Parkway, the ticket machines have been sealed up and parking is free until…. September 2015!  The station even has a 24 hour staff presence – sadly not for tickets or travel information, its the security patrol.  Handy tip here is to park at Coleshill and cycle or bus to NEC (via Chelmsley Wood/Marston Green) to avoid the queues and charges for driving there.

    Squeezing parking on to the constrained space of a station has given us some very ugly budget price multi-deck systems, but even these can have surprising costs that will never be recovered at some of the rates being charged.  Preston cost around £23,000 per space, and the £2.5m spent at Penrith delivered just 30 extra spaces – £83,333 per space more than twice my previous example of £32,000/space for the rebuilding of Heathrow Central short stay.  I’m collating detail on this developing picture – of the high real cost of delivering a car parking space, and the low utilisation of many sites.  I look forward to hearing of more examples

  • Anonymous

    I must add though that in Glasgow’s case, the decline in car park use could be down to the fact that the city council sub-let out all of the car parks it ran directly out to a private operator, and prices duly soared – doubled in fact, plus charges in metered areas in the city centre were extended into Sundays where previously it was free.  If you can tell me where the “discounted rates” were please tell me where they were as I got well and truly shafted the other week whilst visiting my mother in hospital – and there I thought I was being smart by boycotting the overpriced NHS car park.

    Is it all to raise revenue? – well the reduction in car park usage resulting from said price increases probably cancelled out any financial gain, leading me to believe the strategy is to force people to pay a premium for driving into a city centre – and here is the important bit – where there is a perfectly good public transport alternative – which I have no problem with at all. 

  • Anonymous

    Equally though – there wasn’t very much radical in Hammond’s stewardship of Transport either – he merely took most of Andrew Adonis’ plan and moved much of it along largely unmodified with perhaps the odd tweak here and there – which we should be grateful for admittedly.  It is politically unacceptable these days to be running down the railways, when every other nation is embracing them, set against the reality dawning on most people (the Daily Mail-reading, Jeremy Clarksons of this world apart) that unconstrained car usage is becoming unsustainable.  No surprise really he went with the flow.

    However, the McNulty Report was a damp squib and the muted response to it has left even more questions than we started with, and he’s managed to conveniently get his head back under the parapet just as the bullets over the Derby job losses and HS2 started to fly.  The 80mph speed limit was pure populism at its worst, and will hopefully be buried.