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.